Where is Hokkaido?
Weather in Hokkaido
Weather in Hokkaido is harsh in winter with lots of snowfall, below zero temperatures and frozen seas, while in summer it does not get as hot and humid as in the other parts of the country. With its unspoiled nature, Hokkaido attracts many outdoor loers, including skiers and snowboarders in the colder seasons and hikers, cyclists and campers from June to September.
Major Cities in Hokkaido
- Asahikawa is (literally) the coldest city in Japan.
- Otaru is the island's largest port
- Sapporo is the region's capital and largest city.
Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's largest winter events, attracts a growing number of visitors from Japan and abroad every year. Every winter, about two million people come to Sapporo to see a large number of splendid snow and ice sculptures lining Odori Park, the grounds at Tsudome, and along the main street in Susukino.
For seven days in February, Sapporo is turned into a winter dreamland of crystal-like ice and white snow. The Snow Festival began in 1950, with six snow statues made by local high school students in Odori Park. In 1955, the Self-Defense Force joined in and made a massive snow sculpture, the kind for which the Snow Festival is now famous for. The Festival has grown from a humble beginning to become one of the biggest and most well-known winter events. The Snow Festival is considered to be a festival of international-caliber.
Sapporo Beer Garden
The Sapporo Beer Garden is the only place where you can taste all of Hokkaido's greatest foods at one location.
The Genghis Khan Hall in its old glory is a red brick building with ivy climbing up the sides. Built in the year 23 of the Meiji era, it served as a government office building when the government was sending pioneers to Hokkaido. This profound historical building has an atmosphere that will give you an unique feeling every time you set foot inside.
As you enter the building, firewood lines the walls where a large and glowing fireplace stands and the aroma of the beer hall welcomes its guests.
Susukino is the bright-lights district in Sapporo, and is the biggest one in northern Japan.
Originally it was a red-light district, but since the 1920s it became the district of bars, restaurants, cafes and cinemas.
Then by holding of Winter Olympic Games in 1972, some department stores and underground mall are built, so Susukino has become big downtown in Sapporo.
As you exit JR Otaru Station, you can see the ocean ahead. Your first destination should be Otaru’s best-known attraction: Otaru Canal. Gentle slopes will take you down to the Former Temiya Railway, once one of Hokkaido’s most important lines. Stone buildings that were formerly banks will soon come into view. Cross at the signal to reach Otaru Canal. For first time visitors, we recommend taking the right-hand path. Walking along the canal, you may find yourselves holding hands before you know it! When traveling by bus, this is right in front of the final stop at Otaru Station.
Hot Spring Baths (Noboribetsu)
Noboribetsu is Hokkaido's most famous hot spring resort, offering as many as eleven different kinds of thermal waters, that are considered among Japan's best and most effective.
The resort town consists of numerous (mostly large sized) ryokan and hotels with hot spring baths. Several of them open their baths during daytime to non-staying guests for typically 700 to 2000 yen. In addition, there is one public bath house located in the center of town.
Lake Shikotsuko and nearby Lake Toyako are the two most prominent features of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Both lakes are caldera lakes, which were formed from collapses in the earth after volcanic activity.
Most of Shikotsuko is little developed except for Shikotsu Kohan, a small, touristy town with a visitor center and a small number of lodgings along the lake's western shores. From there, visitors can rent boats, bicycles or scuba gear to enjoy the natural surroundings. Sightseeing cruises of the lake are offered in glass bottomed boats and in speed boats from mid April to early November.
Lake Shikotsuko is encircled by mountains, one of which is Mount Tarumae. Tarumae ranks among Japan's most active volcanoes and most recently erupted in 1981. The mountain can be climbed in a steep but short ascent in less than an hour and offers impressive views of the deserted crater landscape and over Lake Shikotsuko. It is also possible to circle the crater in about two hours, but due to poisonous gases it is not allowed to enter the crater. The trailhead is difficult to access without a rental car.
Lake Toya is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. In addition to the lake itself, the Toyako region features hot springs and an active volcano, Mount Usu, which last erupted in the year 2000. The area also offers many fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities.
