Sapporo is Hokkaido’s gateway, its administrative capital and by far its largest city, with a population fast approaching 2 million. It sprawls across a huge plain just inland from the mouth of the Ishikari River, and from it a highway network extends outward looking on a map like disconnected and rather deranged spaghetti.
One loop and curl of note pursues a circuitous route that sees it heading both southwest toward Hokkaido’s historic port city of Hakodate and northwest to the storied former fishing and cargo port of Otaru. Another strand snakes its way roughly eastward from Sapporo and crosses the Hidaka Mountains on course for the wilder delights of eastern Hokkaido. Meanwhile, the road system’s final major strand meanders from Sapporo through the wheat- and rice-growing region of the great Ishikari River floodplain en route for the zoo-famed city of Asahikawa. Beyond that the toll-road divides, one arm extending northward toward, but not yet to, the tip of northern Hokkaido — the other roving in graceful sweeps toward Monbetsu on the Sea of Okhotsk coast.