Experiencing the real Hokkaido
When we think of Hokkaido, the first two places that come to mind will probably be Sapporo and Hakodate. With the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, famous Sapporo beer, towering Mt. Hakodate, and unbelievable food, it’s little wonder why these places leave such deep impressions. But Hokkaido is much more than that. From lesser known areas like Otaru & Northern Shiribeshi, Higashi Sorachi, Rumoi, and Kikonai Sta, there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be explored. There are even places that are said to have inspired Ghibli’s films!
Image credit: Hirokatsu Seki
As places like Sapporo and Hakodate become more “touristy”, it’s about time to start venturing out and experiencing the real Hokkaido.
Here are 4 areas you should be exploring on your next trip to Hokkaido!
Otaru & Northern of Shiribeshi
If you love Japanese seafood, you will love Otaru and Northern Shiribeshi. The best uni (sea-uchins) in Japan is said to come from this area, where sea urchins are only harvested in the summer. The water quality and plentiful seaweed in the region apparently makes this prime ground for seafood.
Geographically, Otaru and Northern Shiribeshi is on the west of Hokkaido Island, fairly close to Sapporo.
You can start your trip from the port town of Otaru, feasting on fresh sushi along the famous Otaru Sushi Street, before exploring the nostalgic Otaru Canal. Then take a nice coastal drive across the Shakotan Peninsula to Cape Kamui, where you’ll be flanked by crystal blue waters on one side, and beautiful caldera formations on the other. Keep a lookout, because you’ll be able to spot many interesting rock formations.
At Cape Kamui, take a short hike along a scenic trail to reach the edge of the peninsula. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go paragliding from Akaigawa Village!
For those who think that alcohol in Japan only consists of sake and more recently whisky, check out the vineyards and wineries in Yoichi Town too.
Other towns of interests: Shakotan Town, Furubira Town, Niki Town
Image credit: Good Hokkaido
While cherry blossoms are the hype in Japan, catching the beautiful sakuras often involve sharing that view with many other tourists. For those looking for a more authentic and tourist-free experience, the canola fields around Takikawa City bloom all at once in spring. Creating an mesmerising sea of yellow as far as the eye can see. This generally takes place around May every year, but it’s best to check the Takikawa City FB Page for updates.
At Akabira City, step back in time into the industrial revolution, where Japan’s economy boomed along with the coal mines that powered the country. While the town focusses on manufacturing now, you can still find many traces of its rich coal mining history on an easy self-walking tour.
The varied region of Higashi Sorachi also extends to the rise of global leather brands like Sommes Saddle. While originally a horse saddle manufacturer, it has since become known for their high quality leather goods loved by many around the world. At the Sunagawa Factory and Showroom, you can learn about their history and even ride horses from spring to fall.
Other towns of interests: Ashibetsu City, Sunagawa City, Utashinai City
Northeast of Hokkaido is the coastal region of Rumoi. Go back to nature with the rolling hills and blue ocean that make this such a pleasant area to explore.
On the Island of Yagishiri, say “bah” to the adorable Suffolk sheep while hiking or cycling. Here, the iconic Hokkaido Onko trees (Japanese Yew) grow uniquely into a shape of a dome instead of vertically up as seen on the main island. At nearby Teuri Island, observe seabirds like the Rhinoceros Auklets that have made it their sanctuary.
Back on the main Island, explore Rumoi City and feast on fresh seafood. Kazuno-ko (Herring Roe) and shrimps are particularly popular here. Don’t forget to try Japanese pasta made with RuRu Rosso, a specialty pasta that uses wheat from the region. Check out Cape Ogon just before dusk, which is often referred to as the place with “the most magnificent sunset in Japan”.
Travel along the coast to Mashike Town and go on a historic walk. See buildings representative of the Meiji period and take pictures at the Former Mashike Elementary School, the largest and oldest wooden school building in Hokkaido.
Other towns of interests: Haboro Town
Image credit: Shizuko Kosuna
Kikonai Sta. Area
As a new gateway to Hokkaido via the Shinkansen (bullet train), the area around Kikonai Sta is waiting to be discovered. Traditionally known as a historical region, learn about the early beginnings of Hokkaido here.
Begin at Matsumae Castle, the northernmost fortress of Japan and only one in Hokkaido. During sakura season, the park surrounding the castle is a great viewing spot with over 10,000 cherry blossom trees.
North of Matsumae is Kaminokuni Town, another important town during the medieval period. There’s a great view of the town through a Torii gate on the summit of Mt. Iozan, where you can also find the shrine of Nobuhiro Takeda, one of the forefathers of ancient Hokkaido.
Further north in Otobe Town, you can find the beautiful white cliffs of Cape Tatenosaki, popularly known as the Grand Canyon of the East.
Other towns of interests: Kikonai Town, Shiriuchi Town, Fukushima Town, Kaminokuni Town, Esashi Town, Assabu Town, Okushiri Town
Image credit: Hiyama Hokkaido
For those thinking of planning your next trip to Hokkaido, why not go beyond the usual places and experience the real Hokkaido. I know I definitely am.
One thing I realised though, is that information to more off-the-beaten parts of Japan can often be difficult to find. If you need more inspiration or help planning your trip, check out ANA’s new site on Hokkaido!
– Osaka Kyoto Nara Budget Itinerary