Although the name Hokkaido is still foreign to many Americans, its visual signifiers already seem poised to enter the collective consciousness. Not knowing what to expect before my visit (Why use Google to spoil the surprise?) I was delighted by the surprised by the dramatic vistas. Particularly when it came to the autumn season, on cinescope display below the Asahidake Ropeway, and creating a painting-like backdrop on the Minamifurano-cho lakeside. Best of all was learning that the region’s intense seasons don’t stop with winter. One look at a farm that during the spring season is covered with the area’s signature lavender fields, had me planning a return trip to hunt for the ultimate Instagram.
But it wasn’t just Disney-like beauty—even if viewing the animals of Shiretoko National Park at night had an affect similar to a viewing of Snow White. Strolling next to the cragged peaks of Asahi-dake, and the sulfurous plumes of Meakan Dake offered an unearthly counterpoint that left me cracking Lord of the Rings jokes. Yes, I was sore from multiple days of hiking, but the trails accommodated this entry-level adventurer. Still—imagine my surprise to learn that all Japanese national parks must have a view and an onsen, and in this highly geothermic area, most hotels have their own onsen. Because after a day of exploring, what’s more beautiful than a hot soak?
Laura Studarus is an international freelance travel writer with bylines at BBC, The Daily Beast, and Buzzfeed. She is constantly amazed at Japan’s natural diversity, cultural depths, and tea selection.
Daisetsuzan National Park
The “roof” of central Hokkaido, known locally as Kamui Mintara or “the Playground of the Gods”.
Shiretoko National Park
Rich ecosystems linked by drift ice and majestic landscapes of mountains and coastal cliffs created by volcanic eruptions.
Akan-Mashu National Park
A vast landscape comprising Japan’s largest caldera landform, volcanoes, orests, and lakes.
Akanko Hot Springs
This hot spring has been used by the Ainu people for many years, and Hokkaido's largest Ainu history museum is located nearby.
About 2 hours from JR Kushiro Station by an Akan bus on the "Akan route" to the "Akanko Onsen" bus stop.