Hokkaido, one of Japan’s prime tourist locations. Its ambiance changes perpetually with the seasons, and adding on its abundance of fresh foods, it welcomes a large number of domestic and foreign visitors alike.
Due to the difference in culture, many of the sights and customs the locals are familiar with are instead rare experiences to foreigners.
We listened to expatriates who hail from 5 different countries living in Sapporo to tell us what they found most unexpected about residing in the famous tourist region of Hokkaido.
1. The awe-inspiring freshness of seafood at Rishiri Island!
“I can’t ever forget the taste of the seafood I had at Rishiri Island. While Israel faces the Mediterranean Sea, I lived inland, so I never had fish that fresh.
Rishiri island’s sea urchins are often said to be delicious, but I admit I was more than a little reluctant at first sight.
However, once I pried open the shell myself and gave it a try, the unbelievable sweetness makes it impossible to describe just delicious it was succinctly.
The other seafood also stands out in their flavor, not to mention the place is full of beautiful sights like Mt. Rishiri and the ocean, which are sure to become unforgettable memories.” (Israeli/Male)
Rishiri Island is located in the extreme north of Japan. Its circumference measures about 50km. Their sea urchin, raised by eating their regional specialty Rishiri kombu, is known as a high-quality product due to its rich flavor.
With their brush-like external shell, first-timers are more than likely to be apprehensive about it, but the pleasant sweetness and the whiff of the ocean are sure to captivate anyone brave enough to take the first step. Good enough reason to try it yet?
2. Beaches even more gorgeous than those in the Caribbean!? In Hokkaido!?!?
“I’m an exchange student from Barbados, an island country in the Caribbean. The ocean and beach are breathtaking. When I visited the Shakotan Peninsula, I was surprised to find and equally gorgeous beach that doesn’t lose to my hometown’s! ‘Hokkaido’s ocean was this blue?’ I thought to myself in surprise.
The lunch at the hotel I stayed served generous amounts sashimi, and while I was uneasy at first as we don’t eat raw fish in my country, with my Japanese friends’ encouragement, I tried it and instantly fell in love with its deliciousness.” (Barbados/Female).
The Shakotan Peninsula, located in the western part of Hokkaido, protrudes into the Sea of Japan, and its name is derived from the Ainu word “Shak-kotan (summer village).”
Also known as Shakotan Blue, the sea is so clear that even a Barbados-born exchange student would be surprised, while in summer, many tourists come in search of fresh seafood. It’s also a popular driving course about two and a half hours from Sapporo, so please do drop in when you come to Hokkaido.
3. Lake Akan - where you can enjoy a nice relaxing open-air hot spring as you gaze at the swans!
“The view from the onsen resort hotel’s open-air bath is amazing. Watching the swans fly by as I relaxed in the bath, the emotional satisfaction was the best. Even for day trips entry is only 1,500-yen, a price I found rather reasonable.” (Russia/Male)
Lake Akan is famous as a habitat for the natural monument “Marimo.” In the surrounding areas, other than facilities that tell the life and culture of the Ainu people, stores selling folk crafts such as wood carvings are also present.
Lakes with swans flying in Hokkaido are not unusual, a hot spring where you can immerse yourself in an open-air bath WHILE watching the swans fly by? Now that’s a unique experience. No wonder our Russian guest was satisfied, saying, "I had an experience that I could not do in Siberia."
4. Animal Paradise - Shiretoko’s vast natural surroundings!
“The Shiretoko Peninsula is one of those places you’ll never forget once you see it. When I went there, there were bear sightings a few days prior, so a portion of the promenade was closed off. Still, the scenery was nevertheless beautiful, and I could see lots of sika deer and red fox. I even got to ride a cruise ship, and the countless scenic waterfalls splashing into the crystalline sea took my breath away. I even got to see some bear cubs from afar, to round off this excitement-filled visit. Shiretoko is definitely a haven for no small number of animals. I’d like to visit again in the winter to catch the ice floes.” (Poland/Male)
The Shiretoko Peninsula was recognized in 2005 as a world natural heritage site for its precious natural environments. This includes the rough shoreline of the sea; drift ice that touches the southernmost tip of the world; and the brown bears and white-tailed eagle that live in this gorgeous habitat. On the west side of the peninsula are the Shiretoko Goko and Kamuiwakka waterfalls. On the east side is the Nemuro Strait, where whales and killer whales often swim, attracting many tourists from around the world.
5. Furano - the town that looks like it came straight out of a dream - though the lack of dietary options when it comes to religious concerns is a pity
“Furano is a city whose beauty reminds you of your wildest fantasies. The flowers are blooming in summer while the snowscape is beautiful in winter. In other words it’s a fantastical sight no matter which when you choose to visit. However, their regional specialty is pork, which makes most of their dishes here inaccessible to a Muslim like me, a fact that is terribly depressing. There aren’t any places where I can perform my prayers either. With more foreigners visiting and even making their home here in Hokkaido, more support for the different religions would be a great blessing to receive.” (Indonesia/Female)
The town of Biei, Furano, is a popular tourist location even in Hokkaido. The flower beds in the summer color the plains, with the lavender beds the earliest to bloom. Agriculture and dairy farming are widespread throughout the area, so many places use the region’s specialty products on their menu. While areas like Sapporo are getting more options with dietary alternatives to cater to the religious, Furano is still lacking in that department. Something to discuss in the region’s future tourism plans, hopefully?
Hokkaido, full of surprises year-round!
With few to no negative comments about the tourist locations and much more praise about the wonder and excitement from visiting these places, the love for the four seasons here is unanimous. In particular, the bright yellow leaves in the autumn that are absent from most other countries.
While there are many sightseeing spots in Hokkaido, there is beauty to be found even in the empty landscape. While not find a favorite place here, that’s yours and yours only?
Text by: Masakazu Yoshida