30 Things to Do in Hokkaido and Lose Yourself in the Magnificent Nature
The northern island of Hokkaido is one of the leading sightseeing areas of Japan. From the enchanting night views in Otaru and Hakodate, to the rich nature of Shiretoko and Kushiro, it is a place packed with beautifully scenic spots. The local cuisine, including various seafood dishes, is also famous. There is an endless list of things to see and do in Hokkaido, but here is a selection of 30 to get your started!
[Where is Hokkaido?]
Hokkaido is the area in the northernmost part of Japan, and the best way to get there is by air. It is around 90 minutes to New Chitose Airport from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, and around 130 minutes from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. International flights also operate to and from Hokkaido's airports, including those from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Seoul. Additionally, the Hokkaido Shinkansen (bullet train) runs from the Kanto and Tohoku areas, so all in all, it's quite easily accessible.
[Central Hokkaido Area]
Central Hokkaido area is on the western side of Hokkaido, where New Chitose Airport, which serves as the gateway to Hokkaido, and the famous sightseeing city of Sapporo are located. Niseko, a famous resort area, and Otaru, known for its romantic townscape, are also located in this part of the prefecture.
Visit the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building
The former Hokkaido government office building is made of bricks, and is often referred to as “Akarenga Chosha” (Red Brick Building). It served as the central government office of Hokkaido for about 80 years, from the time of its construction in 1888. It is lovingly known as the symbol of Hokkaido, and is characterized by its elegant American-style neo-baroque design. There is no entrance fee here, and inside, you will see a display of exhibits relating to the history of Hokkaido. Note also its functional features that are typical of a building in an extremely cold region, such as the double doors to combat the cold. There are a thousand trees of about a thousand varieties planted in the front yard, providing a place of relaxation for the people of Sapporo.
Take Some Photos at the Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival) is a festival showcasing snow sculptures, and takes place every year in early February. At Odori Park, the main venue of the festival, rows of snow and ice sculptures are laid out over a stretch of about 1.5km. Various sculptures are displayed at the event, from delicate statues with intricate designs, to gigantic sculptures made by the Self Defense Force. After dark, the sculptures become illuminated, which will treat you to a sight to be behold.
Festival schedule in 2019
Odori and Susukino sites: February 4th (Mon.) – February 11th (Mon.)
Tsudome site: January 31st (Thurs.) – February 11th (Mon.)
Pay Your Respects at the Mystical Hokkaido Jingu
Hokkaido was an undeveloped area until about 100 years ago. Hokkaido Jingu (Hokkaido Shrine) was built in 1871 as a place of worship for the guardian deities of cultivation as part of the process of reclaiming the forests and mountains. Its approximately 180,000 sq.m. precinct is enveloped in lush nature, including cherry blossom trees that bloom in spring time. This shrine is also famous as a place with mystical energies. For example, they say that the third torii (shrine gate) brings financial luck, while the tongu (temporary palace) provides good fortune in love. The lucky charms sold at the shrine are also popular, including ones for love and conception.
Gaze at the Nighttime View of Otaru Canal
Measuring 1,140m in length, Otaru Canal was built in 1923 at Otaru Port, which had a central role in the development of Hokkaido. Old stone-built warehouses stand side-by-side along the gently curving canal, making it a lovely spot for walking. The walking trail is lit by 63 gas lamps that illuminate the canal and the buildings in beautiful colors at night. The scenery creates a romantic atmosphere. There are restaurants housed in renovated stone warehouses along the canal, where you can have dinner while enjoying the night view.
Relax at Jozankei Onsen
Jozankei Onsen (Jozankei Hot Spring) is one of the most popular hot spring areas in Hokkaido. It offers easy access, as it is just under an hour’s drive from the center of Sapporo City, from which there is a shuttle bus service – the Kappa Liner (reservation required). This hot spring is a scenic spot where you can fully enjoy the seasonal beauty of nature. The fall foliage is especially spectacular. You can relax while soaking in a bath, where about 8,600 liters of hot spring water flow every minute, in the midst of nature far removed from the hustle and bustle of cities. This spot is also famous for the yukitoro (snow lantern path) in winter – a path lit by lanterns made of snow and holding candles.
