Few Japanese, and even fewer tourists, make it as far north as Hokkaido, Japan’s last frontier. It’s a pity, because the wide expanses and amazing nature can easily compete even with the “main” island of Japan – Honshu. Shaped slightly like a flattened squid head, Hokkaido is divided into four main areas: Do-nan (southern), Do-o (central), Do-hoku (northern) and Do-to (eastern).
The capital of the island is the city of Sapporo.
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Weather in Hokkaido
The territory of Hokkaido occupies one fifth of Japan’s land mass, but due to the almost “Siberian” cold that envelops the island from November to March, only 5% of the country’s population lives here. And, as ironic as it sounds, winter is a popular time to travel. Tourists come to Hokkaido to ski or snowboard, view the frozen waters at the ports of Wakkanai and Rebun, or enjoy Yuki Matsuri’s ice sculpture.
How to get to Hokkaido
Seikan, the longest railway tunnel in the world, is the only link between Hokkaido and Japan’s main island of Honshu. You can get to Hokkaido by train through the tunnel, as well as by ferry and plane. The only way to get to the island by car is to use one of the many car ferries.
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The airport in Sapporo is the only international hub for Hokkaido. However, it serves only a limited number of international flights (to Hong Kong, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul and Busan), so most arrivals have to transit through Tokyo or Osaka, for example. Thus, the flight between Tokyo and Sapporo, in terms of potential and the number of departures per day, is considered the most “full” in the world.
Hakodate Airport and other smaller airports in Hokkaido also offer direct flights to many major cities in Japan. For example, there are several international flights, mainly from Seoul and Taipei, to Asahikawa and Hakodate airports.
Hokkaido used to be linked to Honshu by the Shinkansen high-speed train network, but these have now been cancelled, with the sleeping-car night train from Tokyo being the most popular option.
An alternative is the Hokuto and Super Hokuto express trains running between Aomori and Hakodate (journey time 2 hours, cost 5000-7200 JPY one way). The line runs nine trains a day.
On a ferryboat
From Hakodate, ferries depart for the northern ports of Tohoku, Aomori, and the Shimokita Peninsula. Otaru is connected by ferry service to Maizuru (near Kyoto) and Seoul. Tomakomai connects with Akita, Niigata, Tsuruga, and sometimes with Maizuru. From Wakkanai there are ferries to Russia. Ferries are generally popular with car travelers.
Due to its vast size and numerous outlying islands, Hokkaido has a strong network of local air carriers. The main regional companies are JAL and ANA. Many turboprop flights operate from the tiny Okadama Airport in downtown Sapporo.
Hokkaido’s rail network is fairly limited by Japanese standards, though it’s more than adequate for travel between major cities. However, getting to many interesting sights, such as Hokkaido’s national parks, requires you to either rely on rare and expensive buses, rent a car, or try your luck by hitchhiking.
- Between Sapporo and Hakodate (3.5 hours, 7100-9700 JPY) there are convenient Hokuto and Super Hokuto express trains;
- between Sapporo and Asahikawa (1.5 hours, 3800-4600 JPY) — Super White Arrow,
- between Sapporo and Obihiro (3 hours, ¥5200-7200) — Tokachi,
- between Sapporo and Kushiro (4 hours, ¥7,800-10,400) — Super Oozora,
- between Sapporo and Wakkanai (5.5 hours, 9600-12400 JPY) – Super Soya, Sarobetsu and Rishiri.
In Hokkaido, the Jayaru Hokkaido Pass is valid, which allows you to use the services of the Japanese Railways within the island, as well as travel on the buses of this company.
An economical, but slower and less convenient option is buses, covering parts of Hokkaido that cannot be reached by train. The so-called “sleeping” buses depart from Sapporo to all corners of the island. Buses run infrequently, and their timetables should be checked in advance so as not to be in a difficult situation.
From April to September, Hokkaido is a paradise for cyclists. The island is equipped with many bike paths, and the main roads are equipped with wide sidewalks.
And finally, the most convenient way to get around the sparsely populated areas of Hokkaido is by renting a car. This option is especially good when visiting some of the island’s national parks or thermal spas. In winter, you need to be especially careful: at this time of the year, Hokkaido has significant speed limits of up to 80 km / h.
In Hokkaido, you should try hairy crabs, king crabs and delicious sushi. In addition, most of Japan’s dairy products are produced here, and in the east of the island you can encounter its “unexpected” uses – curry with cheese or noodle soup with butter. How about ice cream with asparagus, corn or cuttlefish ink? All this can only be tasted in Hokkaido!
Oysters from Lake Akkeshi, sea scallops from Saroma, and sea urchins from the northwest coast are considered the best seafood in Japan.
Entertainment and attractions of Hokkaido
For many travelers, Hokkaido is associated with numerous national parks, offering almost unlimited opportunities for tourism.
In the central part of the island there is Daisetsuzan National Park, the largest in Japan, the main attraction of which is the volcano Asahidake (2290 m) with hot gases emitted on its slopes. And in the southern part of the park is the popular ski resort of Furano.
Akan National Park, located in the eastern part of Hokkaido, attracts with its three lakes with sparkling clear water. Group canoe trips are organized along the Kushiro River, which flows through the park (9500 JPY). At the resorts of Kavayu (near Lake Kussharo) and Akan-Kohan (on Lake Akan), you can soak in the baths with hot thermal water.
Located on the Oshima Peninsula in southern Hokkaido, Onuma Quasi-National Park covers an area of 90 square kilometers. km. Onuma, founded in 1958, is the smallest park in Hokkaido. It is known mainly for its 126 islets scattered across the lake of the same name. Kayaks and rowing boats can be rented in the park.
There are many hot springs scattered along the shore of the lake, and the Komagatake volcano (1131 m) dominates all this splendor.
Shiretoko National Park, covering the territory of the peninsula of the same name in the northeastern part of Hokkaido, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. Shiretoko is one of the most remote areas in Japan. Five lakes located within walking distance from each other and connected by paths, as well as the beautiful Kamuiwakka waterfall – these are, perhaps, all the main attractions of the park.
In the capital of the island, the city of Sapporo, it is worth trying white chocolate, which is produced only in the Hokkaido chocolate factory; taste beer at the beer museum; walk through Odori Park and climb to the observation deck of the Sapporo TV Tower (90 m), which offers a beautiful view of the city.
The northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, Hokkaido offers the traveler plenty of opportunities for skiing, hiking, biking, rafting, canoeing, fishing and bird watching. Hokkaido is good for both fun and relaxation, with its exciting nightlife and sumptuous hot springs.