Hokkaido is the second largest, northernmost and least developed of Japan's four main islands. Its weather 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 lovers, including skiers and snowboarders in the colder seasons and hikers, cyclists and campers from June to September.
Abashiri is a small city located on the Okhotsk Coast of northeastern Hokkaido. To the Japanese, Abashiri is as synonymous with the word prison, as Alkatraz it to Americans. In addition to an abundance of seasonal seafood available throughout the year, it is also blessed with natural beauty, such as primeval flower gardens, lakes in summer and ice floes in winter. Winters here are harsh. During the winter months, ice flows from Russia clog the northeastern shore of Hokkaido, stretching out to sea for as far as the eye can see. The most popular way with the Japanese to view the ice flows up-close is to board an ice-breaking boat. Abashiri has lots of places to enjoy: Koshimizu Gensei-kaen (wild flower preserve), where about 40 kinds of flowers bloom in spring and summe. Mt. Tento-zan in the suburbs is a great place from which to view Abashiri. In the Okhotsk Ryuhyo-kan (ice floe museum) you can see real ice floes even in the middle of summer, and experience a temperature of minus 15 degrees Celsius. Ice floes arrive in Abashiri every year in late January and you can walk on the frozen Ocean and even play ice hockey above it.
Asahikawa is located almost in the centre of Hokkaido, and is the second largest city of the northern island. The city is full of natural splendor, with the magnificent Mt. Daisetsu-zan in the background and 120 rivers flowing through it. It is also the gateway for tourism to Sounkyo Gorge and the Furano area. Asahikawa is famous for its crafts and especially renowned for its wood craft and Yukara-ori traditional dyeing and weaving, examples of which can be seen in galleries and museums around the city. Fountains and sculptures dot the shopping park along Heiwa-dori Avenue, the road that leads straight from Asahikawa Station. Japan's northernmost Zoo, Asahiyama Zoo is a one of the highlight of the city. Asahikawa has a ramen-noodle area the equal to that found in Sapporo, and its countless ramen-noodle restaurants are always busy. The city is home to Otokoyama sake which is one of Japan's most famous and delicious brands of the Japanese alcoholic beverage. Asahikawa has the coldest recorded temperature in Japanese history at -41 C which gives you some clue as the quality of the winter sports available in the area.
The town of Biei is located almost at the centre of Hokkaido, in the hilly district at the foot of the Tokachi-dake Mountain Range, Daisetsu-zan National Park. In contrast to the flat plains of rice fields and steep mountain ranges that cover much of Japan, Biei is surrounding by rolling fields, perhaps more reminiscent of western Europe than northern Japan. In recent years the fields around Biei have been used in countless advertisements; keep your eyes on the billboards and big-screen TVs in Tokyo and other large cities, you may see a little bit of Biei before you visit Hokkaido. The attractiveness of Biei, where as many as millions of people visit every year, is represented by its spectacular views of flowers. You will be astonished by the magnificent views of colourful flowers such as lavenders, sunflowers, poppies, cosmoses, and purple salvias, blooming just like beautiful patchworks. You can walk through these flowers at some locations. If you like outdoor activities, you will love all nature has to offer in Biei. In summer, you can stroll in wild woods, climb trees, walk along the river, go canoeing or camping, or play golf. In winter, the town is transformed by snow, whose magnificent appearance will astonish you as you ride on a snow buggy or snowmobile.
Furano is town in the centre of Hokkaido, known for their pleasant and picturesque rural landscapes and it belongs to Furano-Ashibetsu Nature Park. Because of its geographical position, Furano has a unique nickname of "the navel town." Furano's natural beauty can be appreciated throughout the seasons of the year. Many people visit the lavender field in summer when the lavender bloom is at its best. The best time to visit is July, when the lavender fields are in bloom. During winter, Furano turns into a popular downhill and cross country skiing resort. You can also enjoy outdoor activities in Furano all year round such as rafting trip and hot-air balloon flights, and the nearby Kita-no-Mine is a popular ski resort in winter.
