Best of Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido is famed for its bountiful land and sea, producing succulent seafood, wonderful fruits and fantastic dairy. Hokkaido is a large island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan.

It has six major areas: Douou, Dounan, Douhoku, Okhotsk, Tokachi, Kushiro-Nemuro.Each of them has a different climate, geography and scenery. However, only 10 percent of foreign tourists in Japan ever head up north to Hokkaido. We need to change that because Hokkaido has a charm all of its own that sets it apart from Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. It is definitely worth making a trip up.

Tunnel of love Hokkaido


Six major areas:

Hokkaido

Douou:

Douou is the central area of the Hokkaido. There are many famous tourist attractions in Douou. Starting with Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido, Otaru which is famous for its historical buildings and culture, and Niseko which is richly endowed with nature. Douou area has golf clubs and world-class ski resorts. You can also learn local history and Ainu culture in Douou. 

In winter, festivals featuring snow or winter are held everywhere in Hokkaido. The Sapporo Snow Festival is the biggest one. Two million people from outside of Hokkaido and abroad visit Hokkaido to see the snow statues each year.

Dounan: 

Dounan is the warmest area in Hokkaido, getting least amount of snow. It is surrounded on three sides by the sea. You can enjoy the beautiful coast and the fresh seafood. People called Dounan ‘Hokkaido’s front door’ which has been prospered at the very first. You can still see a castle which was built during Edo era, you will see castle town, historical western style buildings and old churches in Dounan.

Douhoku:

The land of the mother nature and beautiful plants in northern most edge of Japan. Douhoku is located on the northern tip of Hokkaido island. This area includes mountains, hills and seashores which are different from anywhere else in Hokkaido. The biggest national park in Japan, called Daisetsuzan National Park is also here. The hills and plain have peaceful farm scenery.

In Douhoku, visitors will fully enjoy water sports, paragliding, ballooning and other sports. Asahikawa, Higashikawa and neighboring towns are known as producing handmade furniture and wood crafts and woven cloth. You can make your own woodcrafts and cloth in the studios there.

Okhotsk:

Okhotsk is filled with natural resources from forests, sea and lakes. Shiretoko, which was designed as a World Natural Heritage site, still keeps its remote nature. Ice drift is brought to the coast by the sea of Okhotsk in winter. You will surely feel the dynamism of nature there. A tulip festival is held in from May to June when the tulips are in full bloom. View 1.2 million tulips under the blue sky.

Tokachi:

The land of beautiful countryside with farms and animals. Tokachi has fertile plain for farming and dairy businesses. You can stay on a farm to experience farm life in the beautiful countryside. Many activities related to nature and animals can be found in Tokachi. You can enjoy the canoeing and rafting and other activities on the Tokachi River and other nearby rivers and lakes.

You can enjoy Horseback Riding and trekking in Tokachi where the traditional horse-plow farming used to be common.

Kushiro- Nemuro:

Kushiro-Nemuro has a beautiful and mysterious marsh and transparent lakes. Rare animals and plants live in the Kushiro Marsh, which is the biggest marsh in Japan. Akan National Park includes three beautiful lakes, Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu. Visitors can feel the change of seasons while trekking or canoeing.


Gift of Nature to Hokkaido: 

Nature is one of the biggest attractions in Hokkaido. It has been trying to conserve its nature and wildlife as they are. There are many places where you will be able to commune with nature in Hokkaido. 

Hokkaido has wonderful seafood and agricultural products. Their flavour leaves you speechless. If you’ve walked into any Japanese supermarket, you’ll see that the dairy section is full of dairy products proudly proclaiming that they sourced their milk (or cream, butter or yoghurt) from Hokkaido. There’s good reason for them to do so as Hokkaido’s vast countryside and clean environment means they’re able to support a massive yet very high quality dairy industry. Milk from Hokkaido is tasty, with a rich and creamy taste that you will fall in love with. There’s no wonder that food in Hokkaido uses more dairy than other parts of Japan. Ramen served Hokkaido-style, for example, comes with a pat of butter on top and butter cookies are one of the most popular souvenirs to bring back from Hokkaido.

The same vast countryside that allowed the rise of the dairy industry with good soil and a suitable climate has also enabled the prefecture to become a producer of exquisite fruits. We’ve all heard of Japanese musk melons that get sold for over a hundred dollars each. Guess where they’re grown? Hokkaido, of course. You can pay a visit to fruit orchards to pick fruits such as strawberries, cherries, plums and grapes, depending on what is in season.

