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AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN HOKKAIDO

by Pankaj Upreti
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THINGS TO DO IN HOKKAIDO

Hokkaido | Photo Credit – Benny Ang

With a wild, untamed landscape, Hokkaido is the second largest-northernmost island and is famous for its national parks, natural hot spring, ski resorts etc. It has coastline on the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike the technologically advanced, bustling cities of Japan like Tokyo, Hokkaido serves as a great retreat for people looking for closeness to nature.

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT HOKKAIDO?

Hokkaido is one of those places that has the best time to visit it all year round. To be honest, the best time to visit Hokkaido differs from person to person depending upon their choices and interests.

For people who like colder vacation, Hokkaido is wonderland for them in winter during the months of December to February – from snow slopes to a lot of sports to go with it, it has a lot to offer. However, people who like a little warmer but not humid weather, Hokkaido is blissful in summers.

So, there’s something to do here in every season . Whether it is the flower blooming season of spring or the color changing season of fall, it is always a good time to travel to Hokkaido.

WHAT IS HOKKAIDO FAMOUS FOR?

Hokkaido is famous for a lot of things.  Being one of the newly settled cities in Japan, Hokkaido has a lesser number of traditional Japanese style monuments. The beautiful weather and landscapes makes up for this. 

One of the most famous things that people like to do in Hokkaido is to indulge in natural hot springs, called onsen locally. Hokkaido is also famous for its coastal settlements and fresh seafood.

The cold sea water surrounding Hokkaido is full of drift ice which provides perfect breeding ground for fish and other seafood. Akkeshi’s oysters, Saroma’s scallops, and the northwest coast’s sea urchin are considered to be among Japan’s very best seafood.

Apart from this, the national parks, snowy slopes and snow covered ski resorts, and potentially active volcanoes of Hokkaido also makes it a famous tourist spot in Japan. Skiing is one of the most popular things to do in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is one of Japan’s best places for camping.

Below we have made a list of things you can do in Hokkaido which will also serve as an answer to why you should travel to Hokkaido, Japan and whether it’s worth visiting Hokkaido?

EXPLORE THE CAPITAL CITY, SAPPORO

Explore Sapporo, largest and capital city of Hokkaido
Explore Sapporo, largest and capital city of Hokkaido | Photo Credit – MIKI Yoshihito

The largest and capital city of Hokkaido, Japan, Sapporo covers most of the itinerary of Hokkaido. Sapporo has two airports, New Chitose and Okadama Airport. You can do a lot of photo worthy sightseeing in Sapporo. Places like Clock Tower, Odori Park, Asahiyama Park, Hokkaido University Botanic Garden are few places worth mentioning. 

Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art has a collection of both Japanese and Western art pieces, and also hosts a lot of temporary exhibits from time to time. Hokkaido Pioneer Village is also a very informative spot in Hokkaido that’ll give you some insights into the new settlements in japan.

Moerenuma Park is a popular spot among families. It has a beautiful expansive garden that has numerous installations. It has a 5-storey glass pyramid that will provide you a bird’s eye view of the whole city. Many rental cycle services are also available here for exploration of the park.

On the outskirts of Sapporo city, Jozankei is famous for its hot springs and Hoheikyo Dam. Jozankei is picture perfect in autumn. The haunting, infamous Abashiri Priosn’s museum is also easily reachable by taking night buses from Sapporo to JR Abashiri Station.

One of the tourists’ favourite things to do in Hokkaido is to attend the Sapporo Snow Festival that happens every year in the month of February. Sapporo Snow Festival is famous for its Ice Sculpture Competition that attracts artists from all over the world to travel to Hokkaido and make extensive snow and ice sculptures. Odori Park hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Sapporo has few one of the world’s best snow covered skiing spots that have also been featured in winter Olympics in the past. Mt. Teine is one such spot where skiing enthusiasts from beginner to professional level like to go. It also has various Japan’s best ski resorts like Sapporo Teine Ski Resort.

Places like Niseko have one of the best snow and ski slopes according to skiers famous all around the world. All of these places are easily reachable by road on a car from New Chitose Airport, where flights from all over Japan land. Click here to check out some of the ski spots with the best snow for powder skiing in Sapporo.

For people looking forward to enjoying a Japanese night life, a neighborhood called Susukino in Sapporo is the spot for them. It is dotted with pubs (izakaya), bars, and restaurants. 

Nijō Ichiba is the morning market where you can get the freshest seafood in the whole continent. Sapporo is famous for hairy crab and miso ramen. Miso ramen, one of the four types of ramen, is a delectable way to warm yourself up in the wintery weather of Sapporo. 

Kuwanomi (a type of mulberry fruit) jam is also very popular in this region. Aji No Tokeidai, Ramen Yokochō and Yukijirushi Pa-ra are few most popular food places in Sapporo. Sapporo is also a beer enthusiast’s paradise. Sapporo Beer Factory and Museum offers guided tours about the process of brewing in japan and sampling of beer. 

