Japan's second largest island is often considered the wildest place in the whole country.
10 reasons to visit Hokkaido
Rolling flower fields, snowy mountains and dense woodlands: when most people think of Japan's northernmost region, they think of nature. Its largest urban center is Sapporo, but no one is visiting Hokkaido for neon lights and skyscrapers. Here, wildlife outnumbers humans, and life takes on a slower pace with farmland and forests stretching out in every direction. It's also the ancestral home of Japan's only indigenous people, the Ainu. Find out what makes Japan's second largest island so special, and why Hokkaido might just be the perfect place to spend every season.
1. Surreal scenery
Hokkaido's numerous parks and nature reserves take up about 10% of the island's total land area. There are six national parks in total, and five quasi-national parks full of wildlife including deer, brown bears and foxes. The island shines year round: flowers bloom through spring and summer, it shimmers under a blanket of snow in winter, and it's alight with fiery foliage in autumn.
Mount Usu, an active volcano, is one of the most impressive spots for hiking, jutting up above serene Lake Toya on the southeast coast. Its most recent eruption was in 2000, and the 60 new craters that cracked open on the mountain's western side have become popular with walkers and hikers.
Heading inland to the heart of the island, Daisetsuzan National Park is Japan's largest national park. It's home to Hokkaido's tallest point, Mount Asahi, a volcano standing at 2,291 meters, or 7,516 feet.
2. Flowers, flowers and more flowers
Lavender has been cultivated in Hokkaido for 50 years, and the island has started capitalizing on it both as a product and as an attraction. The towns of Biei and Furano are the most popular spots for viewing the colorful spectacle, and the blooms last from spring all the way until fall. A number of farms offer tours and artisanal crafts, and flower festivals are held across the island between June and August celebrating the beautiful blooms. Shikisai-no-oka is a popuar farm in Biei, and in addition to walking tours it also offers ATV and golf cart rentals.
3. A balanced diet
The location of Japan's seafood capital is up for debate, but Hokkaido is the undisputed champion of uni, or sea urchin. Shakotan Peninsula, jutting out from Hokkaido's southwestern coast, has the best sea urchin in the country, and maybe in the world.
The island is also renowned for a number of regional dishes. Jingisukan, or Genghis Khan, is a grilled lamb dish named for the feared Mongol Emperor. It's a specialty of Hokkaido, and the hearty meal is best served with a cold Sapporo beer. Ishikari nabe is a dish originating from the town of Ishikari. The hotpot dish is made up of local ingredients such as salmon, potatoes, daikon radishes, mushrooms, prawns, and miso all stewed together. No matter the weather, be sure to finish off your meal with some of Hokkaido's famous soft serve ice cream, fresh from its many local dairy farms
4. There's even vegan food!
Hokkaido has even started to cater to vegan and vegetarian travelers. A recent initiative aims to put more plant-based options on menus around the island to make it a more appealing destination for vegan and vegetarian travelers. A number of restaurants in Sapporo have already begun stocking vegan and vegetarian-friendly menu items, and with such an abundance of fresh products it shouldn't be too difficult for others to follow suit. Hokkaido's government has announced that it will conduct a study looking into the viability of the island's vegetarian cuisine options. 100 foreign visitors across four areas of Hokkaido will also be asked about what they think of Hokkaido's restaurant offerings. After the study is complete, the government will compile an online list of vegetarian restaurants.