Hokkaido has been growing in popularity with tourists every year. The mountainous volcanoes, rejuvenating onsen and lush wildernesses are yours for exploring and with the Hokkaido Shinkansen that opened up in 2016, connecting the island to Kyushu for the first time for travelers, it’s never been easier to visit the region. In this article, we’ll do an overview of the island and pick out some key areas of interest.
Discovering Hokkaido Japan
As the most northern region, Hokkaido Japan is known as the coldest place in the country, though this doesn’t always mean snow. In the summer, the temperature is cool, and the winters are icy and snowy. An abundance of snow and ice festivals litter the region from Sapporo, the island's capital, to the northern area of Asahikawa. Snow resorts are the number one tourist attraction, but summer time can be just as nice in the region.
Overview of Hokkaido Japan
Hokkaido as a full territory of Japan is only a relatively recent event, compared to the rest of the county. Hokkaido only became what we know as Hokkaido today in 1869, after the Hakodate Prefectural Government, an offshoot of imperial Japan Government, took control of the island after a rebellion during the Japanese revolution. Before 1869, the island was called a few variations of the word Ezo, including Ezogashima (Land of the Ezo, the native people of the island) or Ezochi (Ezo-land).
Before World War I, Hokkaido was built up as an agricultural hub for Japan. The government at the time recruited an American to import western agricultural ideas to the island. This was to both create a more sustainable Japan, as well as build up infrastructure against an invasion from Russia. These agricultural ideals were ingrained in the Hokkaido culture and can still be seen today in places like Furano, where they grow grapes to make local wine, and the cultivation of potatoes, seen as some of the best in the world.
In 2016, JR Hokkaido opened up the first leg of its Shinkansen (Bullet Train) route using the existing Seikan Tunnel. This has opened a direct train route from Tokyo to Hokkaido. The train currently stops just outside the tunnel on the Hokkaido side at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station, but is expected to go all the way to Sapporo by 2031, cutting travel time to the islands capital by half via train.
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Tourist attractions in Hokkaido japan
There are many tourist attractions in Hokkaido Japan to experience on your journey through the great north. If you go during the winter, you’ll be able to experience the splendor of the Sapporo Snow Festival, held in February every year, with some life size sculptures of popular Japanese locations including Senso-ji (from Asakusa), and Japanese pop culture icons carved out in ice.
If you travel in the summer, you can walk through the beautiful lavender fields of Furano. You’ll also be able to travel up to the northernmost city on the island, Wakkanai, and learn about the history and culture of Hokkaido while visiting Cape Soya. The city also has 200 sakura trees (cherry blossoms) which are the last to bloom in Japan giving you the option of seeing them in two places.
Enjoying Food at a Hokkaido Buffet
In Japan, an all-you-can-eat place is called “Viking”, named after the Norsemen of old, but enjoying a Hokkaido buffet isn’t all plundering and funny hats. In fact, it’s mostly normal fair. Going to the northern island and having a Hokkaido seafood buffet is a must, especially since most of the seafood would have been caught fresh and brought to the store.
Hokkaido Seafood Buffets
For lovers of crab, Nanda in Sapporo serve up enough crab everyday to last someone a lifetime. Their viking menu includes all the you can eat crab, seafood, and beef, for just 3700 yen at lunch and 4780 yen at dinner for 100 minutes. If you’re in Hakodate, head to the Imagine Hotel & Resort where you’ll be able to enjoy a suite of buffet foods, along with a refreshing spa and onsen after to calm your stomach.
Hokkaido Milk Tea
Due to the self sustaining nature of the island, Hokkaido milk bread, and Hokkaido milk tea are able to be made without importing anything from the main island. In fact, you can’t even call them “Hokkaido milk” products without using local milk.
Hokkaido Milk Bread
Hokkaido milk bread is found all over the island and is some of the fluffiest and lightest bread you’ll ever eat, pairing it with Hokkaido milk tea, which is said to have regenerating health benefits, gives you a very Hokkaido-based treat.
Chow down at a Hokkaido Restaurant
Most Hokkaido restaurants use locally sourced ingredients to fill out their menu. When you travel around Japan, you find that each area has its own specialty dish and Hokkaido is no different. Thanks to the islands isolation, the cuisine of the native Ainu people differs greatly to mainland Japan and has been adapted through the years to become what it is today.
Hokkaido sushi is usually made with freshly caught ingredients from the cold waters that surrounds the island. Nagoyaka Tei is a popular chain sushi eatery that serves the Sapporo area with 9 different locations. The place is popular thanks to its affordable prices and fresh fish.
One specialty dish native to Hokkaido is Ruibe, or frozen raw fish. The fish is snap frozen and served straight from the freezer with specialty sauces. Nemuro Hamaichiban in Sapporo offers up a range of ruibe with different species including squid, salmon and other fish native to the region.
Hokkaido ramen is some of the best and most varied that you’ll get in Japan. Sapporo is known for its miso based ramen, which helps starving off the harsh winters of the north. Hakodate has its own specialty ramen with a salt based broth. Muroran, near Toyako, creates a curry based ramen, which is served up in the neighboring cities. In the north in Asahikawa, they traditionally like the soy-based ramen broth. All the ramen on the island usually use fresh Hokkaido ingredients that are locally sourced, making for a much richer, fuller flavor.
The Ramen Dojo at Shin Chitose Airport gives you the option of trying all the different flavors of Hokkaido ramen in one place. Located on the 3rd floor of the airport, there are 10 different famous Hokkaido restaurants which serve up some of the best ramen in Japan. This is a place not to be missed for ramen fiends.
Study at Hokkaido University
Hokkaido University, known colloquially as Hakudai, is one of the 9 imperial universities that were started by the Empire of Japan. 7 of these universities are left in Japan, with one being in South Korea and one in Taiwan. These universities are known as the “Ivy League of Japan” and are some of the most prestigious in the world.
Starting out as an agriculture school, it has since grown to include programs focusing on most fields of study. They offer two undergraduate programs in English, Modern Japanese Studies Program and Integrated Science Program, and 7 post-graduate programs taught entirely in English, with scholarships available to domestic and international students.
As a tourist, you can lose a full day walking around the Sapporo Campus of Hokkaido University. With trees lining the walking paths, and gardens galore, taking in all the sights of the campus is a nice relaxing way to spend your time. You can visit buildings that were built in the Meiji Era and the Hokkaido University Museum with houses a complete T-rex skeleton.
Hokkaido’s Fictional Side in Rurouni Kenshin Hokkaido Arc
Hokkaido has inspired many big Japanese pop culture franchises to include the island in their stories, Rurouni Kenshin Hokkaido Arc is just one example of this. In the latest story in the troubled manga series, the main character Kenshin travels to Hokkaido to battle it out with his latest foes. But Rurouni Kenshin isn’t the only Shonen Jump manga to feature Hokkaido, Gintama’s main character Gintoki, uses a Bokuto (wooden sword) purchased from Lake Toya when he was younger. The sword is said to have great power, though due to the characters personality, this could be vastly overstated.