There is something about Hokkaido, Japan's most northernmost main island Hokkaido that makes it a hidden gem for travelers. Could it be the sense of remoteness or its unspoiled nature that makes it a magnet for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and Osaka. Or could it be that due to its colonization within the last 150 years, that it does not have this historical shrines, temples and monuments that have come to exemplify Japan, a country that is rich in culture and tradition. One could make all of those assumptions but for many, it seems that it is all of the above coupled with the people of Hokkaido who have often been characterized as open and hearty. Regardless, Hokkaido has much to offer travelers seeking a different Japan experience.
About Hokkaido The Hokkaido region is one of eight prefectures that are divided into sub prefectures, primarily due its large size. Hokkaido is know for its cold winters and mild summers. Autumn in Hokkaido is relatively mild and the fall colors are usually best in mid October. During the summer months, one can find usually clear skies unlike most of Japan which is usually finds itself in the midst of their rainy season. Sapporo is Hokkaido's largest city and the prefectural capitol. Sapporo comes from the "Ainu" language and literally means "large river flowing through the plain". A favorite among many visitors is the city of Hakodate located on the southern tip of Hokkaido. As a seaport, it is known for its seafood and buildings that were a result of western influence due to the opening of the port to international travel. Once such tourist attraction is Fort Goryokaku which is notable as Japan's first western style fortress.
Hot springs (Onsen) Hokkaido was formed based on three primary volcanic mountain ranges. Because of this, Hokkaido lays claim to more than 200 hot springs that can be found throughout the prefecture. One of the more popular and scenic onsen areas would be that of the Toya-ko region. It has become a favorite among Japanese and US visitors alike.
Natural Beauty What Hokkaido may lack in historical significance, it makes up in the natural, open, and scenic beauty of Japan. For the most part, most of Hokkaido's wilderness has been designated as national and prefectural parkland. Forests, which cover a great part of Hokkaido is a rich source of lumber, pulp and paper. With much of the land being covered in forest, the rich greenery of spring is an unmistakable trait of Hokkaido. Within Hokkaido (primarily in the eastern regions) one can still find plains and rolling hills that produces most of Japan's dairy products. But one cannot deny that among all of the beauty of Hokkaido, Akan National Park and Shikotsu-Toya National Park stand out as the icons which represent the untamed wilderness of Hokkaido. Akan National Park is located in the eastern end of Hokkaido is famous for its hot springs, mountains and crater lakes. Lake Kussharo is the largest of these crater lakes and provides a playground for a multitude of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and cycling during the summer months. Shikotsu-Toya National Park is in the western region near Sapporo. As with Akan National Park, much of the features is a result of volcanic activity. Within the park itself, one finds many lakes but one to take notice of is Lake Toya. Renowned for is almost perfect circular and crystal blue appearance.
Hokkaido-enjoy the food Hokkaido is in particularly known for its abundance and quality of fresh seafood. Due to its freshness, one can find seafood served in a variety of ways from being grilled, sushi, and in soups. However, a favorite among many is Kaisendon which is basically a seafood served over rice. Hokkaido is more than just seafood. Sapporo Rahmen (noodles) is served in a variety of ways and varies from region to region. It's popularity has spread throughout Japan and its beginnings was in 1923 when a Chinese restaurant began to serve it. A uniquely Hokkaido dish is "Jingisukan" which is a barbecue of either mutton or lamb in a a barbecue sauce unique to the Hokkaido region. We may associate this dish with "Mongolian Barbecue" or "Genghis Khan". Hokkaido is also prized for its dairy products as a majority of Japan's production comes from this region.
Hokkaido - its culture Much of Hokkaido has it roots in the Ainu culture. Only in 1868, was the region colonized under Japan. Because of this, much of the tradition and culture that has become symbolic of Japan is not present in this northernmost island. As defined, the Ainu are aborigines of Hokkaido and their somewhat European features are unlike many Asians. Because of this, it is uncertain of their origin is uncertain. However, because of their influence, much of Hokkaido has remnants of their history and culture. A very popular museum that recreates the Ainu culture and history is "Porotokotan" or Shiraoi Ainu Museum. Traditional Ainu performances are held throughout the day. The town of Shiraoi is located near Noboribetsu.
Hokkaido is truly a unique experience that is different than visits to many of the cities and sights of the main island of Honshu. Due to its remoteness, wilderness and a history, it provides a different glimpse of Japan that rewards the traveler and adventure seeker an experience that will be well remembered.
About the Author
Howard writes for Kobayashi Travel Service, a leading tour operator of escorted tours to Japan. www.ktshawaii.com