The picturesque lake was chosen as the location of the G8 summit which Japan hosted in July 2008. The leaders of the world's eight major industrialized democracies met at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort & Spa.
Blue Pond (Aoiike)
The Blue Pond outside the hot spring town of Shirogane Onsen is named after is deep blue color which it owes to natural minerals dissolved in the water. Not promoted as a tourist spot until recent years, the pond is part of an erosion control system that was built to prevent damage to Biei in case of an eruption by nearby Mount Tokachidake.
Besides a free parking lot, the pond has not seen much touristic development. It takes visitors 5-10 minutes to walk through the forest to the pond. Around the pond there is not much to do other than to enjoy the scenery, which also includes some concrete structures of the erosion control system.
Furano Flower Fields
Lavender has been cultivated in Hokkaido for more than half a century. When the arrival of lower priced, imported lavender led to a decrease in demand for Hokkaido's lavender in the 1960s and 70s, the local lavender's main function shifted from agricultural product to tourist attraction.
Nowadays, Furano's lavender fields attract large numbers of visitors to the region every summer, when the plants are in full bloom. The majority of lavender usually starts blooming in late June and reaches its peak from around mid July to early August. Less numerous, later flowering varieties of lavender remain in bloom into mid August.
Many other flowers make Furano an attractive destination outside of the lavender season, as well. The main season for flower viewing takes place between June and September, although some flowers also bloom earlier and later than that. Flowers include rape blossoms, poppies and lupins from June, lilies from July and sunflowers, salvias and cosmos from August and September.
Biei is a small town surrounded by a picturesque landscape of gently rolling hills and vast fields. A pleasant way to enjoy the charm of Biei is by cycling or driving through the hills and visiting some of the flower fields and famous trees along the way. The area northwest of the town center is named "Patchwork Road" and the area south of the town center "Panorama Road".
Shiretoko National Park, located on the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido, is one of Japan's most beautiful and unspoiled national parks. No roads lead further than about three fourths up the peninsula, and the northern tip can only be viewed from boats or be reached on multi day trekking tours.
The peninsula is home to a variety of wildlife, including brown bears, deer and foxes. In winter, the peninsula's coast along the Sea of Okhotsk becomes one of the northern hemisphere's southernmost regions to see drift ice. In 2005, Shiretoko was added to the list of world heritage sites for the irreplaceable value of the peninsula's ecosystem and biodiversity.
Asahiyama Zoo is a very popular zoological garden just outside of central Asahikawa City in the middle of Hokkaido. Its popularity lies in the enclosures which allow visitors to observe the animals from various angles, many of which are unique to Asahiyama Zoo.
Highlights include a glass tunnel through the penguin pool that allows visitors to observe the birds' underwater flights, and small glass domes in the middle of the polar bear and wolf enclosures that can get visitors right among the animals. The zoo was also one of the first to organize penguin walks in winter. Work on new enclosures and improvements to existing ones is constantly ongoing.
Animals on display include native wildlife from Hokkaido, including deer, eagles, cranes and (now extinct) wolves, as well as various animals from across the world, such as polar bears, apes, big cats and giraffes. If possible, try to visit the zoo outside of weekends and holidays to reduce the crowds.
The Kushiro Marshland in Hokkaido was designated as national park in 1987 in order to preserve the country's largest wetland and marsh habitat which supports the only known population of endangered Japanese Cranes in Japan.
The park is located between Kushiro City and Akan National Park and is easily visited when traveling between the two. The park does not receive much snowfall, even in winter, and offers bird watching, nature viewing, and walking trails. Japanese Cranes can be viewed there year round and attract hundreds of photographers.
Japanese Cranes (Tancho, lit. "red head") were thought to be extinct in Japan due to overhunting and habitat destruction. However, in 1926 a group of about 20 birds was discovered in the marshes around Kushiro. With conservation efforts they have since made a dramatic recovery and now number more than 1000 birds.
The cranes are most spectacular to watch as they dance, often in pairs, with seemingly choreographed dips and jumps. The cranes are best seen in the winter as they gather at winter feeding sites. These sites are best accessed by car, but they can also be reached by public transportation.
