On a late March afternoon in central Sapporo's "raccoon trail," a covered shopping arcade, business is particularly brisk. While Honshu's main cities celebrate under the cherry blossoms, several meters of snow remain piled up beside icy sidewalks — with more expected.

That's good news, though, for arcade shops specializing in Hokkaido-grown agricultural products, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products and seasonal fish such as cherry trout. Visitors can also head to a nearby underground arcade, where packaged gourmet items such as smoked tofu from Yoichi, smoked scallops from Otaru and cream cookies made with eastern Hokkaido-grown peppermint are sold.

Thanks to more than a decade of intense promotional efforts, Hokkaido has become a major destination for both Japanese and overseas visitors attracted not only to its natural beauty but also to its smorgasbord of high-quality food. The shift has given birth to a number of new local jobs and businesses.