Hokkaido Hokkaido is the northernmost big island of Japan and it is known mainly because its capital city, Sapporo, was the 1972 Winter Olympics host city.
Hokkaido is not the typical Japanese tourist destination. If you dream visiting Japan because you saw on television the crowded streets and the manga dressed youngsters of Tokyo or the geishas and big shrines of Kyoto and Nara, then this is not your destination. Hokkaido is completely different than the rest of the country, maybe because it is not densely populated (the biggest city, Sapporo, considred very small for the Japanese standards), maybe because the Japanese did not really think much about it till the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. During the summer the place is covered with beautiful flowers and temperatures are very pleasant for hiking, but Hokkaidi is mainly a winter sports destination, as it is covered in snow almost half of the year.
Hokkaido was known as Ezochi until the Meiji Restoration, and took its present name in 1869.
Home of the almost disappeared Ainu tribes, Hokkaido is covered by thick forests. Personally, I cannot think of another place on Earth covered with so many forests, considering that it is not located in the tropics. Of course, this comes with a price: rain. When I say rain, I mean lots of rain, almost every other day! Besides forests, the island is covered with low-medium height mountains, which almost all of them are volcanos. Because of the volcanic activity, there are abundant hot springs scattered all over the place, so locals and visitors bath into them frequently, or at least they submerge their feet in there to take advantage of the beneficial properties of the mineral hot waters.
Surrounded by water and crisscrossed by rivers and streams, Hokkaido is the ultimate Japanese place for sea food. People are rivaled only by bears when it comes to salmon and trout eating. Yes, bears! Hokkaido is the only place in Japan where bears still live and thrive outside cages. The big Brown bear is the symbol of the island, and you see them everywhere, either painted or as teddy bears or stuffed dead bears (very creepy). When, you hike in the forests, you should always be alert because not all bears are stuffed.
Rich in dairy products (thanks to the Americans, who taught the locals to systematically farm and cultivate the island) and agricultural products, this is a food paradise.
Hokkaido is large (the size of South Korea) and distances with even with a car are long. So, during my 3-weeks stay on the island I managed to visit the central Hokkaido area, which means I moved in a radius of 200km from Sapporo. This is the most densely populated area of the island. If you plan to stay more than 3-4 days, I strongly suggest to rent a car.
Arriving on the island
Most tourists enter the island via the New Chitose Airport. The airport is relatively small and is located about 50 km S-SE of Sapporo. The airport is well connected to Sapporo by train, buses and taxis. Of course, you should consider renting a car: just proceed to the rent-a-car company office (it is wise to make a reservation well in advance before your arrival in japan) located at the arrivals and a free shuttle bus will take you and your luggage to the rentals building (located some distance from the airport) to collect your car.
Moving around in Sapporo
Sapporo is a small city for the Japanese standards and has a very good public transportation system of buses, subway (there are three lines), trains and streetcar (only one lop line). So, if you are planning to stay in the city and not travel around the island, you do not need a car.
The easiest way to move around in the city is by the SAPICA card. SAPICA is a rechargable card, which can be used in metro, bus and streetcar. It costs ¥2,000 (¥1,500 can be used for fare, while ¥500 is the deposit) and you buy it (cash only!) from machines in every metro station and at bus terminals. Press the word "english" before doing anything else. The card can be recharged (also at the machines). That makes life really easy. For more details on the SAPICA card visit the official site (do not expect everything from me😀!).
Nevertheless, the city center is small and you can visit most atractions on foot.