Have Fun at Moerenuma Park
Moerenuma Park was designed by the world-renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi, under the concept of “the whole being a single sculpture.” Within its vast grounds, there are mountains, fountains, and playground equipment that incorporate various geometric shapes, including a glass pyramid called HIDAMARI as well as Play Mountain, which is characterized by a single white path that stretches to the top. The expansive, beautiful sights that fuse nature and art treat visitors to various, seasonal scenes.
Enjoy Delicious Jingisukan and Beer at Sapporo Beer Garden
Jingisukan, a grilled meat dish of mutton, is a regional dish of Hokkaido. There are many restaurants that specialize in this dish throughout the prefecture, but tourists love Sapporo Beer Garden's version. You can taste five kinds of lamb at this place, including fresh lamb and lamb shoulder. This spot also draws in customers with its specialty beers that are made at Sapporo Beer's Hokkaido brewery. They are the perfect accompaniment to jingisukan.
Average budget: 3,500 JPY (2,000 JPY for lunch)
Foreign language menus: English, Chinese (simplified), and Korean
Foreign languages spoken by staff: English
Buy Souvenirs at Kitaichi Glass
Kitaichi Glass is a long-established store specializing in glass, and was founded in 1901. They manufacture and sell over 50,000 original glass products. They have more than 10 affiliated shops, with the retro Sango-kan (No.3 building) being the main one. Crystal-kan (crystal building) is their most recommended store, as its storefront is filled with a wide array of products that range from glassware for everyday use, to accessories such as pendants and earrings. They also have a studio where you can see demonstrations of glass blowing as well as accessory making.
Buy Souvenirs at Shiroi Koibito Park
Shiroi Koibito, a confectionery made of chocolate sandwiched between langue de chat biscuits, is a famous product of Hokkaido. Shiroi Koibito Park is a theme park that is inspired by this confection. It is packed with various attractions, such as the Shiroi Koibito Factory Tour on which you can observe the making of Shiroi Koibito, a workshop that lets you experience making confectionery, and the Chocolate Lounge, which is decorated with antique English furniture. Gulliver Town, also located in the park, is great for children.
※There are some areas that are not open to the public from April 1, 2018 to the end of May 2019 due to partial renovation works. For details, please check the park's official homepage.
Shopping at Sapporo Stella Place
Sapporo Stella Place is a shopping mall that is directly linked to Sapporo Station. Decorated with works by various artists, it is a massive complex that houses over 160 shops, making this shopping mall the largest one in Japan. Aside from stores selling clothing, cosmetics, and miscellaneous goods, there are also a number of different types of restaurants, with Japanese, Chinese, and Western cuisines on offer. Further, you can go up to the 38th floor of JR Tower, 160m above ground, and enjoy a panoramic view of the Sapporo cityscape. The night views of the center of Sapporo are also worth seeing..
Eat Conveyor Belt Sushi in Sapporo
Kaiten-zushi is a kind of sushi restaurant where plates of sushi are placed on a conveyor belt around which the seats are located. Customers are free to pick up any of the plates that come around on the belt. Kaiten-zushi restaurants are known for offering fresh seafood at reasonable prices. For instance, at the famous chain restaurant Nemuro Hanamaru, you can enjoy salmon and other sushi for as low as 140 JPY (incl. tax) per plate. A big draw of this restaurant is its vast menu, which includes more than 100 items. There are many other conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Sapporo, including Toriton and Nagoyaka-tei.
Foreign language menus at Nemuro Hanamaru: English and Korean
Eat Miso Ramen in Sapporo
Ramen is one of the things you have to eat when you visit Japan. There are various regional ramen variants throughout Japan that lets you enjoy the local flavors. In Sapporo, ramen that uses miso (fermented soybean paste) is the most common. It is characterized by the generous use of lard and the robust taste of garlic and vegetables. Sapporo City is home to more than 1,000 ramen restaurants, and there are areas around which ramen shops are concentrated, such as Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho and Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku. When you’re in these areas, it is recommended that you choose which restaurant to try based on its atmosphere.