Located in the southwest of Hokkaido and facing the Tsugaru Strait, Hakodate is Hokkaido's third largest city. Hakodate developed as a port town for trade with foreign countries at the end of the 19th century, and is a gateway connecting Hokkaido with Honshu by the Seikan Tunnel. Hakodate is best known for the spectacular views to be enjoyed from Mount Hakodate and its delicious, fresh seafood. A morning market is held at the bay area near the railway station, where more than 360 stalls packed tightly together attract shoppers with freshly caught squid, scallops, salmon eggs, There is a restaurant and a coffee shop at its bow where you can spend a nice, relaxing time viewing the scenery around the port. As one of the first Japanese harbor cities to be opened to international trade after the country's era of isolation, Hakodate has experienced notable influence from overseas, and the foreign population's former residential district and a Western style fort are among its main tourist attractions. The area around Motomachi maintains a congenial blend of Japanese and Western cultures, such as the old British Consulate with its tea lounge, Haristo Sei-kyokai, a Russian Orthodox church, as well as the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple, a branch temple of the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple in Kyoto. At the waterfront overlooking the Hakodate-ko Port, there is a shopping mall inside remodeled red brick warehouses. Onuma Park, a quasi national park with beautiful, island dotted lakes, is located only half an hour north of Hakodate and is a worthwhile side trip from the city or a nice stop on the journey between Hakodate and Sapporo.
Kawayu Onsen is a small hot-spring resort in the centre of the Akan National Park in the east of Hokkaido. Kawayu Onsen is a convenient place to base while exploring the beautiful scenery of this large National Park. The scenery is classic Hokkaido; volcanic peaks, caldera lakes, dense forests and tucked away hot-springs. The area offers plenty of walking and hiking opportunities, many providing stunning panoramic views across the National Park.
Kushiro, which is well known as "the town of mist," is located in the southeastern part of Hokkaido, facing the Pacific Ocean. Kushiro plays a leading role in the politics, economics and culture of eastern Hokkaido. The marine products industry of Kushiro has flourished since the early 20th century, and the long and narrow city centreing on Kushiro Port still retains many features of the streets of the early 20th century port town. If you would like to treat yourself to a gourmet meal or enjoy shopping, Kushiro Fishermen's Wharf MOO is the place to go. This is a very popular place for both the local people and visitors, and there is always a lively, cheerful and welcoming atmosphere. In the north of Kushiro is Japan's largest marshland, Kushiro Marsh, which stretches out over the majority of the Kushiro Plain. Kushiro Marsh is listed as a national park. Kushiro Tancho Nature Park is known as the site of the first successful artificial breeding of tancho cranes (Japanese cranes), which are designated as special natural monuments. There are currently about 20 Japanese cranes residing in the park. They can be seen all year round.
Lake Akan is a beautiful crater lake in Akan National Park, Kushiro. Volcanic activity formed the lake some 6,000 years ago. It is home to 'marimo', a rare algae species that forms itself into beautiful green balls. Left alone for a few centuries, Lake Akan's marimo can reach the size of soccer balls. There is also a primeval forest of spruce and white fir trees located nearby the lake. Akan National Park attracts many visitors throughout the year with its magnificent scenic wonderland
Lake Shikotsu-ko is located in southwestern Hokkaido, west of the city of Chitose. It is a crater lake that was formed over 30,000 years ago by volcanic activity, and it has a maximum depth of 360 meters, making it the second deepest lake in Japan. It is a very clean lake with visibility to a depth of 25 meters, and does not freeze in most winters. This makes it the most northerly lake in Japan that does not freeze over. In summer, people enjoy boating on the lake - on pleasure boat tours, cruisers and motorboats, or they fish for rainbow trout or go scuba diving. In winter, the Chitose-Shikotsuko-Hyobaku-matsuri Festival (ice waterfall festival) features objects made out of ice, which are lit up to produce a fantastic spectacle.
Asahidake Onsen is a small hot spring resort at the foot of Hokkaido's highest mountain, Mount Asahidake (2290 meters), and one of the most pleasant bases for exploring Daisetsuzan National Park.
Mt. Showa (Showa Shin-Zan) is a volcanic lava dome in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Hokkaido, next to Mt. Usu. The mountain is one of Japan's youngest mountains and was created between 1944 and 1945. Initially, a series of strong earthquakes shook the area, and wheat fields were suddenly and rapidly uplifted. Lava broke through the surface and the current peak was created. The peak is now 398 m height and still actively smoking. You can see it and get good views of the young volcano by taking the Usuzan Ropeway. The name Showa Shin-Zan literally means "Showa new mountain", as it formed during the reign of Emperor Showa known as the Showa period (1926-1989).
Nemuro is a city and port located in most eastern part of Hokkaido and much of the city lies on the Nemuro Peninsula. The city's main industry is fisheries and most of the marine products are domestically exported to all over Japan. This city's main attraction is its view of under dispute several islands, which currently belong to Russia off the shore. Although there's not much thing to do or place to visit, as the easternmost part of the four main islands of Japan, those travelers who like to collect MOSTS should be sure to visit Nemuro. On a clear day you see a view of some islands in the distance. You can hear Russian language and see Russian sign on traffic boards in the city in addition to Japanese and English.
