What you need to know about Hokkaido
The beautiful Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan's four major islands.
Its untouched beauty is due to it being the least developed of these four. It's known for its weather, which sees plenty of snowfall in winter and pleasant summer conditions free from the heat and humidity that envelops other parts of the country. This, combined with its natural beauty, entices lovers of the outdoors each year. Skiing, snowboarding, trekking, camping, rafting and paragliding are all popular activities in Hokkaido.
Travelling By Rail In Hokkaido
Travelling to and from Hokkaido by rail is one of the simplest ways to experience this island. A JR Hokkaido pass is ideal for getting around once you've arrived, and you can select a validity period of three, five or seven consecutive days.
A great day pass for snowboarders/skiers who are going to spend a good amount of time on the slopes is the Hokkaido 4days within 10 days pass.
It allows you to travel along all JR Hokkaido lines and even some bus lines. Explore Sapporo, Niseko, Noboribetsu, Furang and more all with the one rail pass.
A Japan rail pass is an excellent option for travellers looking to experience Hokkaido as part of their wider exploration of the country.
Purchase this before you leave home to enjoy unlimited rail travel in Japan over seven, 14 or 21 consecutive days. It's cost effective and includes rail travel in Hokkaido, along with JR Hokkaido bus lines.
Hokkaido's weather is one of its major draw cards. With four distinctive seasons, you'll find something different here no matter what time of year you travel. In general, the island is cool and has low humidity, with milder summers than the rest of Japan.
Head here to escape the humidity that blankets the country during the warmer months. In autumn the weather starts to cool, and snow falls early in some areas including Asahikawa and Wakkanai. By mid-November, many mountains are covered completely with snow. The temperature can fall below zero during winter.
Spring arrives in early May and Hokkaido comes alive with wild flowers. By mid-August, the temperature can start to drop rapidly. The southern area of Hokkaido is typically warmer than other areas, while the central region is prone to heavy snowfall in winter.
Hokkaido Cherry Blossoms
The cherry blossoms bloom late in Hokkaido, with the first usually occurring near the start of May and full bloom hitting soon after. Sapporo is a popular destination for cherry blossom lovers, with Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine particularly appealing during early to mid May. The shrine's entrance way is lined with cherry trees, and the park attracts huge crowds for hanami (flower viewing) parties.
Goryokaku Fort Park is another must-visit location during cherry blossom season. The star-shaped fort and moat is surrounded by 160 cherry trees, and plum trees bloom at the same time for a visual spectacle.
Snow Season In Hokkaido
Hokkaido is in an ideal location for snow lovers, as it's on the pathway of weather systems that bring cold air from Siberia to the Sea of Japan. The snow dumped at Hokkaido's many resorts is known for being dry and dense.
Niseko is a favourite ski and snowboarding destination in Japan, and Rusutsu, Furano and Tomamu are increasingly popular snow destinations for local and international visitors alike. Many resorts are situated close together, making it easy for visitors to check out several different areas in one trip. If you're taking the family, head to Tomamu for a resort that's well equipped to cater to your little ones.
Hokkaido's Natural Attractions
Nature lovers should add Shiretoko to their itineraries. Located in eastern Hokkaido, Shiretoko was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2005, and boasts stunning ecosystems and wild animals. Lake Toya and Usu Volcano, located in the island's heart, are also stunning areas to visit, with the volcano even emitting smoke.
Hokkaido is home to six national parks, which are protected by the local government, and five Qausi-National Parks that are deemed to be places of natural scenic beauty.
Hokkaido's Cities And Towns
The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo, which is also Japan's fifth-largest city. Its layout is based on the North American-style rectangular street system, adding familiar appeal for overseas travellers.
It hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1972, but these days Sapporo is best known for its annual snow festival, held in February, along with its beer and ramen noodles.
Asahikawa is another major city in Hokkaido, set amongst the Daisetsuzan Mountain Range and boasting 120 flowing rivers. It's known for its thriving art scene, and is home to the Asahiyama Zoo which features a diving polar bear and spotted seal.
Kushiro is known as "the town of mist". Kushiro has a flourishing marine products industry supported by the Kushiro Port. Japan's largest marshland can be found in the north of Kushiro, and in the Kushiro Tancho National Park you'll find tancho cranes, designated as natural monuments.
For a nostalgic sea town experience, head to Otaru, which features a stunning canal flowing through the middle. Oil lamps light up the cobbled streets at night, and the shops and restaurants along the canal have been converted from charming stone or brick buildings. Otaru is known as "the town of the hills", and it's flanked by Mount Tengu, a popular ski resort.
Head to the tip of Nemuro Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido to Cape Nosappu, which is the first place to see the sun rise in all of Japan. Here you'll find the oldest lighthouse in Hokkaido, and a peninsula that consists of pasture and grazing sheep. This serene destination is also home to stunning lakes and marshes, with plenty of wild birds enjoying the natural splendor.
A Japan Rail Pass is your key to unlocking all the hidden beauty of Japan. To learn more about travelling in Japan with the JR Pass, visit our Japan by Rail page.