[Southern Hokkaido Area]
This area is in the southwestern part of Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Shinkansen passes through it, so it offers great access from Honshu (main island of Japan), as well as from Sapporo. Its central tourist area is Hakodate, which is famous for its night views, and the historic Goryokaku, among others. There is a lot of fresh seafood in this part of Hokkaido, thanks to its thriving fishing industry.
Gaze at the Night Views of Hakodate
The views at night from Mt. Hakodate in Hakodate City is so gorgeous that it is said to be one of the three best night views in the world, along with Hong Kong and Naples. The city, enclosed by the sea on both sides, is shaped like an arch, and is illuminated by the soft light from the street lamps at night, making it look like it is studded with countless jewels. You can get to the summit of Mt. Hakodate by various methods, tourist buses and the ropeway being convenient options. If you go by car, note that the road is closed during winter and during peak hours (5:00 pm – 10:00 pm) in summer.
Take in the Historical Ambience of Goryokaku
Goryokaku in Hakodate City is the former site of a castle. It was the last castle built in the Edo period (1603 – 1867), when samurai warriors actively played a role in society, and was the first Western-style castle in Japan. The site is also known as the place where the Boshin War, a civil war, took place in 1869. Characterized by its pentagram shape when viewed from above, you can enjoy an unbroken view of it from the observation deck of Goryokaku Tower. About 1,600 cherry blossom trees are planted in the grounds, transforming it into a famous cherry blossom viewing spot from late April to early May.
Admission fee: Adult: 900 JPY, Junior high school/ high school student: 680 JPY, Elementary school student: 450 JPY
Go on a Cruise at Lake Toya
Toya-ko (Lake Toya) is a caldera lake with an area of about 70 sq. km. Although it is the deepest lake in Hokkaido, its waters are so clear that you can almost see down to the bottom. Toyako Kisen, is a cruise ship that goes around this beautiful lake, and is a recommended way of seeing Lake Toya. You can disembark at the island of Nakanoshima from late April to the end of October. Nakanoshima is home to untouched nature, so if you are lucky, you might see an Ezo-shika (Hokkaido deer).
Fare: Adult: 1,420 JPY (incl. tax), Child (elementary school student): 710 JPY (incl. tax)
Relax at Noboribetsu Onsen
Noboribetsu Onsen is a hot spring district with a wide variety of hot water types, and is known as "the department store of hot springs." It is easily accessible, as it is located a little less than an hour from New Chitose Airport and just over an hour from Sapporo. With rich nature and superb hot spring water, this is a perfect place to relax. In particular, open-air baths, where you can soak while snow falls all around you, is a magical experience that is out of this world. The surrounding areas are dotted with sightseeing spots, the most famous one being the Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley) – a valley with explosion craters. With hot spring sources and fumaroles dotted around, the bubbling waters of the landscape would almost make you believe that you are in hell.
[Eastern Hokkaido Area]
Characterized by sprawling and unspoiled nature, the eastern area of Hokkaido is famous for Shiretoko, which is a World Natural Heritage Site, and Kushiro, where tancho (red-crowned cranes) and other rare creatures live. It is also home to many popular lakes such as Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, and Lake Kussharo.
Visit the Five Lakes of Shiretoko – A World Heritage Site
The Five Lakes of Shiretoko are tucked away in a primeval forest. A treasure trove of nature inhabited by many wild animals, this is a scenic spot that is famous for its mystical lakes. There are two routes available for exploring the five lakes. One is the approximately 800m-long elevated wooden path from which you can see the Shiretoko mountain range its reflection on the surface of the lakes. The other course is the ground pathway that takes you through the primeval forest, where you can see various plants and animals.
※There is danger of encountering brown bears when you take the ground pathway, so it is necessary to join a tour and attend a lecture. Visit the official homepage for further details.
