Hokkaido Region: Japan travel guide

The Hokkaido region encompasses the entirety of Japan’s northernmost and second-largest island. Hokkaido is beloved among Japanese nationals and international visitors alike due to its vast wilderness areas and abundance of nature.

Hokkaido’s mild summer temperatures provide refuge during the hottest months in Japan and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities for hiking and cycling. However, the island really comes alive in the winter. The abundant snow and wealth of world-famous ski resorts make it an ideal destination for all lovers of winter sports.

It’s possible to fly from Tokyo to Hokkaido in just under 2 hours. You can also travel by Shinkansen bullet train, which is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Hokkaido prefecture

Unlike most regions in Japan, the entirety of Hokkaido is composed of only one prefecture, the largest in the country. Nevertheless, as it is difficult to effectively govern the vast territory from the capital of Sapporo, Hokkaido is divided into 9 subprefectures. 

These subprefectures include; Ishikari, the location of Sapporo; Kamikawa, which hosts the second-largest metropolitan area, Asahikawa; and Oshima, home to the city of Hakodate.

Top destinations in Hokkaido

The most popular destination for visitors in Hokkaido is undoubtedly Sapporo. However, the rest of the island also offers a range of vibrant cities like Hakodate and exciting resort towns such as Niseko and Furano to explore.

Some of the most popular destinations in Hokkaido include:

Sapporo

Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan and capital of the northern island of Hokkaido. In less than two centuries, Sapporo has enjoyed rapid growth from a settlement of only seven individuals to a thriving metropolis.

In the language of the Ainu people, indigenous inhabitants of northern Japan, the word Sapporo means “an important river flowing through a plain.” Today, however, Sapporo is known for much more than its river. In 1972, this city hosted the Olympic Winter Games. A snow festival is held yearly, and Sapporo is also famous for its ramen and beer.

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Hakodate

Traveling from Hakodate to Sapporo in Hokkaido is fast and easy using Limited Express services, which are fully included with a Japan Rail Pass.

This complete guide can help you to plan your journey between the two popular destinations on Japan’s northernmost island.

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Best things to do in Hokkaido

In addition to supplying ample opportunities for skiing and snowboarding at its winter resorts, Hokkaido’s large number of national parks make it an ideal destination for outdoor pursuits among nature during the summer months too.

Some of the most popular attractions in Hokkaido include:

Ski and winter sports

Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice and holds the world record for the deepest ever snow cover, so it's no wonder that snowboarding and skiing holidays in Japan are only growing in popularity. There are hundreds of high quality resorts on both Honshu and the northern island of Hokkaido for foreign thrillseekers to explore.

Japan is famed for its large amounts of quality dry powder snow. Many resorts average 10-18 meters of annual snowfall, and four or five days of fresh powder snow a week during the ski season. There are also a ton of exceptionally well-maintained routes, as grooming is heavily practiced on Japan’s pistes.

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Sapporo Snow Festival

Imagine yourself strolling through a winter wonderland. Snow blankets the ground, painting the city a shining white. Trees are decked with twinkling lights, and statues crafted of ice and snow tower over the mingling crowds. At night, the sculptures are illuminated by entrancing, moving colored lights that give the park an enchanted atmosphere. The scents of delicious, exotic foods greet your nostrils and your taste buds.

Welcome to the Sapporo Snow Festival. Called Sapporo Yuki Matsuri in Japanese, the snow festival is held for one week each February in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island.

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Main train lines and transportation

Alongside the Hokkaido bullet train, a large number of train services operate across the island. These include:

Other regions of Japan

As stated above, Hokkaido is both an island, a prefecture, and a region of Japan. The rest of the country is divided into 7 other regions:

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