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Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Hokkaido, Japan

Far from the bustling streets of Japan’s massive cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, Hokkaido is an outdoor lover’s dream come true. It is the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, and it offers endless opportunities for adventure, from hiking a peak, to biking, kayaking a caldera lake, ice fishing, soaking in hot springs, learning about Ainu culture, and more. Explore the island and be sure to check out at least a few of these top outdoor attractions, ranging from skiing Niseko’s famous powder to snorkeling the beautiful tropical waters.

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Snorkeling and Sea Kayak at the Shakotan Peninsula

Explore Japan’s underwater world at the Shakotan Peninsula where snorkelers and divers look beneath the waters for fish and other marine life. Go with a guide for the best diving and snorkeling, and also consider signing up for a sea kayaking trip. Like much of Hokkaido, the Shakotan Peninsula is known for its incredible seafood, so be sure to spend some time savoring sea urchin, scallops, and other delights after working up an appetite.

Go Fishing

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Hire a guide, obtain a permit if you need one, and set out for a fishing adventure in Hokkaido.  Try out the traditional Japanese fly fishing technique called Tenkara as you explore the island while fishing for a variety of species. One popular spot for an ice-fishing adventure come winter is Lake Akan, where you can admire stunning scenery while learning the techniques for drilling through the ice and fishing for wakasagi (Japanese smelt).

Learn about Ainu Culture

Hokkaido’s Indigenous Ainu people have a fascinating and rich culture, so be sure to spend some time learning about the Ainu people during your time on the island. A good place to start is with a visit to Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park. Explore the museum’s exhibits, and enjoy an array of interactive opportunities, from tasting Ainu cuisine, to playing a musical instrument, to watching or participating in dance, wood carving, embroidery, and more. To further enhance your knowledge, plan a visit to the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Museum, which was founded more than 100 years ago. 

Soak in Hot Springs

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Anywhere you go in Japan, be sure to set some time aside to soak in “onsens”–Japanese hot springs. Many accommodations will have onsens onsite, but it’s also nice to head to a destination onsen like Noboribetsu. Onsens can vary quite a bit, both in their environment (they can be indoors or outdoors, and vary from being quite simple to exquisite) and the qualities of the water (based on local mineral content and other factors), so be sure to try a few different ones to enjoy the full variety. Also be sure to brush up on onsen etiquette before your visit. 

Visit the Sapporo Olympic Museum

No matter which winter sport you prefer, be sure to swing by the Sapporo Olympic Museum to check out the exhibits about the 1972 Olympics that were held there, and take a peek at the massive Okurayama ski jump. Learn about Olympic and Paralympic history and be sure to try out the interactive sport simulators which allow you to try your hand at ski jumping, bobsledding, cross-country ski racing, and other sports.  

Fly in a Glider at Takikawa Sky Park

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See Hokkaido from high above the ground on a glider ride at Takikawa Sky Park. A skilled and experienced pilot takes passengers up on flights which usually last around 10 minutes and are at about 500 meters (1,640 feet) of elevation. Be sure to check the flight schedule since the sky park operates seasonally, usually from mid-April to mid-November.

Ski Niseko’s Famous Powder

For skiers, Hokkaido is synonymous with Niseko’s epic powder, which is known as some of the best—and most plentiful—snow in the world. Niseko United includes four different ski resorts:, Niseko Hanazono Resort, Niseko Village Ski Resort, Niseko Tokyu Grand HIRAFU, and Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area. All four of these resorts are located on a mountain named Niseko Annupuri and they can all be enjoyed with an All Mountain Pass. The resorts offer a variety of experiences for skiers and snowboarders, including off-piste powder skiing and groomers.

Raft Hokkaido’s Rivers

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After an incredible winter, Hokkaido’s snow melts and turns into amazing waters for rafting. Join a local outfitter for a guided trip down one of the island’s numerous rivers. Mukawa River travels through Akaiwa Seigankyo Gorge, surrounded by colorful rock formations. Or head to Niseko’s Shiribetsu River for an unforgettable rafting adventure.

Kayak Hokkaido’s Lakes

Pristine lakes provide beautiful opportunities to get outside in a kayak or canoe and enjoy a paddle. In Central Hokkaido’s Daisetsuzan National Park (which is the largest national park in Hokkaido), Shikaribetsu Lake provides a prime spot for kayaking in the summer months. Lake Shikotsu is a caldera lake in Shikotsu-Toya National Park and has crystal-clear water making it popular for kayaking. Here, you can even go on tours with clear-bottomed kayaks for a peek down into the lake.

Go for a Hike or Climb a Mountain

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From a casual stroll on a mellow path to an all-day hike up a rugged peak, Hokkaido is a great place to lace up your hiking boots and go exploring. Some mountains also have ropeways (like gondolas) that make them easier to access. Mt. Asahi is a popular challenging option, and summer is the most popular time of year to enjoy the hike. It is the highest mountain in all of Hokkaido, rising to 2,291 meters (more than 7,500 feet). Countless other hikes provide even more incredible ways to explore Hokkaido on foot. 

Cycle around Hokkaido

Explore the island of Hokkaido via traditional bike or e-bike, with countless routes to explore. Cycle past scenic mountains and stunning fields, wander through villages, and see spectacular coastal vistas. Start with the Hokkaido Cycling Tourism Guide to see a few of the options. The island hosts a number of cycling events each year, including the Okanomachi Biei Century Ride, and the website includes a variety of cycling route options, from a beginner-oriented ride that involves touring onsens near Niseko to an advanced scenic ride in the northern part of the island.  

Enjoy Delicious Seafood and Sake

Image by Cindy Chan

Sample Hokkaido’s delicious bounty of seafood, along with its incredible sake. Wakkanai Fukuko Market on the northernmost part of Hokkaido, is known for its delicious fresh seafood bounty. You can also find great seafood in many locations around the island. Be sure to sample some of Japan’s famous sake in Hokkaido. Tanaka Sake Brewery offers tours of its facility so you can peek behind the scenes and learn how sake is made as well as enjoy some samples.

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