Travel Guide – Hokkaido

The island of Hokkaido is an “you should visit it”. This means there are nice places there, but do not make Hokkaido you top priority. Hokkaido can not offer a lot of ancient temples and buidlings. Hokkaido is for hiking in beautiful and unique scenery: green valleys, mountain region, coast lines, vulcanos. If you want to get away from people, it is also your place: I relation to it’s size Hokkaido in habe 1/40 of the people living in Tokyo. 6 million people are living here. 33% of them in Sapporo. Here a sum up of the places I visited:

  • place you MUST visit: Hakodate
  • places you must visit for hikung: Rebun, Daisetsusan.
  • place you should visit: Sapporo, Toyo (suitable for a daytrip)
  • places you can skip: Wakkanai, Soyamisaki, Otaru, Yoichi, Sounkyo, Asahikawa

In this part of my travel guide, like in the other parts, I only mention places I have visited. There is more to visit. Also all my suggestions are based on my personal likes. I cannot speak for other people. I write, what I like, which places I would visit a second time.

Karte Hokkaido mit meiner 2010er Reiseroute
Karte Hokkaido mit meiner 2010er Reiseroute

Sapporo — maybe, 1 day
[further information and maps]

Sapporo only habe a few things to visit. You can visit all in one day: The Clock Tower and the Hokkaido Jinja are a “must visit”. You should also visit the botanical garden, the fish market and the park at Sapporo Tower. For the late evening I strongly recommend T38 at central station, with its beautiful view over Sapporo (at night). There is only one reason for Saporro: It’s central postion in the Hokkaido railroad network.

The best way to get to Sapporo ist by airplane. The flight from Tokyo to Chitose takes 1 hour. Add a second hour for the train from the airport to Sapporo. In a few years there will be a connection by Shinkansen. That will reduce the travel time. Now you need more the 10 hours. But there are two (in Japan) famous night trains. The Hokutosei and the Cassiopeia. They both not cheap but you don’t need a hotel room and you have one more day for sightsseing.

[Please note: I wrote these line in 2010. Please check if these connections are still available. After the earthquake in March 2011, all train connections were suspended for several months. I cannot guarantee if Hokutosei and Cassiopeia have resumed their service.]


Otaru und Yoichi — not really, 1 day
[further information and maps]

Both places can be visit on a day trip starting from Sapporo. Otaru is a small town with a nice shopping are. There are old warehouses from the time of the Bakumatsu (opening of Japan). But nothing of all is spectacular. There is also a small beer brewery. The boil kettle is from a German company. Be careful: Inside you may suffer a Bavaria-overdose.

In Yoichi there is even less to visit. The Nikka destillery is there. You can visit the destillery but not the running process. For this I recommend a trip to Scotland (picture from this trip you’ll find under the menu “Off topic”.). Sum up: Both places are only worth of any interest in winter time, because this is a good a ski area.


Hakodate — must see, 1 day
[further information and maps]

If you have to do a stopover in Hokkaido, because the train connecetion does not allow a one day trip, and if you are not interested in Sapporo for a special reason, try to make this stopover in Hakodate instead. I really enjoyed my stay in Hakodate much more than Sapporo. And this wasn’t because of the better weather.

Hakodate Eki is in the center of the city right in between both places of interest: the old fortress Goryōkaku and the old city are called Motohakodate. The fortress is mostly destroyed. Only the wall and the surrounding river remains. The area is now a park. You should visit it, but don’t make it your priority. That should be Motohakodate! This is the melting area of victorian Europe and ancient Japan. There are churches and western buildings rights next to temples and samurai residences. The steep narrow streets (called slopes) and the tram are looking a little bit like a tiny copy of San Francisco. At night get to the top of Mt.Hakodate. The contrast between the city lights and the water on both sides really is something.

To get to Hakodate is a little bit tricky. It lies on the train tracks to Sapporo. If the Shinkansen is in operation it should be very easy. For now you have to plan a long trip by train. Even if you are flying to Chitose. The train needs 3 hours from the airport to Hakodate.


Wakkanai (und Soya Misaki) — not really, 1/2 day
[further information and maps]

This place is only from interest if you want to go to Rebun and Rishiri. Beside the ferry terminal (for the ships to Rebun, Rishiri and Sakhalin, Russia) there is nothing here, that is worth a 6-hour-trip from Sapporo by train, not the park and neither the viewing tower.

