If you are visiting Japan during the winter, consider dropping by its northernmost island, Hokkaido. As Japan’s snowiest island, Hokkaido is where residents from across Japan go to ski, see drift ice from the Russian seas and warm up in hot springs. Outside winter, Hokkaido is still a natural paradise worth visiting, with one twentieth of Japan’s large population on one fifth of its total landmass. Hike across volcanic mountain ranges, enjoy the blossom-filled city parks and explore the famous lavender fields of the central farmland.
You may not have expected drift ice to be part of your itinerary when deciding to visit Japan, but that’s exactly what you will find in the northeasterly Shiretoko National Park. The thick layer of oceanic ice drifts down from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk. Book an ice-walking tour to step out on the ice in a wetsuit, although expect to do some swimming in dangerously cold water if the ice is thin.
Find more wintertime activities in Daisetsuzan National Park at the heart of the island. Known as the “roof of Hokkaido” for containing the highest peaks on the island, the volcanic range is a great place to ski.
Outside winter, see some of Hokkaido’s most spectacular countryside in the central region around Furano. Vibrant lavender fields cover a significant portion of the farmland here. Visit Farm Tomita for a view of a picturesque hillside covered in parallel strips of lavender and wildflowers of various colors.
Hokkaido’s main cities are filled with natural areas as well. Explore the island’s capital of Sapporo, site of the 1972 Olympics. The 13-block Ōdōri Park runs from east to west through the center of the city. Hakodate, a port city on the southern tip of the island, features a star-shaped park covered in cherry trees. Take a gondola up nearby Mount Hakodate to look out over the cityscape, especially beautiful at night.
The quickest way to reach Hokkaido is to fly from Tokyo to Sapporo. You can also reach the island by train or ferry.