Trip to Hokkaido is not complete without trying the local seafood! You won’t find such fresh seafood in such abundance easily in most part of the World. In Hokkaido, you will find quite a difference in the local gourmet according to where you are. In the coastal towns such as Hakodate, Otaru, Kushiro, Abashiri and Shiretoko, you will find seafood being used as the main dish. Even in these similar coastal areas you will still see a difference as the seafood taken from the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk are different. 

In addition to sashimi and sushi, you can’t miss out on the different types of crabs that are served in Hokkaido! There’s kegani or horsehair crab, which are in season from April to August and November to December. The tarabagani or king crab is available from September to January. The zuwaigani or snow crab are best from November to March. And finally, the spiky hanasaki crab is in season from August to October. As you can see, crabs are in season all year round in Hokkaido and you won’t be disappointed tasting any of them.

Likewise, in the inland area, dairy farming is popular in the Tokachi area and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are famous. They may even use the same cows for meat as well with the brand of beef being specific to that region. The more well-known brands are Biei beef, Furano Wagyu beef, the Sōya beef of Wakkanai, Shiraoi beef, and Yakumo beef.


Nature at its best in Hokkaido: 

Japan’s gorgeous wild northern island is a vast and rich area filled with spectacular scenery, incredible food and friendly people. You will love Hokkaido’s beautiful scenery. Our first stops was the Northern Horse Park, a theme park featuring horses and nature. See how beautifully flowers can bloom in Hokkaido, and enjoy a horse carriage or fun bicycle ride through the park.

The next natural beautiful spot which we will recommend is Mount Hakodate. This mountain rises 334 metres above the sea, with the urban sprawl of Hakodate at its foot. If the weather permits, you can take the ropeway up to the peak. The mountain is renowned for its view of the surrounding bay and city. The night view here is widely regarded as one of the top three night views in Japan. 

That’s not all of course. The stunning Lake Toya is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park and is a popular tourist destination in Hokkaido. Despite its popularity, it maintains its untouched beauty and pristine views.

Not to be missed is Jigokudani, or Hell Valley. You’ll know why it’s called Hell Valley once you reach it. The sulphur smell emanating from the hot springs here make you think of Hell but this place is actually really far from being a hellish place. Instead, the hot springs are a wonderful way of relaxing which even the monkeys in this area do! If you want to see monkeys enjoying themselves in their very own onsen, this is the place to be.

The Japanese believe the onsen have many different benefits for your health depending on the mineral composition of the water. Hot springs are said to treat chronic digestive diseases, constipation, diabetes, gout, and liver complaints. They also claim to be effective in arthritic and skin conditions by offering relief from arthritis, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, eczema and even high blood pressure. We’re not saying that you should go off your medication and just depend on onsen, but who knows? The hot springs may very well help you feel better 🙂 🙂

Otaru canal Hokkaido.jpg


Things You Need to consider before planning for Hokkaido Trip:

  • Hokkaido is much larger than Tokyo or Osaka! Make sure you plan accordingly.

Sapporo – is located in the west side called Moto, about 50 km from The New Chitose Airport. The distance from Sapporo to various areas of Hokkaido along with the travel time by car is detailed below. 

Sapporo – Otaru approximately 40 km / 45 minutes

Sapporo – Furano approximately 115 km / 2 hours approximately

Sapporo – Asahikawa approximately 140 km / 1 hour 50 minutes

Sapporo – Hakodate approximately 305 km / 4 hours 15 minutes

Sapporo – Obihiro approximately 215 km / 3 hours approximately

Sapporo – Kushiro approximately 342 km / 4 hours 40 minutes

Sapporo – Shiretoko (Utoro) approximately 377 km / 5 hours 44 minutes

  • You need to bring warm clothing, even in summer.

The four seasons in Hokkaido are very distinctive, and every season has its own beauty. In spring, pretty flowers welcome you. In summer, you will feel comfortable in the mild weather. In autumn, you can see beautiful coloured leaves on the mountain. In winter, Hokkaido is covered with a blanket of snow. 

The best season for sightseeing in Sapporo is in the summer from July to August, when the average temperature in July is 20.5°C and in August is 22.3°C. This makes for a refreshing and easy-going climate for sightseeing. However, there are many days when the temperature difference during the day fluctuates and the morning and evening will be less than 20℃ so please come prepared. 

  • Reserve your rental car in advance.

It is very convenient to rent a car for transportation in Hokkaido. You can find a rent-a-car at each airport, station, town, or other rental office. There is a large variety of cars you can choose from according to your needs. However, if you do not reserve a car ahead of time, you may be out of luck. Especially in summer, when tourism is high, many car rental locations are completely booked.

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