Sapporo also has a wide range of accommodation choices of all budget ranges all over the city.

EXPLORE ONE OF THE OLDEST CITY IN JAPAN, ASAHIKAWA

Visit Asahikawa, One of the oldest city in Japan
Visit Asahikawa, One of the oldest city in Japan | Photo Credit – hans-johnson

Asahikawa is located at the confluence of four rivers and is close to Taisetsu-zan mountains.

The district is famous for its furniture and pottery, so Arashiyama Pottery village and Asahikawa Furniture Center are popular among visitors. Asahikawa also has a few sightseeing dedicated to the Ainu tribe. People interested in history can visit Ainu Memorial Hall and Asahikawa City Museum. Asahibashi Bridge is one of the oldest and most famous bridges over Ishikari River. 

Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum is a 340 years old Sake brewery which has been featured in block prints of Japanese block prints. You can do the tasting of sake here and also explore its history in the museum on the top floor of the brewery. It is free and open to all. 

Just like Sapporo, Asahikawa also has its own festival called Asahikawa Winter Festival which is hosted in Tokiwa Park. This is also held in February every year. 

Another famous spot among people is Asahiyama Zoo, which is the most famous zoo in Japan. It is famous for its polar bear enclosure which gives people a glimpse of bears underwater, seal enclosure and penguin enclosure, and orangutans. The zoo will make you feel like you’re in an enclosure surrounded by these amazing creatures. It also has a walk through glass tunnel that goes under the zoo’s pool. 

The city is the coldest city in Japan and gets covered in snow. But the upside of this is that it also has some good snow covered ski slopes. Kamui Ski Links is a local choice for skiing. In summer because of the absence of snow, visitors who travel here enjoy cycling along the rivers. Cycling paths to Kamuikotan and cycling paths to Higashikagura are the most popular cycling paths.

Nitta street is famous for selling souvenirs like Japanese dolls, pottery, silk etc.  A glass studio called Juncobo is a world renowned sake glass manufacturer. Asahikawa is also famous for its Ramen Village that popularized Ramen Shoyu (soy sauce).

The city is also famous for a mutton delicacy called Asahikawa mutton barbecue  or “Genghis Khan” mutton barbecue. It is a grilled lamb and vegetable dish named after Asia’s most prolific conqueror and goes well with beer. Taisetsu Microbrew Beer or “Taisetsu ji-beer” is also another brewery gem of Hokkaido, Japan.

STROLL IN FURANO LAVENDER FIELDS

STROLL IN FURANO LAVENDER FIELDS
STROLL IN FURANO LAVENDER FIELDS | Photo Credit – Reginald Pentinio

Lavender fields are the favorite sightseeing spot among people of Japan and otherwise. For all the purple color fanatics out there, you’ll love this spot. It is only 45 mins away from Asahikawa Airport. The fields bloom in July-August month every year. Farm Tomita is the most popular lavender field.

Furano is also famous for its rainbow colored meadows called Shikisai-no-oka that look like meadows straight out of some fairytale.  Your Trip Furano will be wasted if you’ll not take a stroll in these fields.

VISIT OTARU AND SHAKOTAN

Otaru | Photo Credit – Motohiko Tokuriki

Otaru is a coastal city in Hokkaido which is known for having a calm vibe to it. The city is famous for giving an insight to older Japanese days along the scenic Otaru canal. You can enjoy the city’s various sushi restaurants at Sushi Street. Tanaka distillery in Otaru is also a quiet hit among the visitors.

People also go snorkeling and kayaking along the bay and explore Otaru cave. Lucky ones are able to spot sea lions here. Make sure to visit  Wakadori Jidai Naruto Honten to have the best fried chicken ever, according to locals. Near Otaru, Cape Shakotan protrudes into the Sea of Japan.

Shakotan also offers snorkeling and kayaking opportunities at night also.Guided tours for spotting dolphins and other sea animals are also offered here. (check here.) Joy flights from Shakotan are offered to heart -shaped island, Takarajima. Shakotan has the best sea urchin delicacies.

VISIT THE NATIONAL PARKS OF HOKKAIDO

Shiretoko National Park. Hokkaido
Shiretoko National Park. Hokkaido | Photo Credit – Teo Romera

Hokkaido is home to six national parks. All the wildlife lovers can enjoy spotting wildlife in their most natural habitat here. Akan National Park has mysterious lakes formed in the caldera of potentially active volcanic mountain, Lake Akan and Lake Mashu being the most famous.

Lake Mashu is well known as the clearest lake in the world. Reason for this could be the introduction of sockeye salmon and rainbow trout in Lake Mashu. Beneath Akan lake, you’ll be able to see the beautiful and famous Japanese marimo balls. Lake Mashu has a hiking trail that leads to the summit of Mt. Mashudake.

