Since free toll on the expressway in limited areas of Japan was unveiled last month (it will begin effective in June this year), planning a road trip to Hokkaido this summer may be added to the list of holidays. Hokkaido is an island located at the northern end of Japan. Its harsh winter generates high quality of powder snow, and it becomes skiers' and snowboarders' paradise during the winter. Its blessed cooler climate during the summer, without long muggy rainy season, makes it a popular destination for tourists as well.
Hokkaido is, by far, the largest; yet, the least developed prefecture of Japan. Home to the “Ainus”, Hokkaido represents nature wilderness with many nature parks and omnipresent hot springs. The scenery of Hokkaido reminds me of Northern Europe. Since Japan's settlement in Hokkaido is relatively new compared to other prefectures in Japan, the architectures and the city structure look much more modern and somewhat enclose the architectural of German province structure I saw in Germany.
Hokkaido is divided into four areas, Central, Eastern, Western, and Northern. Central includes Sapporo, Otaru, Noboribetus, Tomakomai, and Niseko.
Sapporo is the capital and the largest city of Hokkaido. The Ice sculpture festival in February is the city's famed annual event. The main boulevard's urban structure reminds me of its atmosphere of Tokyo. As in most of the big cities, Sapporo is a great place for shopping; yet, historical buildings stands out such urban structure that cannot be overlooked. One of the famous establishments is Hokkaido City Hall, standing near the JR Sapporo station.
Another city located in the region is Otaru. Otaru is one of the major ferry ports of Hokkaido. About 10 minutes away from the Otaru station, you will see a walkway, romantically lit by street gas-lamps, that runs alongside the Otaru-canal. The lamps are originally made by Kitaichi glass factory, which is one of the most famous glass factories in Japan. Kitaichi glass factory is located near the canal, and it is a great place to find souvenirs. Their famed gas-lamps are also used in the cafe located inside of the factory store. Softly glowing historic gas lamps placed on the center of each table at cafe derives the romantic atmosphere and will definitely steal your breath away.
Otaru music-box museum is another popular attraction of Otaru. It exhibits the history of the making of notable music boxes. The museum also offers build your own music box with extra fees.
The harsh winter with a lot of snow falls in Hokkaido attributes to a trendy ski resort with the heavenly dry powder snow, which invites many people from all over the world. Niseko is one of the trendy ski havens which boast four ski resorts and it draws increasing number of Australian skiers and snowboarders as well as those of Japanese. Niseko is 20 minutes away from Sapporo by car.
Majority of the visitors to this area intend to visit natural hot spring spa resort. Other than the spa, there are Bear farm and Aquarium in the area.
The Eastern circuit of Hokkaido consists of the cities of Abashiri, Bihoro, Kitami, Kushito, Obihiro, and Nemuro.
In part of each trip to Hokkaido, Abashiri is often introduced as its home to Abashiri prison, which stroke the terror to the minds of sentenced criminals during 1800. It was built as Japan’s first maximum-security prison. The temperature in Abashiri at night drops down to negative 20 or even lower during the winter, yet, some of those imprisoned, typically for those involved in political crimes, confined in the cell without any heat. The prison is now open to public as a museum and exhibits its trace of horrifying history.
Bihoro: Akan National Park
This is on one of the major highway JCTs of Hokkaido. One of the great national parks of Hokkaido, Akan National Park is located near here. Akan National Park is famous for its three mystic clear mountain lakes. Lake Akan is known and largely appreciated for its mysterious green algae balls. On the east, Lake Mashuko lays its mysterious feature. This deep caldera lake is often blanketed with thin layer of fog. It is so highly protected that the lake can only be seen from the two look out areas suspended on the cliff. Seeing sapphire blue water of the lake from above is breathtaking. Lastly, the Lake Kusharo is also a caldera lake, typically known for its lively geo activities in the lake.
The eastern circuit of the island is a great place for outdoor activities. There are many camping grounds throughout the area. The Akan kohan ski resort has many nature trails to hike. For water activities as water rafting and canoeing, Kushiro River has plenty to offer.
The Northern circuit of Hokkaido covers the northern central part of Hokkaido. The region includes the two islands, Rebun and Rishiri near the tip of main island along with Furano city.
One of the cities located on the Northern circuit, Furano’s climate varies because of the high elevation. The area’s cooler climate contributes largely to its great powder snow and the drastic variation of the temperature became a factor to its high production of wine. My favorite attraction is Furano’s lavender field, and it is another famed attraction of the region.
The last region left is southern circuit of Hokkaido. Hakodate is the closest city to Honshu.
Hakodate is one of the first ports opened for trading. The city’s European influence still remains visible in the city. Hakodate’s night view is one of the popular attractions of all times. The red brick warehouses are popular destinations for the visitors. There are many small stores and glass factories along the street of Hakodate as well. I recently visited the town and went to the Hamburger shop called Lackey Pierrot. Their super Mega sized Burger called “ Futoccho Burger”, which is 10 times bigger than the regular sized burger, was very satisfying and delicious.
Lastly, Hokkaido has been one of my favorite places to visit in Japan. The island can offer you everything you expect. The dry powder snow paradise attracts many skiers and snowboarders during the winter. As the snow melts, wilderness of Hokkaido unveils its stunningly beautiful scenery. During the summer, many visitors come to the island for cycling, for hiking, for camping and for many other outdoor activities. There are many biking path in Hokkaido, especially on the most of the main roads. The widely constructed sidewalks have enough room for both the road bikers and the pedestrians. Enjoy!
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