Found some time to go to Japan this summer, but are concerned about being there during the rainy tsuyu season? It may turn out to be the perfect excuse to head up to Hokkaido, the country’s most northern island. Free of downpours, brimming with nature and its own unique culture, this is the perfect destination and easy to get to thanks to the impressively extensive and efficient rail network of Japan. Here’s what to do to make the most of your days there.
Start in Hakodate. While you can fly into a local airport, why not take the newest Shinkansen (bullet train), which opened in the Spring of 2016? It will get you from Tokyo to Hokkaido’s southern city of Hakodate in just over 4 hours. Once you arrive, you can stretch your legs, check out historical sites like the Western style Fort Goryokaku, and enjoy some shopping and dining.
Stop off in Sapporo. A four-hour train ride from Hakodate, the capital of Hokkaido is another good starting point – accessible by plane through New Chitose Airport. While better known for its Snow Festival, in the summertime this is an urban wonderland that is filled with incredible restaurants, as well as the one and only Sapporo Beer Museum where you can sample some local suds.
Lavender in Furano. From Sapporo, Furano is just a two and a half hour train ride. And for flower lovers and the uninitiated alike, it is absolutely worth it. The fields of swaying purple lavender and many other types of flowers, stretching for as far as the eye can see, stimulate all the senses and are truly unforgettable. So make sure to snap as many envy-inducing pictures and selfies as you can.
A beautiful lavender field in Furano. The peak of its tourism is June to August, in which visitors can enjoy the carpet of lavender flowers.
The Edge of the East in Shiretoko. The unspoiled Shiretoko National Park is one of those once-in-a-lifetime destinations that offer a peek into what the world was like prior to industrialization. Arrive by train to the station in the town of Shari, and then take a bus to the park, where you can wander around the breathtaking Shiretoko Five Lakes and the truly awe-inspiring Kamuiwakka Falls.
End of the Line in Kushiro. While the surroundings are beautiful on their own, it’s the endangered Japanese Cranes, Tancho, that are the true stars here. Bird watchers and animal lovers can watch around 1,000 majestic cranes (up from 20 thanks to conservation efforts) as they elegantly dance with each other. If you’re looking for a quick way back to Sapporo or Tokyo, you can take a flight from Kushiro Airport. But why not take your time? There’s so much you can still see on your way back.
What you need to savor in Hokkaido
Surrounded by ocean and with vast land, Hokkaido is a place for fishery and agriculture, naturally bringing a ton of produce. This makes Hokkaido one of the most gourmet regions in Japan. Visitors should not miss what Hokkaido has to offer.
Hokkaido harvests a lot of fresh seafood, such as salmon, crab, ikura (salmon roe), konbu, cod, herring and squid to name a few. Visitors can enjoy first class sushi and sashimi as well as unique local seafood dishes, including ikameshi (steamed squid stuffed with seasoned sticky rice) and ishikari nabe (nabe hot pot with salmon in miso broth). You’ll be surprised by affluent toppings on donburi bowl dishes like salmon and ikura donburi or uni and ikura donburi.
Hokkaido is also famous for dairy farming, and it has scrumptious dairy products. Enjoy rich ice cream, yogurt, corn with butter, cream stew, and more.
Ramen in Hokkaido has various styles, highlighting each local produce. Sapporo Ramen is known for its rich, miso flavored broth with thick noodles. Asahikawa Ramen features well balanced broth made with seafood, pork bone, chicken and vegetable seasoned with soy sauce. Also noted is Sapporo Soup Curry, which is rich, full-flavored yet thin soup unlike regular Japanese curry.
Offering pristine water, Hokkaido is the home of many breweries and distilleries. Among those notable beverage companies are SAPPORO Beer, Nikka Whisky and Otokoyama sake brewery.