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Frosty Lagers and Frostier Festivals
For most Japanese, the northern city of Sapporo is synonymous with two things: beer and snow. 1876 saw the founding here of Japan's first brewery, and a century and a half later, Sapporo Beer is still going strong. Thirsty visitors can raise a glass at the city's beer garden-cum-museum and gorge themselves on delicious local grilled lamb, called "jingisukan" (Genghis Khan).
Sapporo is a former Winter Olympics host city, so cold weather offers the perfect excuse to hit the ski slopes right on the city's edge. In early February, the Sapporo Snow Festival attracts more than 2 million visitors annually to gawk at the enormous and extraordinary snow sculptures in the city parks. Where else will you have the chance to take a selfie with a Godzilla-sized Hello Kitty made of ice? Hot spring enthusiasts can hop on the short bus/train ride to Noboribetsu, a surreally beautiful volcanic valley and Hokkaio's most celebrated thermal bathing destination. Few places are better than Noboribetsu's "Hell Valley" (Jigokudani) walkways for getting up-close-and-personal with a volcanic steam vent. Just be careful not to fall in!