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Hokkaido

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© Lonely Planet Publications
566

lonelyplanet.com

History

Few Japanese, and even fewer tourists, make it as far north as Hokkaidō, Japan’s final frontier.
A shame, since the sweeping vistas, amazing wildlife, wide open roads and spaciousness
offer a refreshing contrast to the often claustrophobic density of Honshū. The northernmost
of the country’s four main islands, Hokkaidō offers skiing, hiking, camping, motorcycling,
biking, rafting, canoeing, fishing…even bird-watching. Exciting nightlife in the larger cities
lets you get into as much trouble as you want, while luxurious hot springs let you ease those
troubles away. Hokkaidō comprises one-fifth of the country’s land mass, yet only 5% of the
population lives here, in part because of the Siberian cold that descends from November
to March. Paradoxically, winter is still a major tourist time. People come to enjoy the skiing
and snowboarding, look at the frozen northern waters of Wakkanai and Rebun, or enjoy the
ice sculptures of the Yuki Matsuri.
The Ainu, Hokkaidō‘s indigenous people, have shaped this island’s history. Many of the
names in the area, such as Sapporo and Noshappu, come from Ainu language. Though
marginalised for much of the past century, the Ainu have recently won recognition as an
important part of Japanese cultural heritage and are re-establishing themselves. Excellent
museums can be found in Sapporo, Hakodate and Shiraoi.
Shaped a bit like the squashed head of a squid, Hokkaidō is often divided into four major
regions: Dō-nan (southern), Dō-ō (central), Dō-hoku (northern) and Dō-tō (eastern).

HIGHLIGHTS
Cape SŸya

„ Say goodbye to stress as you steam in sul-

phurous spas at Noboribetsu Onsen (p594)
„ Watch cranes, deer and herons as you

canoe through the wilds of Kushiro
Shitsugen National Park (p617)
Abashiri

„ Get a glimpse of the green flash at sunset at

Cape Sōya (p599)

Akan-ko

„ Have a picnic in pink beneath 10,000

Kushiro Shitsugen
National Park

blooming cherry trees in Matsumae (p585)
„ Be mesmerised by mysterious marimo in

Akan-ko (p616)

Noboribetsu
Onsen

„ Deep-sea dive among ice floes in search of

Sea Angels at Abashiri (p611)

Matsumae

Climate
Hokkaidō‘s temperature ranges from warm
and pleasant in summer to subzero in winter. Spring and early summer can be wet and
miserable. The hiking season runs from May
through to October, with a peak in the July
and August months when the leaves begin

EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK
Check web-based email in a manga-kiss...
HOKKAIDŌ
HOKKAIDŌ
lonelyplanet.com HOKKAIDŌ •• History
Few Japanese, and even fewer tourists, make it as far north as Hokkaidō, Japan’s final frontier.
A shame, since the sweeping vistas, amazing wildlife, wide open roads and spaciousness
offer a refreshing contrast to the often claustrophobic density of Honshū. The northernmost
of the country’s four main islands, Hokkaidō offers skiing, hiking, camping, motorcycling,
biking, rafting, canoeing, fishing…even bird-watching. Exciting nightlife in the larger cities
lets you get into as much trouble as you want, while luxurious hot springs let you ease those
troubles away. Hokkaidō comprises one-fifth of the country’s land mass, yet only 5% of the
population lives here, in part because of the Siberian cold that descends from November
to March. Paradoxically, winter is still a major tourist time. People come to enjoy the skiing
and snowboarding, look at the frozen northern waters of Wakkanai and Rebun, or enjoy the
ice sculptures of the Yuki Matsuri.
The Ainu, Hokkaidō‘s indigenous people, have shaped this island’s history. Many of the
names in the area, such as Sapporo and Noshappu, come from Ainu language. Though
marginalised for much of the past century, the Ainu have recently won recognition as an
important part of Japanese cultural heritage and are re-establishing themselves. Excellent
museums can be found in Sapporo, Hakodate and Shiraoi.
Shaped a bit like the squashed head of a squid, Hokkaidō is often divided into four major
regions: Dō-nan (southern), Dō-ō (central), Dō-hoku (northern) and Dō-tō (eastern).
Hokkaidō 北海
History
After the glaciers receded, the Ainu were the
first to settle here. They called it Ainu Moshiri,
Ainu meaning ‘human’, and Moshiri meaning
‘world’. Until the Edo period (1600–1868),
the Ainu and Japanese had relatively little
contact with each other. The Matsumae clan
were the first to establish a major foothold in
southwestern Hokkaidō, and they success-
fully bargained with the Ainu, creating a trade
monopoly. While lucrative for the Matsumae
clan, it would prove disastrous to the Ainu
people.
By the end of the Edo period, trade and
colonisation had begun in earnest and by the
time the Meiji Restoration began in 1868 the
Ainu culture was under attack. Many Ainu
customs were banned, women were forbid-
den to get tattoos, men were prohibited from
wearing earrings and the Kaitakushi (Colonial
Office) was created to encourage mainland
Japanese people to migrate northward. By the
time the Meiji period ended the Ainu were de
facto 2nd-class citizens. By 1900 the mainland
Japanese population topped one million.
One look at the rolling farmlands and
fields will convince anyone familiar with
New England or Europe that Western farm-
ing styles were adopted. Indeed, in some areas
Hokkaidō resembles the pastoral West more
than it does Japan.
With world attention focused on the is-
land when Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter
Olympics, Japan felt the need to ease restric-
tions on the Ainu; however, it would take
another 26 years before significant protec-
tions were written into law. Today, the Ainu
are proudly continuing their traditions while
still fighting for further recognition of their
unique culture.
Hokkaidō’s main industries are tourism,
forestry and agriculture. It remains a top sup-
plier of some of Japan’s most revered delica-
cies, such as snow crab, salmon roe and sea
urchin, and scenic kelp production is a major
part of many small towns’ economies. It re-
mains a tourist destination year-round.
Climate
Hokkaidō‘s temperature ranges from warm
and pleasant in summer to subzero in win-
ter. Spring and early summer can be wet and
miserable. The hiking season runs from May
through to October, with a peak in the July
and August months when the leaves begin
to change colour. Prices tend to be 20% to
30% higher during this time, and many of
the popular areas will be booked solid. Ty-
phoons, though rare in Hokkaidō, start to
hit Japan in mid-August and can continue
through to the end of October, causing train
delays, power outages and even landslides.
September and October are chilly, particularly
in the mountains, and by November winter
has come, bringing heavy snows and very cold
temperatures. Bring plenty of layers and plan
on bundling up.
National Parks
Hokkaidō boasts some of Japan’s oldest and
most beautiful national parks. Daisetsuzan
National Park, centrally located near Asa-
hikawa City, is a must see. This stunning ex-
panse of mountain ranges, volcanoes, onsen
(mineral hot-spring spa), lakes and hiking
tracks is Japan’s largest, covering 2309 sq km.
Skiing and hiking are the main attractions; if
you want to escape off the beaten track you
should allow a few extra days.
Akan National Park, near Kushiro, has
onsen, volcanoes and hiking. In spring thou-
sands of cranes flock to Kushiro Shitsugen
National Park, one of Japan’s largest marsh-
lands; deer, foxes, shima-risu (none other than
the humble chipmunk!) and a host of birds are
abundant. The northern islands of Rebun and
Rishiri offer superb hiking and views of sea-
side cliffs, volcanic mountains and (in season)
hillsides of flowers.
Shiretoko National Park, in the northeast,
is as remote as it gets: two-thirds of it doesn’t
even have roads. Ponds as glassy as reflect-
ing pools, rivers with brown bears munching
salmon, waterfalls more delicate than rice-
paper paintings – the scenery is stunning,
but tourists are told quite plainly that if they
HIGHLIGHTS
Say goodbye to stress as you steam in sul-
phurous spas at Noboribetsu Onsen
( p594 )
Watch cranes, deer and herons as you
canoe through the wilds of Kushiro
Shitsugen National Park
( p617 )
Get a glimpse of the green flash at sunset at
Cape Sōya
( p599 )
Have a picnic in pink beneath 10,000
blooming cherry trees in Matsumae
( p585 )
Be mesmerised by mysterious marimo in
Akan-ko
( p616 )
Deep-sea dive among ice floes in search of
Sea Angels at Abashiri
( p611 )
National Park
Kushiro Shitsugen
Onsen
Noboribetsu
Akan-ko
Abashiri
Matsumae
Cape SŸya
EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK
Check web-based email in a manga-kissa
(comic-book salon), many of which also
offer internet access. Rates are hourly and
usually include free coffee, tea and other
beverages. Some of the larger, 24-hour in-
ternet cafés and manga-kissa offer showers,
private rooms and discount all-night pack-
ages that rival the cheapest hotels. Those
bringing a notebook computer can find wi-
fi or LAN access in most business hotels.
© Lonely Planet Publications
566 567
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