Good to Know Before You Visit! Basic Knowledge on Hokkaido
Traveling will be a lot more fun if you know the special features and characteristics of the area you are visiting before your trip, right? With that, we introduce to you Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost region.
What Kind of Place is Hokkaido?
Hokkaido is surrounded by three bodies of water: The Pacific Ocean, Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk. Formerly called Yezo, it is a place where the indigenous Ainu people prevailed from 1200 until around 1860. The region was later renamed “Hokkaido” in 1869 after a long history of trade and conflict between the Ainu people and the settlers (Japanese people called “wajin”). In 1874, the Tondenhei (soldiers that guarded Hokkaido and helped develop its agricultural industry) system was rolled out, kickstarting the region’s full-fledged land development. Thereafter, the cultures of Tohoku, Hokuriku and other areas in Japan fused with the Ainu culture, creating the present Hokkaido that has achieved great development, such as the ordinance-designated city of Sapporo that has a population of more than 1.94 million people.
It is generally cold in Hokkaido throughout the year, with an average annual temperature of 10°C/50°F. Summers in this region are short while winters are long, and there is no rainy season. Typhoons also rarely make a landfall. During summer, only a few days have temperatures exceeding 30°C/86°F, and there are barely any tropical nights when temperatures hit 25°C/77°F and above. During the dead of winter, however, there are many days where temperatures are below freezing, with the minimum temperature recorded at around 20°C/68°F below the freezing point. The amount of snowfall in the region varies depending on the area, but in the case of Sapporo, the annual snowfall is over 600cm.
The people of Hokkaido are known for being highly receptive and easygoing, coupled with their history of development since the 1870s and the magnificent nature that surrounds them. People in Hokkaido are a collection of people from various areas in Japan who have descended into Hokkaido, so they are said to be open-minded and fond of new things, and not bound by traditions and customs.
It may seem that the characteristics slightly differ in each area in Hokkaido, such as in “Nairikubu” (meaning “inland areas”, which include Sapporo, Asahikawa and Obihiro) and “Enganbu” (meaning “coast areas”, which include Hakodate, Muroran and Kushiro), but their standard languages are generally the same, so there are only a few dialects and accents in the region. One of the more famous terms from the dialects in Hokkaido are “namara” that means “totemo” (“very” or “exceedingly” in English), and “shitakke” that means “sayonara” (“good-bye” in English). People in Hokkaido are also known for adding “-ssho”, “-dabe” and “-sa” to the end of a word or sentence.
Transport Access Guide
Access to Hokkaido
There are airports in each area in Hokkaido, including at the center, north, east and south of the region. Aside from New Chitose Airport where direct flights from all places in Japan, from Tohoku to Kyushu and Okinawa, come in, the region also has Asahikawa Airport and Hakodate Airport. If you will be coming from the Honshu region, then you can also take the Hokkaido Shinkansen that links Shin-Aomori Station and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. Most trains are direct services linked with the Tohoku Shinkansen, so Hokkaido offers great access with Tokyo and all areas in the Tohoku region.
Transportation Inside Hokkaido
Hokkaido is an extremely vast region, so when moving between the major cities, it would be best to fly. Apart from planes, however, using trains, highway buses and rental cars is also recommended for traveling within the region. When in Sapporo City, visitors will not have problems moving from one sightseeing spot to another as there are subways, trams and JR train lines.
Representative Tourist Attractions
Hokkaido, which occupies a vast area, is highlighted by many charming spots in each area. Aside from Furano with lavender fields as far as the eye can see, and areas surrounded by grand nature such as in Shiretoko, a World Heritage Site that is famous for its drift ice, visitors can also explore stunning cities such as Sapporo that is known for its Susukino entertainment district, Otaru that has a romantic canal, and Hakodate that offers a gorgeous night scene that looks like a jewelry box in the sky. Hokkaido is also known for having the most number of hot spring resorts in Japan, including Noboribetsu and Toyako.
Must-try Specialty Dishes
Hokkaido is overflowing with mouthwatering specialty dishes. More than anything, though, it is famous for having the freshest seafood. In Hokkaido, you can fully enjoy the delicious taste of sushi, kaisendon (a bowl of rice topped with sashimi) and other dishes that use various kinds of seafood such as uni (sea urchine), ikura (salted salmon roe), hotate (scallops) and kani (crab) that are caught from local bodies of water. Further, this region is famous for the Genghis Khan, which is a type of healthy barbecue dish that uses mutton and lamb meat, and unique ramen varieties in each area, such as the miso (fermented soybeans) ramen in Sapporo, shoyu (soy sauce) ramen in Asahikawa and curry-flavored ramen in Muroran. Other recommended dishes in Hokkaido are dishes that use potatoes, corn and other agricultural produce, and sweet treats that use dairy products.
Hokkaido was the first to sell white chocolate in all of Japan, so many of the sweets from this region that are famous as souvenirs incorporate white chocolate. Processed foods (for instance, Saketoba, or dried salmon) that use the many kinds of marine products from the region, and treats that use milk, cheese and other dairy products are also recommended. Further, music boxes and glass products from Otaru, Ainu crafts such as traditional textiles that were made using the Ainu people’s ancient weaving method, and woodcrafts, and aromatic oils that use lavender from Furano are popular souvenirs, too.
Hokkaido is a place that boasts perfect balance in appealing elements such as grand nature, beautiful cities and delicious food. So, try to find time to explore the wonders of Hokkaido.
*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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