Hokkaido, Japan’s Enchanting Islands
A fairy tale setting carved in monochrome, with pristine snow blanketing the sleeping volcanoes and silent landscapes…winters that awe and exhilarate. A burst of pale pink cherry blossoms, welcoming the joyous springtime, endless fragrant lavender fields under clear blue skies, and a dramatic autumn, when the abundant foliage blazes in brilliant fall colours. This is Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, in all its seasonal shades.
But Hokkaido is so much more than its natural beauty. This scarcely populated, untamed countryside takes you off the beaten path and into a world of endless discovery. From the adrenaline-inspired thrill seeker hiking up its mountains or skiing down its slopes, to the nature lover exploring its gorgeous national parks, to the wanderer discovering the culture of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu, the island has a little something for everyone.
When to visit
Depending on your interests, visit Hokkaido in summer for its flowers and festivals, or in winter for it skiing, winter sports and onsen.
Perhaps Hokkaido’s finest offering is its light, powder snow, and Niseko, one of the foremost destinations for skiing and snowboarding delivers in abundance. With miles of backcountry and off-piste opportunities along with a vast network of ski runs, gondolas and lifts, Niseko is a paradise for those who revel in winter sports. Of course, the day isn’t over until you return to your ryokan and absorb the soothing atmosphere around the warm onsen. If you’re outdoors on a clear night, you can feel your exhaustion melt away with the magma-heated waters, under brilliant, starlit skies.
Furano also offers myriad skiing opportunities in winter, but tempts tourists more with its fragrant and colourful blossoms in summer. Lupines and Tulips bloom in abundance in May, while June favours the Poppies and Blue Salvia. Also, June onwards, the lavenders start blooming, stretching the purple landscape to endless horizons. August ushers in the Sunflowers and Cosmos, while the bright yellow Mustard and Dahlias welcome the fall.
Hokkaido is home to over 1200 events and festivals through the year that can be enjoyed up close. Furano, nicknamed “The Navel Town”, hosts the navel festival in summer, where thousands of participants draw funny faces on their bellies and dance in the main street. Port festivals are also held in summer in the coastal towns, as a prayer for a good catch. However, nothing quite compares to Yuki Matsuri, or the Sapporo Snow Festival held in Hokkaido’s capital city in February. A celebration of winter in true carnival-style, you’ll be treated to a smorgasbord of ice sculptures of gigantic proportions, carved in the shape of your favourite anime characters, palaces, dragons, and even the Taj Mahal!
When in Sapporo, don’t miss the delicious ramen and golden beer. Travel on to Jozankei Onsen to luxuriate in the hot springs, visit Otaru, the harbour city boasting herring mansions and its alluring canal area, or capture the sights and scenes around the picturesque Lake Shikotsu, a caldera lake encircled by mountains.
Absorb scenic splendours at the Daisetsuzan National Park and Akan National Park, a special wilderness that connects you with nature amid towering mountains, active volcanoes, thick forests, mirror-like lakes and secret onsen. If you’re adventurous, you’ll hike to Shiretoko-hantō, the peninsula known to the Ainu as ‘the end of the world’ or sail to Rishiri-tõ and Rebun-tō to admire the marshlands and wildflowers. An interesting phenomenon of drift ice is best viewed in late February around the coast of Abashiri.
What to do
– Enjoy powder snow and skiing at Niseko
– Walk the lavender fields in Furano
– Be one with nature at the National Parks
– Enjoy the snow slides and sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival