HOKKAIDO, the land of the purest nature in Japan
Hokkaido is easy to spot in the map of Japan: Among the four major islands that create the Japanese archipelago, Hokkaido is located the northern most. This diamond-shaped island has a different geography from the rest of the country. While most of Japan is characterized with highly industrialized urban cities with dense population and hilly coastlines, Hokkaido is tremendously open and has a reminiscence of the vast North American geography. With serene rich nature and open land, Hokkaido serves both to agriculture and tourism.
Harsh winter makes Hokkaido the winter sports heaven: With the superior quality of dry powder snow and the open geography, Hokkaido is the best ski regions in Asia, and as proved with the Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo in 1972, Hokkaido’s resort development has been very successful and recognized as the top quality in the world.
Surrounded by different cold currents from the Pacific Ocean, Okhotsuk Sea and the Sea of Japan, Hokkaido produces nearly one quarter of the national seafood catch, and significantly contributes to the country’s culinary industry that traditionally requires high quality fresh seafood. Taking advantage of the flat and wide landscape, Hokkaido establishes the breadbasket of Japan: The wide prairie and the cooler climate are recognized as perfect for forestry, rice, vegetable and dairy farming. Forestry in particular, takes almost half of the entire area of Hokkaido, and is what makes Hokkaido so rich in wild life and virgin nature.
IN THE WORLD’S SPOT LIGHT
This small peninsula in the eastern Hokkaido that extends into the Okhotsk Sea is the great example of how Hokkaido maintains the great nature and the comfortable human life. Shiretoko Peninsula is covered with untouched forest, and along with the precipitous coastline and the volcanic central area, this is the home of varieties of migrant birds and marine species, some of whom are classified as endangered. Because of the rich natural habitats, Shiretoko has a perfect natural food chain among them, which is becoming rarer in the recent years. Yet, Shiretoko is the home of several fishing villages and this peninsula accomplishes the perfect cohabitation of human and natural lives.
For the successful human and natural cohabitation, Shiretoko Peninsula has become UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage Site in 2005, and since then the Peninsula has been working on the environmental maintenance such as garbage removal and regulating the eco tourism.
Respecting this tremendous nature and the extensive effort to maintain the environment, the annual summit meeting of the Group of Eight (G8 Summit) selected Hokkaido for the 2008 meeting. At the beautiful summer lakeshore of Lake Toya, the national leaders from the eight advanced nations gather for global issue, and with the particular focus on the recent global climate changes as the major topics, the Summit picked this beautiful lakeshore site for the 2008 meeting because of the untouched natural beauty of Lake Toya in southwestern Hokkaido.
The lake is formed by the volcanic crater, and among several lakes in Hokkaido, Lake Toya is known for the lake that doesn’t freeze during the harsh Arctic winter weather because of its 590 feet depth. Not to mention scattering hot spring spots around the Lake, the magnificent view of the volcanic mountain both in the blue sky and of the reflection in the water are breathtaking, representing Hokkaido’s rich landscape.
To introduce the local culture and nature to the G8 Summit visitors, Japan National Tourist Organization opens the Japan information booth during the Meetings.
CULTURE IN HOKKAIDO
Lake Toya is the venue of spectacular fireworks from April through October, which illuminate the quiet glassy water surface of Lake Toya every night.
Furano, the large ski resort area that is becoming larger with tourist from overseas in recent years, is also the large destinations for several summer festivals. Furano’s mountains, which serve as the world class ski areas in winter, are the major camping and hiking venues for outdoorsy adventurers from all over the world. Mt. Nishidake and Mt. Furanodake open for the summer hiking courses in the early June, and provide shuttle bus service to hikers between the nearest train station and the trailhead of the mountains.
Furano’s large flower fields are also the major attraction in summer: The region’s largest festival is at the lavender farms in Kami-Furano (Upper Furano), starting late July with the lavenders stretching all the way to the horizon. Hokkaido’s typical idyllic scenic route also runs through Furano. Along the Route 237 are the continuous flower farms and the fields of different colors continue as you drive. The yellow of sun flowers shines against the pure blue sky in summer.
Horses were brought to Hokkaido during the development era by the Japanese explores in the late 19th century. Introduced for the agricultural development in Hokkaido, horses have been taking major roles in people’s life, and a unique horse race has been born in Hokkaido, the largest thoroughbred country in Japan.
Banei Horse Racing is the 200 meter race of the draft horses that are double sized as normal thoroughbreds, pulling an iron sled. To compete not only in speed but also in power and endurance of horses, the ground has a few humps. The beauty of Banei Horse Racing is the proximity to the horses on the track: Since horses run slower pulling an iron sled, people cheer up the horse right by the race tracks. This shows the origin of Banei Horse Racing that came from the very severe conditions in Hokkaido around the 1900, when pioneers started settling down in Hokkaido. The vast open land of Hokkaido later became the center of the horse farming of the country, both strong draft horses and sleek thoroughbreds.
Hokkaido Rail Pass
Hokkaido is a big country! To cruise around Hokkaido corner to corner, Japan Rail Company’s Hokkaido Rail Pass is the way to go. Choose the pass for 3, 4 or 5 days depending on your itinerary, and you will get unlimited rides of any JR train lines and buses in Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Round Tour Pass is valid for 7 days and provides unlimited rides of JR transportation and non-reserved sOeats on the limited express and express trains operated by JR Company for faster trip for longer distance.
—- Nori Akashi: Public Relations Manager at the New York Office of JNTO