Japanese Prefectures – Hokkaido 北海道

Hokkaido – nature, hot springs and bathing monkeys

Today marks the start of our new column “Japanese prefectures” in which we present to you the different prefectures of Japan and show you that every prefecture has its own reasons to visit. Every month we will tackle one prefecture for you until we have written about all 47. We will start with the northernmost and second largest island of Japan, Hokkaido. This island is mostly known for its unspoiled nature, hot springs and the Ainu people.

The different prefectures and regions of Japan

The different prefectures and regions of Japan

Geography

As said before, Hokkaido is the northernmost and second largest island of Japan. It is also the largest prefecture. Hokkaido is separated from the rest of Japan by the Tsugaru Strait or the Tsugaru Kaikyō, however it is connected through an underground railway. The island borders the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotks and the Pacific Ocean. Hokkaido itself is often compared to northern Europe and has its fair share of mountains and volcanic plateaus. It also has quite some national parks and hot spring resorts. The most popular cities are its capital Sapporo and the two core cities Hakodate and Asahikawa. The climate is considered cooler than the rest of Japan and it is a  popular destination between May and August because of the lack of the typical Japanese rain season.

A map of Hokkaido

A map of Hokkaido

The island was first mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, the second oldest book of classical Japanese history that was published in 720 CE. Hokkaido was mostly settled by the Japanese during the last 100 years. Because of this the cities and architecture in Hokkaido are more modern than the rest of Japan. There were of course already some settlements but it was mostly inhabited by the Ainu people. The Ainu are thought to be the indigenous  people of Hokkaido and Russia. They live in a shamanistic culture with their own language and customs and are quite different from Japanese culture. They are extremely fascinating and Inari Press will definitely write about them in future articles.

The Ainu people

The Ainu people

Must-see locations

Hokkaido has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important for you.

As we have mentioned before, Hokkaido is the place to be for onsen lovers and at Jigokudani Monkey Park, the biggest onsen lovers are wild monkeys. The Jingokudani Monkey Park is, as you can derive from the name, a park that is the natural habitat of a group of Japanese Macaques. The name literally means “Hell Valley”, this is a common name that is used for Japanese valleys with volcanic activity. Most people visit this place to see the monkeys and it is recommended to visit them during the months of January and February. The area is covered in snow during that time of the year and you’ll most definitely be able to get the perfect view.

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Hokkaido is also known for its national parks. The largest of these parks is Daisetsuzan and with its 2.267 square kilometers, it is even bigger then some of the smaller prefectures in Japan. You can go there to hike or observe the local wildlife. The park is home to several rare species and has the largest population of brown bears in Asia. If you’re more of a chill-out person, you can always visit one of the many onsen in the park. The autumn colors and  snow here are the first to be seen in Japan each year.

Beautiful Daisetsuzan.

Beautiful Daisetsuzan.

If you are more into the city life, we recommend Sapporo. Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and is the fifth-largest city in Japan. It is very popular thanks to its beer, ramen and annual snow festival. You can even visit the local Sapporo Brewery. People who love Japanese cuisine, should certainly visit the Curb Market, you can find almost everything concerning food here. If you want to experience the nightlife, Susukino is the place to be. It is the largest entertainment district north of Tokyo and is packed with bars, karaoke shops and more.

The city of Sapporo.

The city of Sapporo.

As the final item on this list we decided to go above the clouds. The Unkai Terrace is a must-see place where you get the opportunity to literally sit above the clouds. There is even a small restaurant there so it is possible to have your breakfast while observing the clouds underneath. The Unkai Terrace is only open from mid-May to the end of October and is most definitely a place that you must see.

Breathtaking.

Breathtaking.

How to get there?

Going to Hokkaido is actually very easy. The only land link to the main land of Japan is though the Seikan Tunnel, so most people travel to Hokkaido by plane. The biggest airport in Hokkaido is the New Chitose Airport but there are six more airports throughout the island. Once you are on the island, you can always use the well-developed railway. It is recommended though to rent a car since most cities are only accessible by car.

How to travel around in Hokkaido.

How to travel around in Hokkaido.

This was our short intro to Hokkaido. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Hokkaido, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this site.

We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in February when we will tell you more about Aomori.

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