Japan Regional Guide: Hokkaido
Japan's Regions: Hokkaido 北海道
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 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.
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.
Hakodate, an historic treaty port and the access point for trains arriving from Honshu via the Seikan Tunnel (the world's longest underwater tunnel).
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.
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.
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 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).
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