In Japan's northernmost region, Hokkaido, lies a part of the country that you don't know about. Those who live there are interwoven with a magnificent, beautiful, untouched nature and diverse wildlife.
We introduce columns that dig deep into these attractions and experiences that can only be found here.
FEATURES of HOKKAIDO NATURE
A haven for rare wildlife
Unique cuisine inspired by nature
Becoming one with nature through art
Hot springs in incredible locations
Breathtaking natural phenomena
Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park is the peninsula that stretches out into the Sea of Okhotsk on the east of Hokkaido, and its name originates from the Ainu word "Shiretoku" meaning "Lands' End". Registered as a world natural heritage site, the oceans and forests of Shiretoko are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is an area full of adventures, where you can experience sea kayaking, trekking around the Shiretoko five lakes, and even walking on the drift ice that covers the entire surface of the sea during winter.
Daisetsuzan National Park
Japan's largest national park and home to Mt. Asahidake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido. Yet these beautiful majestic mountains are also the natural habitat of a wide range of rare alpine plants which flourish during the short summer season, and animals such as the Northern Pika, a living fossil from the glacial age.
Kushiro Wetlands National Park
Japan's largest wetlands, Kushiro Wetlands National Park is a natural treasure that is home to red-crowned cranes, designated as Special Natural Monuments, and primeval plants such as tussock that are unique to wetland areas. The area is also famous for a wide range of outdoor activities throughout the seasons such as canoeing, horse riding and smelt fishing.
With a backdrop of beautiful rolling hills and the Tokachidake mountain range in the distance, Biei and Furano have stunning views throughout the year. Cycle around quiet country roads with breathtaking views of flower meadows and lavender gardens in the summer and autumn, and experience the thrill of skiing fresh powder snow during the winter. The area is also famous for organic farming, with a wide variety of deliciously fresh and healthy foods available throughout the year.
Hokkaido has a number of UNESCO Global Geoparks such as the Toya Caldera and Usu Volcano Global Geopark or Mt. Apoi Geopark. Geoparks feature trekking and climbing courses that take you through the breathtaking nature created by volcanic activity and bring you close to the unique flora and fauna that live in these environments. The mineral-rich water that springs from such volcanic regions creates the perfect environment for nurturing delicious farm and marine produce.
Aoi Ike Blue Pond
The mysterious ambience of the Blue Pond changes dramatically with different seasons and weather conditions. The pond shows its deepest blue color in May and June, gradually changing to an incredible emerald green by October. During the harsh winter months from November to February, the frozen pond is lit up at night to create a truly unique sight.
Jewelry ice is an entirely unique natural phenomenon that occurs on Otsu shores in Toyokoro town. It is formed from ice in the Tokachi River which flows into the sea and is then washed up on the shores during the coldest seasons from mid-January to mid-February. Each piece of ice is entirely unique in shape and size, and the glittering jewel-like appearance attracts photographers and tourists alike at sunrise and sunset.
Marimo grow naturally in Lake Akan, which is a beautiful lake formed from a volcanic crater. Marimo are a type of green algae that can be seen in fresh and salt water in the northern hemisphere, and can grow up to 30cm in diameter. Registered as a Special Natural Monument, it is thought that Lake Akan is the only place where Marimo are able to grow to such large sizes.
Hokkaido is the natural habitat for many different species of fish, including Japanese char in eastern Hokkaido and rainbow trout in the upstream areas of Ishikari River. You can try fishing for cherry trout in Kimobetsu River, or smelt fishing on frozen lakes in winter. August to October is the best time for salmon fishing, with beach and port spots filled with keen anglers vying for that one that got away.
Praised by some of the world's top skiers as "the best powder snow in the world", Hokkaido is home to many outstanding ski resorts including Niseko, Rusutsu and Tomamu. Hokkaido is fast becoming the number one destination for skiers, snowboarders, and backcountry enthusiasts from many different countries.
Hiking & Trekking
Hokkaido is home to many of the 100 famous mountains in Japan, including Mt. Rishiri, Mt. Shari and the Niseko Volcanic Group, as well as the Daisetsuzan Mountain Range that stretches more than 2000 meters above sea level. Trekking through these mountainous wildernesses during the summer season brings you close to the rare flora and fauna only seen in such harsh environments, and the winter season provides the thrill of snowshoe trekking through frozen wonderlands.
Horse Riding & Breeding
The Hidaka region is Japan's finest racehorse breeding area. You can enjoy the thrills and excitement of the unique Banei horse racing, where huge draft horses drag heavy iron sleds across a hilled course, or have a unique nature experience horse trekking through the wilderness. Hokkaido is also home to Somes Saddles, Japan's only manufacturer of harnesses and beautiful leather goods.
Wine & Beer Made in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is blessed with the perfect environment for growing rice and an abundance of pure, clean water, making it the ideal location for wine and beer production. In addition to the many sake and beer breweries, Hokkaido is home to the award-winning Nikka Distillery, as well as wineries whose wines feature delectable flavors unique to the cold climate and distinct seasons of Hokkaido.
Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido, and have a culture that is very closely linked with nature. Ainu cuisine is as unique as their culture. Salmon has always been considered an essential food for the long, harsh Hokkaido winters, and is used in "Ohau" stew that epitomizes the knowledge and culture of the fascinating Ainu people.
Regional Ingredients & Food Highlights
Blessed with a cool climate, Hokkaido boasts one quarter of the cultivated acreage of Japan and produces a wide range of delicious agricultural and livestock products. Hokkaido food is firmly established as a very high quality brand in many Asian countries, with the superb ingredients used in a wide variety of delectable cuisine.