Check Out Foggy Lake Mashu
Lake Mashu is a caldera lake located in Teshikaga Town, and is famous for being one of the clearest lakes in the world. It is called Kiri no Mashu-ko (Foggy Lake Mashu) because in the summer, it is enveloped in thick fog that almost completely obscures the surface of the lake. This lake is surrounded by steep crater walls measuring over 130m in height, so the general public is prohibited from getting in. You can admire the view from three observation platforms around it. The most famous of these observation decks is the Mashu-ko Daiichi Tenbodai (Lake Mashu No.1 Observation Deck), and from here, you will get to marvel at the mystical view created by the lake and the fog above it that constantly changes in appearance.
Look at Marimo at Lake Akan
Lake Akan is found at the foot of Mt. Oakandake. It is registered under the Ramsar Convention, and its clear waters is home to numerous species of fish, such as himemasu (sockeye salmon), amemasu (a kind of trout), and ugui (fish of the carp family). However, the lake is best known for marimo, which is a type of green algae. With a strange and beautiful spherical shape, this organism remains somewhat of a mystery to this day. There are various facilities around Lake Akan that provide information on marimo. The one that is recommended is the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center at Churui Island, which is located within the lake itself. It contains a massive tank that reproduces the environment of the bottom of the lake, allowing visitors to observe the cute natural marimo balls up-close.
Look at Marimo at Lake Akan
Stroll Around the Kushiro Wetland
Kushiro Shitsugen (Kushiro Wetland) is the largest wetland in Japan, with an area of around 180 sq. km. The meandering Kushiro River and the hills that surround the area create a magnificent view. This wetland is also home to various flora and fauna such as the red-crowned crane that is registered as a special national natural treasure, as well as the Ezo-shika and kita-kitsune (Ezo red fox). You can also catch an unbroken view of the wetland from the observation deck, and observe the vast nature up-close while strolling along the promenade. There are many activities offered here, such as horse trekking and canoe tours.
Taste Katte-don at the Kushiro Washo Ichiba Market!
Katte-don is a specialty dish that can be found at Kushiro Washo Ichiba Market, one of the biggest markets in Hokkaido. It is essentially your own original donburi (bowl of rice with toppings) that you make using the ingredients available at the market. It is popular because it allows you to adjust the price and size according to your preference, while letting you choose your own ingredients. It is really easy to make. The first thing you need to do is to buy a bowl of rice at a deli. Next, you purchase seafood and other ingredients around the market, placing them on the rice as you go. When you’re done, head to the tables at the center of the market and eat your original katte-don! Ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), and kani (crab) are just some of the fresh, luxurious products available for you to use in your katte-don.
[Northern Hokkaido Area]
The area across the northern part of Hokkaido is a place where you can experience the grandeur of nature – from the seasonal views at Furano and Biei, to the superb scenery of drift ice in Monbetsu and the Mt. Asahidake caldera.
Admire the Shibazakura at Shibazakura Takinoue Park
Shibazakura Takinoue Park is a park that has clusters of shibazakura (moss phlox) planted over a 100,000 sq.m. area. The park is covered in a carpet of moss phlox and filled with its sweet scent during the Shibazakura Festival (early May to early June). You can get on a sightseeing helicopter during the festival, too, and you can fully enjoy the view from air.
Admission fee (during the Shibazakura Festival): Adult (high school or older): 500 JPY, Child (elementary and junior high school): 250 JPY
Visit the Lavender Fields at Farm Tomita in Furano
Furano is best known for its lavender. There are several lavender fields in this area, so they get a lot of visitors around mid-July – the best time to see the flowers. Of all the lavender fields here, though, the one that is recommended is Farm Tomita, which has 12 fields. This farm offers photogenic landscapes, such as the Traditional Lavender Field, where a carpet of lavenders covers the slope, and the Irodori Field where flowers of seven colors are planted on a hill. A cafe where you can taste lavender sweets, and a shop that sells perfumes and other products are other popular features of this farm.
Admire the Hills of Biei
Biei is an area that is dotted with beautiful hills. The idyllic landscape is a photographer's paradise, with spots such as Patchwork no Michi (Patchwork Road) and the colorful flower fields that fill the Shikisai no Oka garden. The Zerubu no Oka/Atom no Oka is also popular as a place where you can explore the romantic landscape using buggies or carts. In the winter, there are things like the Christmas Tree, which stands out against the snowy backdrop.