I spent a night in Wakkanai because there are only three trains a day and only the first one matches with the departure time of the last ferry boat. I took the first train. But I don’t wanted to risk anything, like missing the train early in the morning or like something happening on the way. — OK, I am a little bit paranoid, but I like to have a backup plan for long distance trips. But this one-night-stay in Wakkanai gave me the opportunity to visit the city and to visit Soyamisaki (the northernmost point of Japan) as well.


Rebun und Rishiri

The most annoying thing about Rebun and Rishri is how to get there. Only three trains a day, a 6-hour trip from Sapporo, and an additional trip with the Heart Land Ferry. For more information about this, please visit the page How to get to Wakkanai, Rishiri und Rebun.

If you want to visit both island there are only two option: Book a hotel on both islands. Or you reduce your visit on one only to a very brief stop. In that case you have to decide what you want to do most: Hiking in the green island Rebun or mountain hiking on Rishiri. The connection between both island only gives you a few hours for a visit.

My suggestion: 4 days for Wakkanai, Rebun and Rishiri. One first day just go straigt to Rebun without a stay in Wakkanai. On day two (and three) hike around on Reubn. Late on day three my can change to Rishiri or you stay on Rebun. Defending on you decision, on day4 you should visit Rishiri the hole day or by using the sightseeing bus. On day 5 you can plan ti visit some parts of Wakkanai (earliest ferry plus latest train). Doing so there may be no time for a visit of Japans northernmost place, Soyamisaki.


Rishiri — not really, 1 day
[further information and maps]

There are round trips by bus. The time table matches arrival and departure of the ferry. The bus is suitable for a crash course. Without the bus you need a bike and stamina. There are two places you should visit: The lakes I mentioned in my travel blog. The rest of the trip was not that interesting. If you like to climp: Mt Rishiri is called the Fuji of Hokkaido. A similar shape and over 1700 to the summit. You really are starting at sea level. But, this trip is not possible in one day. You have to spend a night in the mountain.


Rebun — maybe (must see for hiking fanatics), 1-2 days
[further information and maps]

Rebun is for hiking. It must be awesome during spring when all the wild flowers are in blossom. Nature starts right behind the harbour. I was there in late summer. Without flower blossom or atumn colors and it still was amazing. Book a hotel here. A daytrip does not give you enough time between arrival and departure of the ferry ot visit the island. Two days on the island should do the trick. On Rebun I always was alone. No one else was in my line of sight. In other times of the year that may be different. The way to Rebun falls my be different, because it is a dead end. I believe most of the tourist will skip this way.


Toya — not really, 1/2 day
[further information and maps]

There is nothing going on in Toya. I didn’t visit the island in the center of the lake, but I heard that it is nice there. In my opinion there is only one reason for a visit: Showazan, the very young vulcano dome. And also the walk thru the quiet but still active vulvano area next to it. Toya itself looks rundown, like the best time was a long time ago; empty hotel buildings everywhere. A big advantage is the “getting there”. You need a lot of time and you have to check and plan all the bus connections.

  • Should visit: Showazan, the vulcano field
  • should skip: Toya city, the destroyed city are that is now some kind of museum
  • not visited: the lake and the island

Daisetzusan — must see, 1-5 days
[further information and maps]

For hiking and climbing I highly recommend the Daisetsuzan mountain area. The scenery of this vulcano region is not from this world. Everything is possible: from a daytrip starting in Asahidake or Sounkyo up to a 5-day-trip called “The great Traverese”. For the long trip you need the right euqipment: cloth, tent, food and water. It may be also an idea to plan a overnight trip between Sounkyo and Asakidake. In that case it possible to store all you lugguage in one hotel, and spend the night in a hostel. This reduces you travel lugguage to a minimum.


Sounkyo Onsen — not really, 1/4 day
[further information and maps]

Sounkyo Onsen is, or better was, famous for his onsen. But the town has seen better days. A few years ago a taifun hit this area. Some roads and many walking trials in the gorge are still closed. There a few nice water falls, but because of the blocked roads only to are reachable. To sum it up, there is only one reason for Sounkyo Onsen: the rope way into the Daisetsuzan mountain area, to Mt. Kurodake.


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