Exploring Japan returns to the northern part of the country, this time with Hokkaido.
Hokkaido is the northernmost prefecture in Japan, and it occupies an entire island. It is also Japan’s largest prefecture. It is the most similar area of Japan to my home country of Canada. The population is 5,507,456. The 5 largest cities are:
- Sapporo (1,921,831)
- Asahikawa (352,105)
- Hakodate (279,851)
- Kushiro (183,757)
- Tomakomai (174,216)
Hokkaido’s population is dropping, as are most of the cities in the prefecture, but Sapporo and Tomakomai have increasing populations.
Matsumae Castle is the only castle in Hokkaido, and it’s located in the town of Matsumae. It is the youngest traditional castle in Japan, though what you see is a reconstruction.
Hokkaido has plenty of professional sports to watch.
In baseball, they have the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Sapporo. In J-League soccer, there is Consadole Sapporo. And then, in the Asia League Ice Hockey, there are the Nippon Paper Cranes in Kushiro and the Oji Eagles in Tomakomai.
Things to see and do
Hokkaido is one of the best destinations in Japan for nature, hiking, and skiing. Shiretoko National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most remote areas in Japan. Sapporo hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival with many ice sculptures. These are two things I really want to see.
Sapporo is one of the largest cities in Japan. The Tokeidai (Clock Tower) is the symbol of the city, but it is also considered one of the most disappointing sights in Japan. Odori Park is a very long park running through downtown Sapporo. At one end is Sapporo TV Tower, a copy of the Eiffel Tower with an observatory. You can also do some beer tasting at the Sapporo Beer Museum. Hokkaido Pioneer Village shows what Sapporo was like during the industrial age. The 100th Anniversary Memorial Park has a tall tower that can be climbed and provides a good view of the area. Asahiyama Park has a beautiful garden and has a great view of the city. JR Tower has a good view of the city, and it even has a men’s room with a view! For art lovers, you can see the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art and Sapporo Art Park. Moerenuma Park seems like an interesting park with a glass pyramid. For more gardens, the Hokkaido University Botanical Garden is good to see. Finally, the Hokkaido Shrine is a big shrine that would be worth seeing.
Abashiri is a northern city with some interesting looking museums, including the Abashiri Prison Museum and the Museum of Northern Peoples.
Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second largest city, but also the coldest in Japan. It’s home to Asahiyama Zoo, a zoo famous for its penguins, bears and seals. The Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum is a good place to do some sake tasting. Asahikawa Winter Festival is Hokkaido’s second biggest festival, but has the largest ice sculptures.
Furano is located in the centre of the prefecture, and is famous for its incredible skiing conditions in winter and its beautiful lavender fields. Also, for some locally made wine, there’s the Furano Winery.
Hakodate is one city that I really want to see. It’s known for its amazing view of the city from Mt. Hakodate. Both day and night views are incredible from the pictures I’ve seen. On the mountain, there’s also Tsugaru Fort, a World War II battery. Fort Goryokaku is Japan’s first western style fortress, so it’s not quite a castle. Goryokaku Tower has a great view of the area. Motomachi is the historic area with a lot of European style buildings, churches, and former consulates. Red Brick Warehouses were built at the end of the Meiji Era and have some good seafood restaurants.
Kitami isn’t a major city to visit, unless you really like peppermint. They grow it there.
Nemuro is the easternmost city in Hokkaido, and has some sights, such as lighthouses and a wild bird sanctuary. But the reason to go here is food. It apparently has some of the best seafood in Hokkaido.
Obihiro is a city that can mainly be used as a gateway to other destinations. There are a lot of dairy farms, if you’re interested in that. But the big draw is the trekking and hiking opportunities at Mt. Hidaka and Mt. Daisetsuzan.
Otaru is an interesting place, I think. A big feature is the scenic Otaru Canal, which is lined with gas lamps that light up at night. The Otaru Music Box Museum has plenty of music boxes. Just outside is a Steam Clock given to the city by Vancouver. You can also blow your own glass in the city.
Wakkanai is Japan’s northernmost city, and that’s mainly what it’s famous for. There are some sights, though. Wakkanai Park sounds nice, and it has the Motoe Hiraku Centennial Memorial Tower with its view of the cape, Rishiri volcano, and sometimes even Sakhalin. Cape Soya is the northernmost point on Hokkaido. To see some animals, you can visit the Harbour Seal Observatory, Lake Onuma Bird Observatory and the Noshappu Cold Water Aquarium.
Niseko is a town that’s famous for its ski resort.
Noboribetsu is a city that’s known for having the largest hot spring in Hokkaido. It’s a hellish-looking place.
Akan National Park is known for its calderas and clear lakes.
Daisetsuzan National Park is famous for its volcanoes, wildlife, and very rugged hiking. It’s Japan’s largest national park.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park is a very popular national park that’s famous for the caldera Lake Toya.
Hokkaido is considered to have some of Japan’s best food. It has the best seafood, including crabs, shellfish, sea urchin, and it has great sushi. It’s also an agricultural area, so dairy products are famous. It also has its own variety of ramen.
Have you been to Hokkaido? What do you recommend?