Niseko is the most famous ski resort in Japan, known for having tons of light powder snow, spectacular backcountry and a large number of foreigners - especially Australians - who in recent years have been responsible for popularizing the resort area with the skiing/snowboarding community outside of Japan. As a result, Niseko's resorts are very accessible and welcoming to foreign visitors, which they keep busy with plenty of vast, long ski runs, endless powder, and a growing number of after-ski activities.
In addition to kilometers of ski trails, many of Niseko's resorts offer winter adventure seekers the option to explore off trail skiing, a relatively uncommon attraction at most other ski resorts in Japan. The backcountry can be accessed through special gates around the resorts or experienced on guided tours and helicopter tours. The latter is also possible on nearby Mount Yotei, a nearly perfect volcanic cone, which can be seen from Niseko.
Shiraoi Ainu Museum (Porotokotan)
The Shiraoi Ainu Museum is one of the country's best museums about the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan. The open air museum, which is also commonly known as Porotokotan (meaning large lakeside village in the Ainu language), is a replica village consisting of five thatched houses along the shore of Lake Poroto.
Each of the houses at Porotokotan demonstrates different aspects of Ainu culture and lifestyle. One of the larger houses holds a free, hourly performance (starting 15 minutes after the hour) with traditional Ainu folk dances, songs and mouth harp demonstrations. One of these folk dances, which is performed to send off the spirits of dead bears, was designated a UNESCO intangible cultural property in 2009.
Abashiri Drift Ice (Ryuhyo)
Located on a similar geographical latitude as Portland (Oregon) and Venice (Italy), the Sea of Okhotsk coast of Hokkaido is the northern hemisphere's southernmost region to see drifting sea ice. The sea ice typically reaches the coast around Abashiri in mid to late January and disappears again by late March to mid April. The best time to view it is usually around the second half of February. While drift ice can be observed along the entire Sea of Okhotsk coast from Wakkanai to the Shiretoko Peninsula, it gets thickest around Abashiri. Due to global warming, the amount and thickness of the drift ice has decreased quite considerably since the late 1980s.
What to eat in Hokkaido
Jingisukan is a Japanese grilled mutton dish prepared on a convex metal skillet or other grill. The dish is particularly popular on the northern island of Hokkaidō, in China and in Thailand. The dish is rumored to be so named because in prewar Japan, lamb was widely thought to be the meat of choice among Mongolian soldiers, and the dome-shaped skillet is meant to represent the soldiers' helmets that they purportedly used to cook their food.
In 1918, according to the plan by the Japanese government to increase the flock to one million sheep, five sheep farms were established in Japan. However, all of them were demolished except in Hokkaido (Takikawa and Tsukisamu). Because of this, Hokkaido's residents first began eating the meat from sheep that they sheared for their wool.
Much of Hokkaido's population lives by the sea, and consequently seafood figures heavily in Hokkaido fare. Check out the hairy crabs (kegani), king crabs (taraba) and the delicious sushi. Akkeshi's oysters, Saroma's scallops, and the northwest coast's sea urchin (uni) are considered to be among Japan's very best seafood.
Miso ramen is a relative newcomer, having reached national prominence around 1965. This uniquely Japanese ramen, which was developed in Hokkaido, features a broth that combines copious amounts of miso and is blended with oily chicken or fish broth – and sometimes with tonkotsu or lard – to create a thick, nutty, slightly sweet and very hearty soup. Miso ramen broth tends to have a robust, tangy flavor, so it stands up to a variety of flavorful toppings: spicy bean paste or tōbanjan, butter and corn, leeks, onions, bean sprouts, ground pork, cabbage, sesame seeds, white pepper, and chopped garlic are common. The noodles are typically thick, curly, and slightly chewy.
Shiroi Koibito is a European-style cookie manufactured and sold by Japanese confectionery maker Ishiya Co., Ltd. in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It consists of chocolate sandwiched between langue de chat. There are two main types: Shiroi Koibito White with white chocolate in the centre and Shiroi Koibito Black with milk chocolate in the centre. The package design has a white and light blue base with a picture of Rishiri Island's Mount Rishiri arranged in the center.