Believe it or not, Hokkaido takes up 20% of Japan’s total area, and the total distance from Wakkanai Station, which is the northernmost station of Japan, to Kikonai Station, the southernmost station of Hokkaido, is 650 km. This is equal to the distance from JR Yoyogi to Okayama Station, illustrating how large Hokkaido is.
During the 13th century, Hokkaido was called “Ezo-chi.” At this time, when the rest of Japan was living through the Edo period, Hokkaido was dominated by the indigenous Ainu Peoples and their unique culture. With the ending of the Hakodate War and the beginning of the Meiji Period in 1868, the new government renamed Ezo-chi to Hokkaido, and elected a Development Commissioner. The Commissioner then established the Tondenhei system, and set to work on developing and integrating Hokkaido. The Sapporo Agricultural College (now known as Hokkaido University) was established and Japanese officials invited the American Dr. William Smith Clark to teach industrial agricultural techniques. He became famous for his parting motto “Boys, Be Ambitious!” Today, Hokkaido produces the largest share of agricultural products of any prefecture, with huge bounties of potatoes, wheat, adzuki beans, onions and pumpkins.
As mentioned earlier, Hokkaido is so large that we cannot possibly fit all the recommended places in this article, thus we will introduce the four major areas; Douhoku, Doutou, Douou and Dounan.
1) Douhoku (North Hokkaido)
Douhoku may be famous for the Asahikawa Zoo; however, the “sea of clouds” in Tomamu is highly recommended. On some early mornings in the months of May through October, you can climb the Hidaka mountain range and see the endless clouds that roll in and cover the land. It happens only 50% of the time, so if you catch this beautiful view, you can consider yourself very lucky. Moreover, Douhoku is also home to Furano, famous for the lush lavender gardens often used as shooting locations for dramas.
2) Doutou (East Hokkaido)
Chosen as a World Heritage site in 2005, the Shiretoko Peninsula is known to be the last unexplored region of Japan. Its untouched natural landscape is filled with lakes, waterfalls, and forests, and if you’re lucky enough, you might spot the local animal life: seals, eagles, and even bears (be careful!).
3) Douou (Central Hokkaido)
The Douou area once held the Toyako summit in 2008. For this area, we recommend the internationally famous snow festival that is held every February. This winter celebration features a display of roughly 200 snow and ice sculptures, with the biggest being an imposing 15 meters tall! Moreover, the Otaru Canal cruise takes you by the gas lamps and the lights from the warehouse district, and you can enjoy the romantic mood of the reflections on the water in the night. But don’t forget to stay warm!
4) Dounan (South Hokkaido)
With the opening of the Hokkaido bullet train in March, the Dounan area has recently gained popularity. This area is known for the view from Hakodate Mountain, which has been voted one of the three best night views of Japan. Legends has it that if you can find the word “ハート(Heart)” in the view from Hakodate Mountain, your love will come true, so you should have a quick search while you’re up there. Moreover, there are some 1,600 cherry trees planted in Goryokaku Park where it is also the historic battleground of the Boshin War, the last civil war that was held in Japan.
Hokkaido is currently in the fall season, covered in autumn leaves. Let us revel in the beauty and nature of what this extensive land has to offer!