Niseko is located in the southwestern part of Hokkaido, in the hilly district surrounded by Mt. Yotei-zan (national park) to the east and Mt. Niseko Annupuri (quasi-national park) to the north. It has typical inland weather, with an annual average temperature at 6.3 degrees Celsius, while the deepest snow in winter can sometimes reach 200cm in depth. Niseko is only about 100 km away from Sapporo, the centre of Hokkaido and one of the most famous ski resorts in Japan, known for tons of light powder snow, and a large amount of foreigners, especially Australians. Niseko has earned a worldwide reputation as an ideal ski resort in winter. However, Niseko is also known as a summer resort. The magnificent beauty of its rich nature appears in TV commercials, drawing great attention to this area, and making it well known as a leading all-season resort in Japan. Niseko demonstrates its beautiful scenery in every season of the year. From spring to summer, after a long winter, Niseko is covered with a carpet of colourful flowers. In summer, you may want to enjoy climbing, canoeing, rafting, and other outdoor activities. In winter, you may want to try sports in the world-class snow at its grand-scale ski resorts. There are many hot springs of various qualities, and sufficient accommodations, from hotels to unique resort inns.
Noboribetsu Onsen is one of Hokkaido's most famous hot spring resorts. It has over 10 different kinds of water, containing minerals such as hydrogen sulphide, salt, and iron. The quality of these minerals means the spa results in the world's most exceptional hot springs. Noboribetsu is part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The most impressive scene at the hot spring is the Jigoku Valley (hell valley), where yellowy gray volcanic gas seeps from the surface of the rocks. This makes the whole place smell strongly of sulfur, and gives it an image like that of hell. The valley is a 450-meter-diameter mouth of a volcano, which produces 3,000 liters of hot water a day.
Otaru is a city and port in northwest of Sapporo. It faces the Ishikari Bay and has long served as the main port of a Sapporo region. Otaru is one of the most popular destinations in Hokkaido. It has gained the nickname "Wall Street of the North" for numbers of historical buildings. The glassworks shops, coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls along the canal have been converted from stone-built or brick-built warehouses, which were used for storage in the days when commerce flourished and the canal was crowded with jostling barges. When night falls, oil lamps on the cobbled streets are lit, and the town evokes a gentle, nostalgic mood. Otaru's another nickname is "the town of hills" as there are so many hills. Mt. Tengu-yama that towers behind Otaru is a popular ski resort in winter. There is an observation point on Mt. Tengu-yama, and the panoramic view including the whole of Otaru and its port area is absolutely wonderful. There are also cable cars to take you to the mountaintop.
Rausu is located on the east end of Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula. It is situated on the southeast corner of the peninsula facing the Nemuro Strait. The town stretches along and narrow strip of land, extending 64 km from southwest to northeast. The Shiretoko mountain range extends north on the peninsula to the sea where it forms steep cliffs. The Shiretoko mountain range, formed by past volcanic activity running through the centre, is the source for a myriad of rivers. Due to its harsh topography and climate, a large part of the peninsula remains accessible only by sea. The area is covered in primeval forest, 50% of the region has been designated a special preservation district, with permission required for access. Village communities are found mostly on the coast line at the mouths of these rivers. The "downtown" of Rausu is at the mouth of Rausu River where it joins the sea at Rausu Harbour. The primary industry in Rausu is fishing, and every morning scores of fishing boats head off into the Nemuro Strait. Rausu attracts people for many reasons. Visitors come during the summer for whale watching, and to catch sight of the brown bear, as well as deer and foxes. Winter brings snow on the town, a layer of drift ice on the sea and the chance to take an ice-breaking cruise to see dolphins and the Stellar's Sea Eagle, the largest eagle in the world.
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, home to over 2.5 million people in the Hokkaido's capital region. Sapporo is also one of the nation's youngest major cities. In 1857, the city's population stood at just seven people. In the beginning of the Meiji Period, when the development of Hokkaido was started on a large scale, Sapporo was chosen as the island's administrative centre and enlarged according to the advice of foreign specialists. Consequently, Sapporo was built based on a North American style rectangular street system. Odori Avenue Park stretches from east to west in the centre of the city with more than 1400m long, and is a symbol of the city, full of art objects, fountains, lilac and acacia plants and lots of flowerbeds. In summer it is full of beer gardens, while in winter it becomes the location for a snow festival. During the festival, this big park is occupied with magnificent snow statues and beautiful ice statues. To the north stand trading companies, financial institutions and local government offices, while to the south is a large underground shopping mall, which as the city's main shopping centre is always busy. It is connected directly to Sapporo Station, which is the transportation hub for all of Hokkaido and the place to board JR lines, the subway, and both local and tourist buses. The city surely contains many essential sights: the Sapporo City Clock, which has been marking time for over a century; the old Hokkaido government building, and the poplars outside Hokkaido University (formerly Hokkaido Agricultural College). Sapporo became world famous in 1972 when the Olympic Winter Games were held there. Today, the city is well known for its ramen, beer, and the annual snow festival held in February.
