Hokkaido, Japan Mar. 26 Sun 8:35AM
Hokkaido, Japan's Frontier
Hokkaido, by far Japan’s largest prefecture, can be hard to sum up simply. Treated by dwellers of Japan’s other islands almost like a separate country, its food, nature, and history offers something very different than what most may think of when they visualize Japan. If one were to sum up the best of Hokkaido, the list would certainly include its nature, food, and the attraction of its cities.
Known as Japan’s “frontier,” Hokkaido was wasn’t fully explored and inhabited until the 19th century, and to this day retains vast stretches of raw wilderness, presenting fantastic vistas and adventurous opportunities. Some places where you can experience the wilderness of Hokkaido:
Lake Akan in Kushiro
Niseko Ski Resort
Hokkaido’s food is prized throughout Japan as the country’s most delicious. It’s specialties can broadly be summed up as:
Although typically labeled as a nature adventure type destination, Hokkaido also has some major cities, each with their own charm!
Hokkaido’s biggest metropolis, in Sapporo you can enjoy all the great features of a major Japanese city (world class cuisine, bustling modern culture, fascinating historical monuments, crazy nightlife, etc.) while also taking in the feel of Hokkaido. Amazing daytrips are also available from Sapporo in all directions. The coastal city Otaru, known for its nostalgic and romantic scenery, is a popular Sapporo Day Trip. In February Sapporo hosts its world famous Snow Festival, where you can enjoy huge, amazingly detailed snow sculptures while enjoying local cuisine from lots of festive food carts!
Although Sapporo didn’t become a major city until the late 19th century, Hakodate’s history dates back several hundred years earlier, at which time it was an important port town and the capital of Hokkaido. For that reason, it has a slightly different feel than Hokkaido’s other major cities, with a more openly historic atmosphere. It’s also known as a place with a lot of foreign influence, and a historical Russian Orthodox Church is one of its famous landmarks. Sandwiched on both sides by water, Hakodate is known for its squid fishing, and the ghostly lights of squid fishing boats can be seen by night. The view of the whole city from the top of nearby Mt. Hakodate is listed as one of the best night views in the entire world!
Farther north than Sapporo and Hakodate, Asahikawa is Japan’s coldest city. While this may seem daunting, it also means great snow and skiing, and the city can serve as home base for some of Hokkaido’s many great skiing spots. Perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in the city is the Asahiyama Zoo, famous as a great spot to see polar bears, seals, penguins, and other winter critters up close! Add some great local ramen and sake, easy access to some of Hokkaido’s best natural wonders, and you’ve got a great base to explore Hokkaido’s northern regions!
Also worthy of note is that Hokkaido was originally inhabited by an ethnic group separate from most Japanese, the Ainu people. Although, like the Native Americans in America, their influence has gradually waned as they have been incorporated into mainstream Japanese culture, in recent times there has been more of a push to preserve the Ainu’s unique culture and language. Some places in Hokkaido where you can become acquainted with the Ainu are:
Nibutani Ainu Cultural Museum
Lake Akan-ko Ainu Kotan
Shiraoi Poroto Kotan
Sapporo Pirka Kotan