Akan National Park also has almost 200 Ainu tribes’ people still living there. If you’re curious about the lifestyle of these people, this is going to be your best chance to learn about them. There are observation decks around these lakes to observe nature. One can spot sika deer here.

In southern Hokkaido, Onuma Quasi-National Park is another beautiful national park near Hakodate. In central Hokkaido, Shiretoko National Park is known for the wilderness where red foxes and brown bears roam freely and bathe in hot waterfalls.

There’s a hot spring waterfall in Shiretoko National Park. Shiretoko National Park is a World heritage site. In winters, drift ice can be seen in the Shiretoko Peninsula in the winter.Japan’s largest national park called Daisetsuzan National Park  is known for having the best hiking trails.

A national park called Shikotsu-Toya National Park is the most beautiful national park. It has numerous hot springs, two caldera lakes with active volcanoes. Lake Toya is also another attraction of this place. It has beautiful mossy canyons and its own geopark.

Here is the detailed account of all the national parks in Hokkaido, Japan to make your wilderness experience hassle free.

BLUE POND IN BIEI-CHO

Biei town has garnered a lot of interest as a sightseeing spot in Hokkaido travel itinerary. It has everything that makes up for the spectacular landscape – snow, beautiful flowers, trees and a blue pond.

It lies midway between Asakihawa and Furano. The artificial pond, Blue Pond, gives the most soothing experience to visitors. The Blue Pond is the same lake from 2012 Macbook’s wallpaper. The blue color of the pond changes its color according to the season.

UNKAI TERRACE

Unkai literally means sea of clouds. Hoshino Resort Tomamu’s Unkai Terrace provides one of the most surreal experiences of seeing a sea of clouds. The weather conditions have to be optimum for this observation. You don’t need to be a guest at the resort to enjoy the views. There are observation decks lined up here to enjoy the view. The terrace is open from May to October only.

HAKODATE

Downtown Hakodate | Photo Credit – saeru

Hakodate is the historic city of Japan. Mt Hakodate offers one of the best night views of a city in the whole world. Mt Hakodate is popular among people of all ages. 

On the foot of Mount Hakodate, there’s a historical district called Motomachi. It has a European-style building called Old Public Hall and housed Hakodate’s government in the early 1900’s. It also has a lot of churches and consulates.

Another site in most travel itinerary is Fort Goryōkaku and Goryōkaku Tower. The fort is western style, star shaped fort that was made for security purposes. There is a museum here to give you an insight about the importance of this place in Hakodate’s history. Most of the areas of the fort are demolished, the expansive park that gets filled with cherry blossoms in spring gets most of the attraction.

Jomon Museum Culture Center in Hakodate is a history buff’s opportunity to understand the history and culture of one of the islands of Japan, Hokkaido. From the first arrival of man to customs of ancestral people through multiple artefacts that were discovered near the museum, including the clay Dogu statuette.

Every restaurant in Hakodate has its signature squid dish known as Hakodate shio rāmen, a version of the ramen prepared with squid stock. Seiryuken is recommended by most visitors for this dish. Check out their menu here.

HELL VALLEY

Hell Valley | Photo Credit – Kentaro Ohno

For all the dystopian, sci-fi movie feels, Hell Valley is crater boiling with sulfuric acid, volcanic steam and dramatic hiking paths. Located in Noboribetsu, Jigokudani, this trail is for all the adventurous hiking junkies. The fruit of this hike is the end where you let your feet soak in hot spring water and relax.

HOKKAIDO NATURE TRAIL

This notorious hiking trail is a total win for all the hiking junkies. Most of the trail covers the active volcano site and other mountains of Hokkaido, Japan. With 2849 miles of distance, it is the longest trail that Hokkaido has to offer. The trail covers a diverse set of landscapes – from glaciers, forests, volcanic caldera, coastlines, national parks, pastoral lowlands and lakes.

FRUIT FARMS

Fruit Farm, Hokkaido
Fruit Farm, Hokkaido | Photo Credit – Martin Fisch

In Hokkaido, there are fruit theme parks. These parks let you head straight to the source and pick out your own fruit. From strawberries, apples, pears, or grapes, to melons, there’s a farm in Hokkaido for all of your fruity cravings. Farms at Jozankei, Yamamoto, and Sakuranboyama are quite famous ones.

NOBORIBETSU

Ōyunuma, Noboribetsu | Photo Credit – x768

Noboribetsu in Hokkaido is known for its natural hot springs. Famous Hell Valley is situated in this town. Stone demon statues decorate the city center. Trails weave between the oaks in the Noboribetsu Primeval Forest. Shiho Peak has panoramic views over the waters of Lake Kuttara in the east. Noboribetsu-onsen is the world’s largest hot spring in the world.

CAN YOU SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN HOKKAIDO?

Very rarely when Aurora is seen very far south, one can observe the brilliant natural light display in Hokkaido. Apart from that northern lights cannot be seen from Hokkaido. It is too far south for most lights to be seen.

Please also read about fun things to do in Omaha.


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