Nonfiction | On the Road

10 Photos that will make you want to visit Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the perfect ski destination, but any other season on this island in Japan can be just as great.

Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan. But despite its massive land area, it is only inhabited by less than five percent of Japan’s population. Which is why the island has gained a reputation for having unspoiled natural wilderness and is often considered as Japan’s last frontier.

Being the northernmost region in the country, Hokkaido gets extremely cold during winter. A thick mantle of snow covers the land, turning the island into a perfect ski destination. Additionally, it does not get too hot and humid during summer, making it a popular destination for biking, hiking, and other nature adventures. And even during spring and fall, nature is bursting with vibrant colors.

Winter is almost over but it doesn’t mean the end of travel season for the island. With all its natural terrains, food, landmarks, and festivities, Hokkaido remains the ideal travel destination in Japan no matter what time of the year you wish to visit. Not convinced yet? These 10 photos will definitely make you want to visit Hokkaido.

This is part of #JAPAN47project, an ongoing series of blog posts rounding up the most unique, if not the best, travel destinations in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also want to read about the “Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Aomori Prefecture.”

Sapporo Snow Festival

Image via Flickr by Stuart Rankin

The Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) is an annual festival held in the Hokkaido capital, Sapporo. The festival is staged in three different locations in the city. The main site is at the Tsu Dome and lasts for 12 days, starting from the early days of February, while the two satellite sites in Odori and Susukino only open during the last week of the festival. You may visit the official festival site to know the exact dates of the exhibitions.

More than two million visitors from all over the world come to see about 400 ice sculptures in varying themes from movies, sports, and other historical and pop culture icons. Night illuminations and other musical performances are also held throughout the span of the snow festivities.

Ski Resorts in Sapporo

Image via Flickr by Robert Thomson

Hokkaido is blessed with powdery snow during winter. And thanks to its vast and unspoiled terrains, the ski resorts in the island is on the top of its class. Moreso, because of its geographical location, the winter season in this region lasts longer and most of the ski resorts are open from as early as November and as late as May.

Some of the best ski resorts in Hokkaido are the Furano Ski Resort (10 minutes by from JR Furano Station), Niseko Annupri International Ski Area (10 minutes by bus from JR Niseko Station), and Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort (30 minutes by taxi from Otaru-Chikko Station).

Asahidake Onsen

Image via Flickr by Mikael Leppä

Asahidake Onsen is a popular hiking trail and hot spring destination at the Daisetsuzan National Park in Asahikawa city. There are campsites, a ski resort, a ropeway, and a visitor center but there are no ATMs, shops or restaurants in the area.

Mount Asahidake can be viewed and accessed from Asahidake Onsen and is a popular destination during early fall for the colorful leaves.

Sakura viewing at Matsumae Park

Image via Wikimedia Commons by pakku

Matsumae Park is home to about ten thousand cherry blossom trees of 250 different species. Due to its large variants, the trees bloom in different timings spanning to a whole month. Which is why the Matsumae Park is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in Hokkaido.

At the heart of the park stands the only Japanese style castle in Hokkaido, the Matsumae Castle. Aside from providing as an elegant centerpiece amongst the blooming cherry trees, it functions as a local museums housing several artifacts from the clans that inhabited Matsumae.

Lavender Season at Tomita Farm

Image via Flickr by sodai gomi

Imagine having to spend summer among rows and rows of lavender in full bloom. A wonderful feast for the senses. Summer is synonymous with the lavender season in Furano and what better way to appreciate the lavender blooms but in Tomita Farm.

Tomita Farm has about 20 hectares of farmland with 12 flower fields. The farm hosts the annual Lavender Festival in the town of Furano in July where the lavenders are in full bloom.

Lake Toya

Image via Flickr by Craig Stanfill.

Lake Toya is a caldera lake which is a part of the Toya Caldera and Usu Volcano Global Geopark. Resting at the lake is Mount Usu, an active volcano which emits white smoke that adds to the picturesque beauty of the scenery.

During winter, the surrounding area is covered with thick snow which in turn makes the lake an ideal ski destination. The lake doesn’t freeze even in the height of the cold and is surrounded by several hot springs.

Otaru Canal

Image via Flickr by ncburton

Otaru Canal used to be the point of transporting goods when no other ports allowed unloading of shipping vessels. When larger ports became available at the end of the 20th century, the canal was converted into a tourist spot instead of being part of land reclamation.

Nowadays, Otaru Canal is a perfect destination for leisurely strolls. The area is also populated by traditional and foreign restaurants as well as many other establishments of touristic interest.

The canal is just a ten-minute walk from Otaru Station.

Hokkaido University Ginkgo Tree Avenue

Image via Flickr by MIKI Yoshihito

The path going to the main gate of the Hokkaido University is open for public access. It spans about six kilometers and both sides are adorned with Ginko trees whose leaves turn golden during the fall season, creating a magnificent sight among passersby or people having leisurely strolls.

Daisetsuzan National Park

Image via Flickr by Dimitry B.

The Daisetsuzan National Park is Japan’s largest national park and is a popular hiking trail especially during fall. It is known for being the first spot in Japan when the temperate deciduous trees start changing colors, announcing the arrival of the fall season.

How to go to Hokkaido from Tokyo

Image via Wikimedia Commons by Rsa

There are several airports in Hokkaido and you can reach nine of them via direct domestic flights from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The airports are Sapporo, Hakodate, Ozora, Kushiro, Asahikawa, Obihiro, Nakashibetsu, Wakkanai, and Monbetsu. Flights from Haneda Airport usually takes 60 to 90 minutes to Hokkaido.

On the other hand, you can reach Sapporo and Hakodate airports from Narita Airport in Tokyo.

If you have plenty of times, you can directly reach Sapporo and Hakodate via overnight sleeper trains which take about 17 hours from Tokyo. Alternatively, you may take the bullet trains from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station which would only take about four hours and it’s covered by the Japan Rail Pass.