Biei’s Blue Pond is a Must-See!
The Aoi Ike (Blue Pond) is located around a 20-minute drive from JR Biei Station. It is a mysterious pond of a beautiful blue color. The water surface, whose appearance changes depending on the intensity of the light from the sun, creates magical scenery together with the withered karamatsu (larch tree). The pond reflects the most beautiful blue color on sunny days, from around May to June. This pond’s winter view has also become popular in recent years. The nighttime illumination starts on November 1st, showing a different side to the lake from that seen in the light of day.
See the Polar Bears at Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa City
Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa City is the northernmost zoo in Japan. Thanks to its unique “behavior exhibition”, you can observe the natural behavior of animals, such as polar bears diving into the water. This zoo’s Mogu-mogu Time (feeding time) has been gaining popularity as it shows the feeding scenarios of animals. To get to this zoo from Sapporo, you need to go on an approximately 100-minute long ride on an express train. The Asahikawa Airport is also nearby, so this zoo can be easily reached from the prefecture.
Admission fee: Adult (high school and older): 820 JPY, Child (junior high school and younger): Free
Drift Ice Experience Aboard Mombetsu's Garinko Ice-Breaker Ship
From late January to the end of March each year, drift ice floats through the Sea of Okhotsk, and reaches the coasts of Hokkaido. The white world created by the ice is a picturesque view that is unique to the northern region. Garinko is a ship that allows you to observe such magnificent views up close. This ship has screws installed at the front, and breaks up the drift ice as it sails into it. The white environment created by drift ice is definitely worth seeing, but so are the traces of crushed drift ice left in the ship's trail.
Winter cruise fare (by reservation only)
With drift ice: Adult: 3,000 JPY, Child: 1,500 JPY
Without drift ice: Adult: 2,500 JPY, Child: 1,250 JPY
Climb Mt. Asahidake
Mt. Asahidake is a volcano with an elevation of 2,291m. You can go halfway up the mountain via the ropeway. There is a walking trail to the famous Sugatami no Ike pond, and a path to the summit from there, with the climb to the top taking about 2.5 hours. From early June until mid-August, the alpine plants color the area beautifully, including Kibana (rhododendron) and Chinguruma (flower in the rose family). In the fall, the mountain is covered in beautiful red and yellow momiji leaves from the ridge to the foot, which contrast against the backdrop of the smoke-emitting crater.
Ropeway fare (round-trip ticket): Adult (junior high school or older): From 1,800 JPY (incl. tax), Child: From 900 JPY (incl. tax) *Fares change depending on the season
Ski or Snowboard in Furano
Furano is not only famous for its lavender fields, but also for the Furano Ski Resort. You can go skiing and snowboarding in a loaction with spectacular views of the Daisetsu mountain range and Mt. Tokachi. There are 23 courses available that everyone can enjoy, from children and beginners, to experts. There is no need to worry about packing your ski gear, as you can rent everything there.
Lift fare (one-day ticket): Adult: From 4,000 JPY, Senior (60 years old and above): From 3,500 JPY, Elementary school student and younger: Free *Fares vary depending on the season
Eat Uni at Rishiri
Rishiri Island is an island in the Sea of Japan, north of Hokkaido. You can get there by ferry from Wakkanai Port, and by plane from New Chitose Airport. While this island is a sightseeing spot that is famous for being “Hana no Ukishima” (floating island of flowers) full of alpine plants, it is also known as a gourmet spot where you can savor delicious seafood. Freshly caught uni are especially exquisite. You can sample uni in any of the restaurants on the island, such as Sato Shokudo (open from May to mid-October), where they serve dishes such as uni-don (bowl of rice topped with uni) and uni ramen.
Average budget for Sato Shokudo: 1,500 JPY
There are so many things to see and do in Hokkaido. If anyone of the above took your fancy, do check them out for yourself!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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