5 things you must do in Hokkaido
More S'poreans are now visiting Japan's northernmost island due to depreciating yen and popularity of self-drive holidays
Besides hot springs and breathtaking scenery, Singaporeans now have another reason to travel to Hokkaido in Japan - agriculture.
The Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau is using agriculture tourism to entice overseas travellers to visit the region.
Hokkaido's agricultural land area accounts for about a quarter of the agricultural land in Japan.
At 1,148,000ha, Hokkaido's agricultural land area is 16 times the size of land in Singapore.
The northernmost island in Japan boasts a calorie-based food self-sufficiency rate of 197 per cent from April 2014 to March 2015, according to data from Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Mr Leo Hirano, director of development partnership division of Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau, says: "In Hokkaido, food-related industries such as agriculture and fisheries, food processing and the like help support regional economies and employment.
"The Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau hopes to vitalise the economic activity of the whole region by means of the synergy effect - increasing awareness of food produced in Hokkaido - brought about by linking not only agriculture but also the fishing and food processing industries with tourism."
Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau is under Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
Although agriculture activities are uncommon in Singapore, the bureau believes Singaporeans will be interested in agriculture tourism.
A healthy lunch buffet at Ku-ru-ru no mori's farm restaurant, which among others, serves a variety of fresh vegetables from different places in Hokkaido. TNP PHOTOS: CHAI HUNG YIN
Mr Hirano says: "Singapore is at the centre of the Asean market and is extremely influential with regard to the surrounding countries.
"The level of income is high and, like self-drive holidays, there is an advanced style of tourism.
"We believe there is potential for other countries nearby to also accommodate tourism menus to meet the needs of Singaporean tourists."
The Japanese government aims to attract 20 million overseas visitors to Japan in 2020, when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held.
Mr Hirano says the public and private sectors are joining forces to achieve the target.
The bureau has produced a handbook in English "to aid safe, reliable and comfortable driving in Hokkaido for Singaporean and other tourists".
Multilingual tourist information at roadside stations has also been improved, he adds.
Hokkaido, the second largest and least developed of Japan's four main islands, is also home to famous ski resorts. Singaporeans throng Niseko resort town in winter.
Before March 2011, a record number of Singaporean overnight guests visited Hokkaido but that number dropped after a tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima incident.
From April 2010 to March 2011, before the tsunami, there were 165,239 Singaporean overnight guests, based on figures from the bureau.
The number dropped about 42 per cent to 96,395 visitors the following year.
But it shot up 29 per cent the following year and 46 per cent the year after.
The number of overnight guests hit 184,623 between April 2014 to March 2015.
The depreciating yen and the rising popularity of self-drive holidays are reasons for the rise in Singaporean visitors.
Data from All Japan Rent-A-Car Association showed the number of vehicle rentals for the Hokkaido region by Singaporeans has risen from a low of 395 between April 2008 and March 2009 to a high of 1,948 between April 2014 and March this year.
Mr Hirano says: "The Visit Japan Campaign and other policies to attract overseas tourists have been pro-actively implemented in Japan.
"As a result, in recent years, the number of overseas visitors to Japan as a whole has been increasing.
"It is thought that the reason for the increase in the number of Singaporean tourists to Hokkaido is also in line with this nationwide increase."
5 THINGS YOU MUST DO IN HOKKAIDO
BEST EATEN FRESH: The filling in the cream puffs produced by takahashi farm’s milk-kobo are made from fresh milk. The owners insist they must be eaten on the day of purchase.
1 TASTE THE FRESHEST CREAM PUFF AND MILK ICE CREAM AT NISEKO
At Takahashi Farm's Milk-kobo in Niseko, they insist that the cream puff has to be eaten on the day of purchase.
Otherwise, it is considered to have passed its expiry date.
The cows are milked in the morning and the milk is then used to make the filling. They will fill the puffs only when there is an order.
The farm's owner also has a restaurant, Prativo, which uses fresh milk from the farm extensively, as well as vegetables grown in the district.
Diners get an amazing view of Mount Yotei, also known as Ezo Fuji because it resembles Mount Fuji. Ezo is the old name for Hokkaido.
Visitors can drop by for a lunch buffet or make a reservation for dinner.
NATURAL: (Above) Visitors throng this spring water scooping facility at Yokouchi Tourism Farm for its mineral water from Mount Yotei.
2 DRINK NATURAL SPRING WATER AT MAKKARI VILLAGE
The taps never run dry at the scooping facility, which spouts mild tasting natural mineral water from Mount Yotei.
Mr Kouji Yokouchi, 60, who runs the Yokouchi Tourism Farm, says his father set up the facility 25 years ago.
It has gradually expanded from a small area to include a farmers' vegetable market and a tofu shop. Now, about 5,000 visitors throng the area to scoop free water every day.
NATURAL: (Above) A device catches salmon when they swim upstream for spawning.
3 OBSERVE SALMON IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT AT CHITOSE
Chitose Salmon Aquarium, just a 10-minute drive from the New Chitose Airport, has an underwater observation room that allows you a riverbed view of an actual river - the Chitose River.
It is the only such facility in the world.
You get to watch salmon swim upstream from September to October, or even watch them during their spawning period in winter.
A fish-catching device, nicknamed the Indian water wheel, has been set up along the river to catch adult salmon when they swim against the current for spawning.
SHOW AND TELL: (Above) A worker holding up a lily bulb after its roots have been removed using a thread.
4 TASTE LILY BULB AT A MICHI NO EKI (A ROADSIDE STATION)
Mr Toyokazu Tamura, 39, owner of lily bulb farm and factory Tamura Farm, is the fifth generation in a family business that has been running for more than 100 years.
It takes six years for a lily bulb to grow before it can be harvested. Despite being labour intensive, it is a lucrative vegetable to cultivate as the returns per hectare are high.
You can slurp up a bowl of buckwheat noodles with lily bulb tempura or have it with rice at a roadside station - a rest stop for travellers. There are 117 such roadside stations in Hokkaido. They are equipped with clean toilets, which include breastfeeding rooms, and ample car park spaces and facilities such as food stalls, souvenir shops and even playgrounds.
SHOW AND TELL: (Above) Instructors at Kururu no mori demonstrating how to make mochi by pounding steamed sticky rice.
5 LEARN HOW TO MAKE MOCHI AT KURURU NO MORI
At this facility, you get to experience farming, cooking and food processing.
Flex your muscles and pound the sticky steamed rice into a sticky paste, roll them into balls and dip them into ground soy powder and sugar.
After the workout, replenish your energy with a healthy lunch buffet at the farm restaurant, which serves fresh vegetables from various places in Hokkaido.
The restaurant is popular among the locals, so be sure to make a reservation if you do not want to wait in line for an hour.