While Tokyo is Japan’s neon-lit mega-metropolis and Kyoto remains an oasis of calm, Hokkaido is the place to be for adrenaline junkies and outdoorsy types. The country’s northernmost island boasts dramatic coastlines and world-class sports facilities.
Getting to the 7.8-million-hectare island requires a short 90-minute flight from Tokyo or a four-hour train ride, passing through rolling hills and quaint villages. Less populous than the main island, mountains and forest blanket much of Hokkaido’s surface.
Thanks to its fertile farmland, the region is known as the breadbasket of Japan; it’s the country’s leading producer of rice, field crops, dairy and livestock. This pastoral legacy shines bright in Hokkaido’s flower fields, where neat rows of stems rival Holland’s tulip fields for botanical brilliance.
For flower gazing, Furano is the place to be. In May and June, lupines, poppies and tulips burst into bloom, while July sees an explosion of lavender. Hike through the fields or get a bird’s-eye view of the blossoms on a hot-air balloon ride. Adventurous spirits can take in the 500-metre-high view on a motorized glider at Takikawa Skypark.
On the ground, go for a canoe ride on one of the island’s many lakes and rivers. Nestled in Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Lake Shikotsu is surrounded by mountains, including Mount Tarumae, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. For a quirky experience, rent a duck-shaped pedal boat.
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Avid anglers should head to the Tokachi River. Cast a line to reel in a rainbow trout: The river is known to produce trophy-size specimens. Nearby campsites offer outdoor grills for cooking your catch.
Summer isn’t the only time to enjoy Hokkaido. The region sits at a latitude similar to Whistler and receives comparable levels of snow—which translates to some of Japan’s finest powder. There are several resorts, but the Furano season lasts until May and kids 12 and under ski free.
For après-ski or relaxing after a hike, soak in a traditional onsen, natural hot springs fed by underground volcanic activity. Try Noboribetsu’s sulphur spring and Tokachigawa, renowned for its skin-beautifying properties.
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For dining, load up on seafood, from scallops to salmon to crab. Hokkaido is best known for its sweet uni (sea urchin), harvested from the Sea of Japan. Order a cold pint of Sapporo, Japan’s oldest beer, which was first brewed on Hokkaido in 1876 and is named after the island’s largest city.