Fresh Seafood & Its Industry
Surrounded on three sides by the Sea of Japan, Pacific Ocean and Sea of Okhotsk, Hokkaido is blessed with a rare abundance of fishery resources. From salmon and crabs to shellfish and kelp, Hokkaido's seafood is recognized throughout Japan and Asia as some of the best in the world, and a great deal of attention is now focused on restaurants that specialize in Hokkaido seafood.
Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park
Upopoy was established to revitalize the culture of the indigenous Ainu people and create new cultural traditions. The National Ainu Museum is Japan's first national museum dedicated to the Ainu people, while the National Ainu Park is an interactive field museum where you can experience traditional Ainu dancing and other elements of Ainu culture. Located by Lake Poroto with abundant nature all around, Upopoy shines the spotlight on the many wonders of Ainu culture.
Fat bike tour through scenery that is significant in Ainu culture
This leisurely fat bike tour takes you through the natural landscapes of Lake Akan. You'll explore trails deep in the forest that can only accessed by guides certified by the Maeda Ippoen Foundation, the organization that manages Lake Akan's forest. In winter, studded tires are used so that you can cycle over the frozen lake.
Hokkaido is one of Japan's top spots for cycle tourism during summer because of its refreshingly cool climate, amazing scenery, light traffic and wide roads. And Minamifurano, located near the center of Hokkaido, is one of the best places of all. Road bikes, helmets, equipment and even clothing are available for rental, making this the perfect place to take in Hokkaido's stunning natural landscapes on a bike.
Hokkaido is a canoe enthusiast's paradise, with countless rivers and small lakes surrounded by abundant nature. A particularly spectacular spot is Lake Kussharo. Located in the center of Akan-Mashu National Park, Lake Kussharo is the largest lake in Japan to be formed by a volcanic hollow called a caldera. The beautiful water is extraordinarily clear, with hot springs throughout the lake. The Kushiro River begins here, flowing out to sea through the Kushiro Wetland, an area recognized as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Your canoe offers a whole new vantage point for the magnificent nature of the national park and the wildlife living there, such as white-tailed eagles, Yezo red foxes and deer.
Rafting along the Sorachi River is an incredible experience. The thrill of rafting is complemented by stunning, unspoiled nature, with the Daisetsuzan mountains to the north, the Hidaka mountains to the south and deep primeval forest all around. The most exciting time is when the snow has just melted, raising the level of the waters, while summer offers a more mellow experience.
Horse trekking around Lake Kussharo
Horse trekking tours are available in various areas of Hokkaido, but Lake Kussharo offers a truly memorable experience. Located in Akan-Mashu National Park, Lake Kussharo is the largest volcanic caldera lake in Japan and the second largest in the world, offering a breathtaking backdrop for a leisurely tour on horseback.
Cruise through eastern Hokkaido’s iconic drift ice
In winter, drift ice floats all the way across the Sea of Okhotsk from Siberia. There are only a few places in the whole world where you can see winter scenery like this, and the Okhotsk coast of Hokkaido is the only place in Japan. This vast natural phenomenon usually appears around late January, covering the whole of Sea of Okhotsk until around March. You have the best chance of seeing it in February, and the best way to see it is a cruise on an icebreaker boat, where you can admire the vast pieces of ice all around you.
Flower trekking in Japan’s northernmost national park
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is Japan's northernmost national park. Each area has its own incredible natural features, from mountains to wetlands to sand dunes. Rishiri Island is home to Mt. Rishiri, known as Rishiri-Fuji for its resemblance to Mt. Fuji, while over 300 species of alpine vegetation can be found on Rebun Island. Mt. Rishiri is surrounded by small lakes such as Lake Otatomari and Himenuma Pond, and the mountain's shape looks different depending on the angle from which it is viewed. On Rebun Island, meanwhile, you'll see the rare phenomenon of alpine vegetation growing from sea level. It is known as a "floating island of flowers" for the wide range of flowers seen across the island, including large-flowered cypripediums (Rebun Atsumori-so), Leontopodium discolor edelweiss (Rebun Usuyuki-so) and Oxytropis megalantha (Rebun-so). Trekking through rare flowers like these is a wonderful mood booster.
Watch the incredible seabird colonies on Teuri Island
Teuri Island is a small island on the Sea of Japan side of Hokkaido, measuring just 12km around. It is designated as part of Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-national Park because of its natural importance—it is one of the world's most valuable seabird colonies with rare species such as the spectacled guillemot, ancient murrelet and common murre. The rhinoceros auklet, a close relative of puffins, also nests there. The island's cliffs, weathered by the strong winds and rough waves of the Sea of Japan, provide just the protection from predators that these birds need. The sight of so many species of seabirds flying over the island between spring and early summer is awe-inspiring.
Watch Steller’s sea eagles in eastern Hokkaido
Japan's largest eagle, the Steller's sea eagle, is recognized as a Natural Monument of Japan. It breeds in areas of Russia such as the Kamchatka Peninsula, the lower reaches of the Amur River and northern Sakhalin, and migrates to areas of eastern Hokkaido such as the Shiretoko and Nemuro Peninsulas in winter. Whether they're swooping through the air with their vast wings spread or resting on the spectacular drift ice, these birds captivate birdwatchers from Japan and overseas alike, and Hokkaido's winter landscapes set the scene beautifully. There are a variety of ways to watch these birds in their natural habitats in Shiretoko and Nemuro—take one of various nature cruises or go for a snowshoe or ski walking tour.
Director of Shiretoko Nature Office / Chairman of Japan Ecotourism Society / Advisor on the Promotion of Ecotourism for the Ministry of the Environment / Vice Chairman of Shiretoko Shari-cho Tourist Association