Japan’s northernmost island, bordered by the Sea of Japan (East Sea) to the west, the Sea of Okhotsk to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south, Hokkaido covers 22% of the total land area of the country. The vast wilderness of Hokkaido provides numerous outdoor pursuits, mainly famous for its ski resort from the abundance of snow, and its cities against a backdrop of mountains, lakes and the sea, provide culinary delights and a dose of culture. It is also home to the Ainu, Japan’s indigenous ethnic group of people with their traces still seen through many of the location names in the island.
Up in the most northern reaches of Japan, Hokkaido is a far cry from the densely populated cities of mainland Japan. Both domestically and internationally, particularly from the neighboring Asian countries, because of its different characteristics during each season offering various scenery, activities and food, this island has been one of the most popular destination for visitors annually.
The Stellar's Sea Eagle seen in Shiretoko
There are four distinctive seasons, and the mild weather in summer is great for exploring the green hills with beautiful flora in the national parks or go trekking to the mountains to enjoy alpine plants only seen in Hokkaido. Some of the most popular destinations are the National Parks galore; Shiretoko, a World Heritage site, and Daisetsuzan. Because of its geographical location, Hokkaido is the first prefecture in Japan for the autumn to come with a beautiful foliage. And it gets pretty chilly after the sunset from around mid-September. Yet will all these magnificent, beautiful, untouched nature which have seen throughout the year, the sounds of amid the still of nature in winter is most attractive for visitors.
Rainbow flower garden at Shikisai no Oka (Biei)
Beautiful foliage seen from Asahidake Ropeway
The most awaited season for all visitors is winter where the heavy snowfall attracts skiers and snowboarders from all over the world to the powder capital of Japan, Niseko and also to other several world class ski/snowboarding resorts. And the annual snow festival in February, which displays gravity-defying snow sculptures throughout the streets are also one of the main events in winter. Such natural phenomena like “Diamond Dust”, “Sun Pillar” or “Snow Roller” can only be seen here making the whole island itself a one giant amazing photo spot.
The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo and the famous Sapporo beer have established the city as a tourist destination in its own right. Besides the Sapporo Beer Museum, Sapporo offers a plenty of tourist attractions such as the morning fish market, snow festival, parks, restaurants and more. Some may have known this city as the Asia’s first ever place to host winter Olympics back in 1972. A popular day trip from the city would be a bus ride to Asahikawa Zoo known for its behavioral exhibits, where visitors can observe the animals behaving as they would in the wild. It is worth a visit to go especially in winter to see the penguin walk in a group right infront of you. On the other, the island’s southern tip harbor city, Hakodate is also a must not be missed place to take a visit. This city was one of the first Japanese harbor cities to be opened to international trade after the country's era of isolation, and still have some influence from the overseas. The main example would be the western-style star shaped fort, Goryokaku built in the Edo period, which bears a resemblance to the much later Pentagon, the HQ of the US military, in Washington, DC.
Goryokaku (star shaped fort) in Hakodate
Famous penguin walk at Asahiyama Zoo
Aside from all of those breathtaking locations and events, Hokkaido is world-famous for its wide variety of locally grown vegetables to seafood from the surrounding seas, to dairy products to the most famous mutton and lamb dish named “Genghis Khan” (pronounced jingisukan in Japanese). The dish itself has no relation to the great Mongolian leader. While the island being one of the best culinary hotspots in Japan, the seas surrounding the island nurture an essential material to Japanese cuisine today. Dashi or more commonly known as soup stock which is commonly used in Japanese dishes are made from seafood and out of all, from kelp. These kelps from Hokkaido creates a delicate umami flavor which is a key component in the Japanese cuisine.