Japan has four major islands, and Hokkaido is its northernmost member. Amazingly, it attracts few visitors, so that those who do venture in find a rugged and untouched frontier. Most of Hokkaido is forested and mountainous, and only 1 out of 20 Japanese live here. This is in spite of the fact that a fifth of Japan’s landmass belongs to the island. Today, much of this frontier is protected as parkland.
Niseko is one of the most popular travel destinations on Hokkaido. The snowy slopes of Niseko are ideal for skiing and snowboarding from November to March, and its lodges are among the most popular resorts in Hokkaido. Most of the visitors are younger Japanese on holiday, but Niseko has had recent success courting an international audience.
Outside of the ski season, the southern city of Hakodate is well worth visiting. Hakodate was one of Hokkaido’s early port cities and boasts a western-style fort, museums that explore the indigenous Ainu culture and a booming night district. Mount Hakodate is on the horizon, where day-trippers can enjoys a sweeping view of the Japanese frontier.
Hakodate also has a large share of the hotels in Hokkaido. Opposite of the ski lodges, these hotels are busiest in July and August – the overall best months to visit the island. These hotels are an ideal base for hiking the national parks, where hot springs and impressive peaks are hidden away.
Most tourists arrive on Hokkaido via Otaru, a southern transport hub with rail and ferry links to destinations further to the south. Otaru is only 30 minutes from Sapporo by train.
For more information on hotels and landmarks in the different areas of Hokkaido, click on the interactive Hokkaido map on the left-hand side of the page.