Japan Regional Guide: Hokkaido
Japan's Regions: Hokkaido 北海道
- population - 5.68 million.
- Japan's second largest island after Honshu.
- no rainy season, unlike the rest of Japan.
- famous for open spaces, the annual winter Snow Festival in Sapporo and skiing.
- the most northerly of Japan's prefectures.
- large areas of National Parks, hot springs (onsen) and unspoiled forest
- ideal in summer for camping, hiking and hitch-hiking.
Hokkaido is Japan's most northerly region and prefecture and the second largest of Japan's four main islands, making up approximately 20% of Japan's land mass but with only around 5% of its population.
Hokkaido Prefecture map.
Hokkaido has a different feel from the rest of Japan. The weather is cooler with less humidity in the summer and the region escapes the earlier monsoon. Winters are cold and long, stretching from November to March, but are ideal for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, the celebrated snow festival (Yuki Matsuri) in Sapporo and the frozen northern seas off the coast of Wakkanai and the islands of Rebun and Rishiri.
The contrast between lush summer and frigid winter in Hokkaido is extreme. For several months powder snow falls. Cross-country skiing is the best way of getting around this kind of landscape.
Sapporo Beer Garden & Sapporo Beer Museum, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Hokkaido's history is shaped by its indigenous people the Ainu. Hokkaido, known as Ezo during the Edo Period (1603-1868) largely lay outside the control of the shogunate regime in Edo (Tokyo), however with the coming of the modernizing Meiji government in the 1870s, Ainu culture was largely subsumed during the 20th century, but there has been a recent welcome resurgence and interest in traditional Ainu culture and Ainu handicrafts of late.
There are Ainu villages and museums of Ainu culture at Poroto Kotan and Nibutani north of Noboribetsu.
Graceful Red-crowned Cranes are a wonderful presence in the wilder parts of Hokkaido.
Lavender and other floral fields at Tomita Farm in Furano.
Otaru, the relaxed ferry port 40km from Sapporo.
Niseko, one of the best ski resorts in Japan, 100 km west of Sapporo and increasingly popular with visitors from Australia.
Asahikawa, centrally-located and Hokkaido's second largest city after Sapporo.
Wakkanai, a laid-back northern port ideal for reaching the islands of Rebun and Reshiri.
Noboribetsu, Hokkaido's main hot spring (onsen) resort.
Skymark has flights to Chitose Airport from Nagoya, KIX, Kobe, Ibaraki, Narita and Haneda
There are airports at Chitose near Sapporo, Asahikawa, Hakodate, Kushiro, Memanbetsu and Wakkanai with flights to other cities in Japan including Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Tokyo. Chitose has international connections to Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Sakhalinsk (Russia) and Cairns and Melbourne in Australia.
There are a number of ferry services operating to and from various ports in Hokkaido.
Otaru to Maizuru, Niigata and Tsuruga.
Hakodate to Aomori and Oma.
Muroran to Aomori, Hachinohe and Naoetsu.
Tomakomai to Oarai, Sendai and Nagoya.
Wakkanai to Rebun and Rishiri.
There are trains from Sapporo and Hakodate to cities in Honshu including routes to Kyoto and Osaka - the overnight Twilight Express, Aomori, Sendai and Tokyo.
Sapporo has rail services to Abashiri, Asahikawa, Hakodate, Kushiro, Otaru, Tomakomai and Noboribetsu.
Sapporo is the main hub for buses on the island with services to most towns including Wakkanai (6 hours), Asahikawa (2 hours; 30 mins), Niseko (2 hours; 30 mins) and Noboribetsu (1 hour; 40 mins).