Hokkaidō


Hokkaidō (北海道), formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is Japan’s second largest island and the largest, northernmost of its 47 prefectural-level subdivisions. The island of Hokkaidō is located at the north end of Japan, near Russia, and has coastlines on the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean. The center of the island has a number of mountains and volcanic plateaus, and there are coastal plains in all directions. Major cities include Sapporo and Asahikawa in the central region and the port of Hakodate facing Honshū.

Hokkaidō’s largest city is the capital, Sapporo. Other major cities include Hakodate in the south and Asahikawa in the central region. Other important population centers include Kushiro, Obihiro, Abashiri, Nemuro.

Sapporo

Sapporo is the fifth-largest city in Japan by population and is best known outside Japan for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics, the first ever held in Asia, and for the annual Yuki Matsuri in the city, internationally referred to as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws more than 2 million tourists from around the world. The city is also home to the eponymous Sapporo Brewery. Not a lot to see here except for as a stopover to the volcanoes and parks.

Shikotsu-Toya National Park

The park was named for its two famous lakes, Toya and Shikotsu, and is located in southwestern Hokkaido. Its proximity to Sapporo makes it a popular destination for travelers with limited time in Hokkaido. The park has a host of outdoor activities ranging from hiking to hot springs. The spectacular scenery includes caldera lakes, onsen towns and volcanic mountains.

There are five parts to Shikotsu-Toya National Park, each featuring various attractions. The most famous two park areas are its namesake lakes, Toya and Shikotsu. The onsen towns of Noboribetsu and Jozankei are also popular. Mount Yotei, a perfectly shaped volcano near Niseko, is the fifth distinct park area.

Noboribetsu

This is Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort, beautifully surrounded by forested hills. Noboribetsu’s major attraction, besides its baths, is the Jigokudani or “Hell Valley”, where you can view (and smell) sulfurous steam vents, streams and ponds. Noboribetsu is part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

Lake Toya (Toyako)

Toyako is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. In addition to the lake itself, the Toyako region features hot springs and an active volcano, Mount Usu, which last erupted in the year 2000. The area also offers many fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities.

The picturesque lake was chosen as the location of the the G8 summit which Japan hosted from July 7 to 9, 2008. The leaders of the world’s eight major industrialized democracies met at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort & Spa.

We stayed at the Toyako Onsen, a touristy hot spring resort along the shore of Lake Toya, just at the foot of Mount Usu. In front of the hotel runs a pleasant promenade with foot baths (ashiyu), and in the evening from May through October there are daily fireworks. The promenade is also the departure point for sightseeing boat cruises of the lake.

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