Hokkaido is the second largest and yet least populated of the main islands of Japan. It is also the furthest north of Japan’s foremost islands, separated from Honshu, the largest island, by the Tsugaru Strait. It is a place exquisite beauty no matter what time of year. There are beautiful national parks that contain hot springs and dramatic caldera lakes, ski resorts and Mount Fuji lookalikes. There are many outdoor activities such as kayaking, mountain biking and fishing to enjoy.
The tree-clad scenery of Hokkaido, resplendent in gold birch trees in summer, dappled with cherry blossom with the arrival of spring, burnished with mountain ash in autumn and sparkling like a citadel of ice in winter is surely a precious jewel in any traveller’s calendar of events.
The Hokkaido weather means relatively cool and refreshing summers and as such the island experiences none of the humidity prevalent in other areas of the Far East
, making it an attractive destination for visitors from May to August.
During the colder seasons, Hokkaido can experience significant snowfall. Yet this, coupled with numerous hot springs only enhances its reputation as one of the most enchanted places on Earth. In this respect Hokkaido is famed throughout Japan as a ski destination during the winter and resorts such as at Niseko, Furano, Teine and Rusutsu are renowned for their high quality powder snow.
Like most of Japan, Hokkaido is an enigmatic place of beliefs and ancient customs enveloped in a landscape of diverse natural beauty.
Discover an island of contrasts where traditions sit harmoniously alongside high-tech ambition. In a country where the Samurai and Geisha are still celebrated, where Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines possess a symbiotic relationship to the landscape, in Hokkaido’s thriving cities you may also discover shopping malls and boutique stores to tempt you with gadgetry and the very latest in cutting-edge fashion.
Hokkaido at a glance:
• Hokkaido is one of over 6,800 islands that constitute the nation of Japan
• The largest city on Hokkaido is Sapporo while the closest country is Russia
• Time difference: 9 hours + GMT
• Flight time approximately 11 hours
• Temperature -1 – 31 degrees
• Average delay on trains throughout Japan is 18 seconds
• Hokkaido is pronounced ‘hōkī´dō’
• The island is home to one of the largest fishing industries in the world
• Hokkaido is famous in Japan for its dairy products, represented by the ubiquitous black and white cow symbol
• World famous Sapporo beer was originally brewed in this city
• The February Snow Festival is held in Sapporo featuring gigantic sculpted blocks of ice
• Brown bears, sika deer, Japanese cranes, and hazel grouse are all found on the island
Hokkaido and Food
In culinary terms, seafood is always on the menu in Hokkaido, owing to the rich fishing grounds found in the cold waters teeming with fish and sea vegetation. Uni or sea urchin, kani (crab) and ika (squid) are very well-known delicacies.
When sampling the local food it is popular to enjoy a bowl of rice topped with ikura (salmon roe) and hotate (scallops). In Hokkaido, the use of ramen noodles is also widespread even though they originated in China. Ramen noodles are usually served with light and tasty miso-based broths.
The island contains only 5% of the country’s total population and is mostly given over to agriculture. Although Japan is a crowded nation, you’ll find no evidence of it here. What you will find is a place where industry and the natural world are entwined and where the changing seasons are celebrated with equal enthusiasm.
The main city of Sapporo is a thriving metropolis that has become a burgeoning adventure capital, particularly for skiing. Sapporo found international fame when it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972.
During the Sapporo Snow Festival held every February, giant blocks of ice are carved into magnificent buildings, ice mazes, gigantic snow slides and sculptures. The festival began life in the 1950s when students began carving ice in Odori Park.
Over time it has become one of the most visited events attracting well 2 million visitors from across the globe every year. The Sapporo Snow Festival is so popular it is now hosted on 3 sites: the Odori Site, Susukino Site and the Tsu Dome Site. At night the entire festival is illuminated, turning this area of Sapporo into a spectacular ice party.
As an additional treat for beer lovers, surely one of the finest global brands can be found in Hokkaido in the capital city of Sapporo. Visitors can go to the Sapporo Shopping Center, built on the site of the original brewery, to try a glass of this light and sparkling beverage.
The National Parks of Hokkaido
Wildlife flourishes on Hokkaido in places that must at first appear inhospitable. Yet so often nature finds a way to thrive and nowhere is this more in evidence than within the island’s bountiful national parks.
Daisetsuzan National Park
Found centrally, Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest protected region in Japan. Daisetsuzan translates to mean ‘Great Snowy Mountains’. There are over 16 peaks within its boundaries offering some of the most dramatic scenery in the country. Locals refer to this region as the ‘Roof of Japan’. The national park has a wide range of hot springs, gorges, and mountains including Asahidake, which is Hokkaido’s tallest mountain and part of the Volcanic Group of the Ishikari Mountains.
Here you will find hot spring resorts (onsen) and vertiginous narrow valleys and tree-clad gorges. Of course you will also encounter the world-famous Yakushima monkeys who regularly bathe in the thermal pools with a look of pure bliss upon their crimson faces.
Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park is located on the eastern side of the island of Hokkaido on an unspoilt and remote peninsula that is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Here you may observe drift ice in winter, or look closely and you may see brown bears, sika deer and Japanese red foxes roaming freely through this world heritage listed site. A must-see trip through the Shiretoko Pass will offer astounding views of Mount Rausu, an active stratovolcano on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Shiretoko National Park has many other striking geo-thermal landmarks, as the rare Kamuiwakka Hot Waterfalls (rotemburo) and the hot spring town of Utoro ably demonstrate. There are also five lakes to explore caused by volcanic activity long ago. Various boat tours will provide you with access to stunning views of this mountain wilderness.
If you are planning an adventure to the Far East then a trip to the island of Hokkaido should top your dream-list. Japan has everything to offer from stunning scenery to fascinating culture and history. Combine this with an adventure in China
for the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army and you’ll create a truly fantastic multi centre holiday. To find out more visit our Japan
section to see what else this exciting country has to offer.
Written by: Clive Wedderburn