Hokkaido is the second largest and northernmost of Japan’s four islands. It is home to the country’s most sprawling, untouched wilderness.
It has many stunning natural parks and, during the winter, world class skiing with powdered snow. It takes less than two hours to get there by plane from Tokyo. It’s also accessible by train from anywhere in the country, with journeys covered by the Japan Rail pass. Despite its accessibility and many attractions, Hokkaido remains somewhat undiscovered for many tourists, much like some of the country’s lesser known brands which originate from overseas such as Vera & John.
Hokkaido is an extremely appealing destination during the summer. Its temperatures never reach the same heights as elsewhere in Japan. This makes it easier for many visitors to explore during summer than most other parts of the country. This is important, as there are so many wonderful outdoor activities on offer. Hokkaido boasts stunning wilderness, volcanic lakes, natural springs, and many national parks with extraordinary hiking opportunities. You could spend weeks simply enjoying the sprawling, majestic outdoors.
The Shiretoko Peninsula is a particular highlight for lovers of nature. Its untouched forests and sunken lakes are home to many rare birds as well as bears, deer and many other animals. You can also enjoy a volcanic hike for a truly unique experience.
Hokkaido is Japan’s winter sports capital, with famous resorts such as Niseko, Rusutsu and Furano. For skiers and snowboarders, there are few better destinations anywhere in the world. Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo hosted a legendary Winter Olympics in 1972.
Even for those not interested in winter sports, Hokkaido’s stunning scenery and beautiful wilderness make for a remarkable winter getaway. The Shiretoko Peninsula is also a great destination in winter, offering stunning vistas and drift ice expeditions. This is an amazing way to experience the spectacular Hokkaido winter.
Hokkaido is also a great place to learn about Japan’s indigenous culture. The Ainu people were the original inhabitants of Hokkaido and their culture is preserved throughout the island and in particular around the beautiful Lake Akan. Akan-Mashu National Park is home to many Ainu settlements as well as extraordinary lakes and forests. It also offers a stunning volcanic hike on Mount Meakan. Learning about the history and culture of the Ainu people is a fascinating and deeply rewarding experience.
Another famous Hokkaido attraction is the Sapporo Snow Festival. The Snow Festival began in Sapporo in 1950, with some students from the area creating beautiful ice sculptures in the city. Today, the festival has grown to attract millions of people. Each year, it features around 400 beautiful ice sculptures. It takes place over one week in early February and is a truly wonderful event.
The Sapporo Snow Festival features some of the most stunning snow sculptures in the world, even hosting an international sculpture contest! There are also spectacular light shows involving projections onto the sculptures. As well as the remarkable ice sculptures, the Snow Festival offers some of the finest of Hokkaido food, drink and hospitality. The people of Sapporo are extremely welcoming and eager to show off their beautiful home to visitors.
Hokkaido also offers some of Japan’s finest food. It is particularly famous for its seafood. Dishes like ishikari-nabe, a salmon dish, and chan chan yaki, a popular dish featuring steamed fish and stir-fried vegetables. Squid is also a Hokkaido speciality. In terms of meat, jingisukan, a grilled mutton dish, is another regional delicacy.
Sapporo is of course also known for the popular beer that takes its name! Sapporo has become one of the region’s most popular exports. The region also offers other superb beers. For the real hopheads, it also features the Sapporo Beer Museum, which combines fun activities and some fascinating demonstrations of how the beer is made. For something a little more left field, the Hokkaido Brewing Company also offers some truly unique fruit beers. You may leave Hokkaido having picked up some new favourites!
Hokkaido is a truly wonderful location for a short visit or a longer stay. It offers different attractions at different times of year and there’s really no bad time to visit. It’s simply a matter of deciding on the kind of experience of the island that you’d like to have. As always in Japan, it’s important to observe cultural norms of respect. Once you do this, the region’s locals tend to be extremely welcoming and eager to help you have the best experience possible of their beautiful home. The fact that Hokkaido is a less common tourist destination also means that its residents are often delighted to welcome the visitors that do make it.