Travel to Hokkaido Island 北海道
The big wild island with grandiose landscapes
For the Japanese, Hokkaido is synonymous with wide-open spaces and wild nature. The northern tip of the archipelago, where temperatures can reach minus 30 degrees in winter in the far north of the island but where lavender and sunflowers bloom in summer. Mountains, volcanoes, plains, lakes, rivers, marshes, hot springs, and magnificent national parks populated by wild animals attract thousands of visitors each year, especially during the summer when temperatures are cooler than in the rest of Japan, and in winter for the perfect powdered snow.
Geography of Hokkaido
With 83,456.58 km2, Hokkaido is the second largest of the four main islands of the Archipelago but the second least populated since it has just over 5 million inhabitants, a small part of which is formed by the Ainu ethnic minority, the aborigines of Japan. It is located north of the island of Honshu from which it is separated by the Strait of Tsugaru. It is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Sea of Japan to the west, and the Sea of Okhotsk to the north.
Hokkaido is both a region and a prefecture on its own. Sapporo is the main city.
The history of Hokkaido
For a long time, the only inhabitants of Hokkaido were those of the Ainu minority. It was not until the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868) that the Japanese and Ainu began to trade and that some Japanese came to settle on the island. But in 1599, the Tokugawa shogun sent the Matsumae clan there and began the colonization of Hokkaido at the expense of its indigenous people.
In the Meiji era (1868-1912), to protect the region from the ambitions of neighboring Russia, Hokkaido was placed under the authority of the Emperor of Japan and Sapporo became its capital while the island took its current name: Hokkaido, which means "the way of the North Sea".
- Read also: The former prefecture of Hokkaido
Culinary specialties of Hokkaido
Surrounded by three different seas, it's no wonder the island is famous for its fish and seafood, including wild salmon and crabs. Visitors come from all over the country to taste its different varieties of crabs: spider crab, snow crab, and cakes. Its prawns, sea urchins, and cuttlefish are also a delight for visitors.
- Read also: Eating crab in Japan
Although only 16% of the land is cultivated, Hokkaido is also famous for its vegetables (onions, asparagus), potatoes, corn, melons, and dairy products.
One of the island's specialties is lamb and mutton, very rarely eaten in the rest of Japan. The typical dish is called Genghis Khan. It is thin slices of mutton or lamb grilled with vegetables on a cast iron plate.
Finally, beer and whiskey made in Hokkaido are renowned throughout the Archipelago and even beyond.
- Read also: The specialties of Hokkaido
The must-see cities of Hokkaido
Sapporo - Fifth metropolis of Japan and "capital" of the island, Sapporo is a recent city (late 19th century), dynamic and lively. In winter, it attracts many visitors thanks to its proximity to numerous ski resorts and its famous snow festival, Yuki matsuri.
Hakodate - This is undoubtedly the prettiest city in Hokkaido and also the one with the most historical monuments. It is also the most important port on the island.
Otaru - Only 40 km from Sapporo, the port city of Otaru is a charming stopover and a must for seafood and sushi lovers.
Places to visit in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is renowned for its natural parks and beautiful wild landscapes, the main ones being:
Shiretoko - Crystal clear lakes, hot waterfall, wild animals (beware of bears!), and onsen enchant visitors.
Cape Nosappu - Japan's most easterly point, with sweeping views of the Pacific.
Akan National Park - Dominated by the sacred Ainu mountains O-Akan Dake and Me-Akan Dake, this natural park is also endowed with splendid lakes and hot springs.
Lake Utonai - A must for birdwatching.
Mount Apoi Classified as a geopark by UNICEF, the place is a delight for hikers.
The Notsuke Peninsula - A huge 26-kilometer long strip of sand and land that borders the Pacific Ocean. A unique place.
Rebun Island - The end of the world. Rebun Island is the last inhabited northern island of Japan.
What to do in Hokkaido?
In addition to visits and hikes in the sites and national parks mentioned above, you can enjoy the thermal springs and/or indulge in the pleasures of winter sports. Hokkaido is known for having the best snow in Japan. What could be better than soaking in natural hot water pools after a cool day's walk or after hurtling down the snowy slopes that Hokkaido's ski resorts are famous for?
Address, timetable & access
TimetableSapporo is served by daily flights from Tokyo and major cities in Japan. Four other airports are scattered from north to south of the island. Hokkaido is also accessible by Shinkansend from Honshu.