Reasons to Visit Hokkaido
okkaido (北海道) may not often be the prime choice for first-time travellers to Japan. Most travellers will probably go for an urban tour around Tokyo or a cultural visit to Kyoto or Osaka. Hokkaido offers a different travel experience to its visitors, in a quiet relaxing trip with breathtaking unspoiled scenery and plenty of activities to do throughout the year.
Hokkaido is the second largest of Japan's four main islands, it has a beautiful coastline that is surrounded by three seas; the Japan Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the Okhotsk Sea. Being the northernmost part of Japan, the winters here are also harsher and the summers milder. It is also the most sparsely populated of its 47 prefectural-level subdivisions. A reason why the natural sights here remain unspoiled and stunning making it a popular destination among the outdoor lovers, from skiers and snowboarders to hikers and cyclists in the summer.
If you’re looking to see a completely different side to Japan, here are some reasons that makes Hokkaido a fantastic holiday destination.
Did you know: Hokkaido did not officially become part of Japan until 1868. Until the 1800s, the population of Ainu (the indigenous people) still outnumbered the number of Japanese living on the island.
Festivals & Activities
Hokkaido offers beautiful unspoiled scenery. There are many things to do and see here in Hokkaido throughout the year. The milder summers are great for visiting the national parks, hiking through the mountains or canoeing down the rivers. Hokkaido is often lauded as a powder snow paradise. In the winters, many visitors would come to enjoy some skiing or snowboarding and even dog-sledding. There is also a grand festival not to be missed - the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Sapporo Snow Festival
This festival is so popular that it is almost synonymous with Hokkaido. Sapporo Snow Festival is a grand event that attracts millions of visitors annually, 2.6 million people in 2017! It is a one-week event held in February that features hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures, illuminated at night to become a winter wonderland.
Admire the beautiful grand structures or hop on an ice slide and venture into a huge maze made entirely of snow. There are also music performances and a variety of regional food stalls that liven up the atmosphere.
Otaru Town (小樽)
Otaru is a small romantic city, about half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train, filled with exotic history and beautifully preserved sights, a perfect place to visit and relax for the family. It is also famous for its glasswork shops and old stone warehouses. Otaru served as a major trade and fishing port and has flourished with herring fishing. It was also once the center of the economy of Hokkaido.
There are many things to see here, perhaps the most iconic and picturesque would be the Otaru Canal, once a central part of the city’s busy port and now a beautiful symbol of Hokkaido. The canal makes for a pleasant evening stroll with a romantic and serene atmosphere. It also serves as the main site of the town's Snow Light Path Festival. You can also find plenty of delicacies here from the famous sweet shops to a variety of fresh seafood.
Jigokudani (地獄谷, Hell Valley)
Jigokudani is an explosion crater in Noboribetsu Onsen, created some 10,000 years ago. It offers some spectacular sights of the hot steam vents, bubbling hot water and volcanic activities. Jigokudani is the main source for Noboribetsu's hot spring waters and magnificent onsens. Feel the vitality of Jigokudani as you soak in and enjoy the onsen here.
There is also a Jigokudani Monkey Park that offers visitors a unique experience of seeing wild macaques bathing in a natural hot spring. These wild macaques or Snow Monkeys enjoy a good soak especially in the winters.
Hot Spring Baths (温泉, onsen)
Looking forward to a luxurious bath in the cold winter? Hokkaido is the right place to be. It is home to some of the most serene and luxurious onsen across Japan. Noboribetsu is Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort. There are as many as eleven different kinds of thermal waters here and they are considered the best and most effective in Japan.
There are many types of hot springs, each distinguished by the minerals dissolved in the water. Different minerals have different health benefits, and all hot springs are supposed to have a relaxing effect on your body and mind. They are also traditionally believed to be a cure for just about any type of ailment. No wonder both locals and travellers alike love going to the onsen to rest, relax and recharge.
Hokkaido’s cuisine is one of the island’s biggest attractions, from the high quality seafood and the local agricultural products. Though you can say the same for virtually every part of Japan, Hokkaido has some unique delicacies and the freshest seafood. The cuisine are mostly adapted to the cold weather and is generally richer and stronger.
Hokkaido is renowned for the quality and freshness of its seafood, due to the cold waters that make it ideal for the fishes. From the king crabs to the sea urchins and fresh salmon roe, there’s a whole lot to choose from and one good way to sample them all is to visit a morning market like the Hakodate’s Morning Market. Grilled king crab for breakfast anyone?
With an expansive countryside, Hokkaido is well known for its high quality dairy products, producing about half of the country’s milk, amongst other dairy products like butter, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. As such, the use of dairy products in the dishes are much more common here than elsewhere in Japan. Ramen is often served with a slice of butter on top.
Genghis Khan (Jingisukan)
Grilled meat in the cold winter with a glass of beer sounds like a perfect dinner date for some like the great Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan. Jingisukan, also called Genghis Khan, is a BBQ dish with mutton as its main star usually. Genghis Khan can be enjoyed at specialized restaurants across Hokkaido. One of the best places to enjoy it is the atmospheric beer hall at the Sapporo Beer Museum.
Beer was first introduced in the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912) by Germany and has become the most popular alcoholic beverage ever since. Hokkaido is the birthplace of beer in Japan, with Sapporo Beer founded here in 1876. Visit the Sapporo Beer Factory and Beer Museum to learn more about the history and brewing process and enjoy a drink session at the end of the tour.
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