Shiraoi is a small town with population around 20,000 located in southwest of Chitose Airport and most of the area of the town is forested and parts lie within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The town is most famous for Shiraoi Ainu Museum or called Porotokotan. Ainu culture and lifestyle is shown in an outdoor reproduction of a small Ainu village and inside a conventional museum building. Several performances, such as traditional Ainu dances, are held throughout the day Tokyo.
The Shiretoko-hanto Peninsula in northeastern Hokkaido is protruding out into the Sea of Okhotsk. It is said to be the last unexplored region of Japan, and consists of steep mountain peaks covered with virgin forests. No roads lead further than about three fourth 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, dear and foxes. Cormorants and white-tailed sea eagles live there, and the whole area has been designated as a national park. 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 July 2005, Shiretoko was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for the irreplaceable value of the peninsula's ecosystem and biodiversity. Visitors can see the whole of the peninsula and its cliffs by boarding a sightseeing boat that departs from Utoro Port. Shiretoko is also known as a "waterfall kingdom," and many waterfalls can be seen from the sightseeing boat. The warm-water falls, which gives off steam is just one example.
Sounkyo is a range of gorges located at the foot of Mt. Daisetsu-zan, near Asahikawa of central Hokkaido. Situated in the Daisetsuzan National Park, the area is best known for its onsen resorts as well as famous water fall and magnificent cliffs scenery. The Soun-kyo-onsen is in the middle of the gorge, and is full of modern hotels. The name of Sounkyo comes from Ainu language, which means "the river with many waterfalls". The gorge contains lots of waterfalls, of which the Ryusei-no-taki Falls (shooting star falls) and Ginga-no-taki Falls (Milky Way falls) are especially worth seeing. At both of these waterfalls, the water falls directly over the cliff, giving them a sense of great power. The Obako and Kobako rock formations are said to be the most beautiful places in the gorge. You can rent bicycles there. In summer the Soun-kyo Hi-matsuri (fire festival) takes place in the gorge, while in mid-winter there is the Hyobaku-matsuri Festival (ice waterfall festival).
Toya Onsen is dotted around the lake of the same name, in the southwest of Hokkaido, part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The lake and the surrounding peaks are a popular getaway for Japanese urban dwellers looking for an escape from the city, with hiking, fishing, water sports, onsen baths and simply enjoying the great outdoors being the key attractions. The Toya-ko-onsen, which stretches out along the 43-kilometer-diameter lake is one of the best spa resorts in Hokkaido. In 2008 Toya received its most illustrious guests to date when it was chosen by Japan to host the G8 Summit, to showcase Japan's natural beauty to the world. There are many places of interest around Lake Toya-ko including the Volcano Science Museum where they show visual images of the eruption that occurred in 1977, complete with a special sound system. There are also fully facilitated camping sites located around the lake.
Tsurui is a small village located in Kushiro District, southeastern Hokkaido. The district is most famous for Kushiro Marsh National Park and Tancho-bard. The spring in Tsurui starts in May as cherry blossom start to blossom. Animals and plants suddenly come to life after enduring a long and harsh winter. The nearby Kushiro Marsh, stretching 183km square kilometers, sheds its wintry colors and becomes covered in fresh green. When summer comes the Marsh is now covered with rich green, making a wonderful contrast with the blue of the rivers. In the fall the trees covering the mountains display their autumn leaves in various stunning shades of red and yellow. Finally winter steals over the Marsh, spreading thick snow on the ground.
Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan, is a port city sandwiched between the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. It is called the "wind town" because strong winds blow on so many days. The port is a centre for fishing boats bringing in rich catches of shellfish, such as crab, sea urchin and scallop. It also has ferries going to the Rishiri and Rebun islands, both of which are designated as national parks. Along the coastline is one of the few seawalls in the world that is shaped like a Greek temple. It is in the shape of a 427-meter-long half-arch, and contains a walkway inside. Thirty kilometers east of Wakkanai is Cape Soya, the northernmost point in Hokkaido. The cape has a stone monument in the shape of a triangular pyramid, which was built in the image of the Pole Star. On a clear day, you can see the outline of Sakhalin Island 43 kilometers away. Cape Noshappu, the location of the Wakkanai Lighthouse - the tallest in Hokkaido, is a 10-minute bus ride from Wakkanai Station. The cape is known as a place where you can watch the sun set beautifully below the horizon and into the sea.