Things to do in Hokkaido, Japan


Japan is that one country most of us are pining to visit once travel returns to the status quo, and for good reason. If scenic sights and rural vibes are what you’re looking for, nothing quite beats the slew of nature-filled activities that Hokkaido has in store. 

Boasting natural spectacles like volcanic crater lakes and lush flower fields, Hokkaido’s the ideal destination to escape the hubbub of city life. Piece together an itinerary consisting of these eight nature sights in Hokkaido for your next visit, and you’ve got yourself a journey chock full of breathtaking landscapes.


1. Sail through an ice-covered sea aboard a ship


abashiri drift ice sightseeing cruiseImage credit: @aurora_cruise

Sailing the seas aboard a ship back home is already an extravagant experience, but navigating the ice-encased waters of Abashiri adds another level of adventure to your voyage. Snow white ice mounds, known as ryuhyo or drift ice, populate Abashiri’s coasts between late-January and early-April, providing for a stunning wintery seascape you won’t find elsewhere.

Fun fact: Originating all the way from the Amur River in Russia, the ryuhyo drifts for almost 1,300KM to reach Abashiri territory. 

abashiri drift ice or ryuhyoImage credit: Japanese National Tourism Organisation

Be sure to keep a lookout for wildlife too – spotted seals, seabirds and floating sea slugs known as cliones are some species that also grace the icy surface.

Embarking on an hour-long tour with Aurora Sightseeing Boat Cruises is your best bet to view the scenery up close. Cruises run daily from 9th January till 3rd April each year, and you can take a peek at the departure timetable to plan your visit.

Abashiri Drift Ice Sightseeing & Icebreaker Ship
Address: 4 Chome-5-1 Minami 3 Johigashi, Abashiri, Hokkaido 093-0003, Japan
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 152-43-6000
Price: ¥3,500/adult (~S$44.38) | ¥1,750/child (~S$22.19)
Abashiri Drift Ice Sightseeing & Icebreaker Ship’s website


2. View rare jewelry ice along the Tokachi River


beautiful sculpts of toyokoro jewelry iceImage credit: Toyokoro Jewelry Ice

Another natural phenomenon distinctive to the humble town of Toyokoro, glistening ice clusters dubbed as jewelry ice can be found on the shores of Otsu Beach from mid-January to late February annually. 

The icy spectacle is formed when the frozen Tokachi River breaks apart during winter, which occurs between December and February. The ebb and flow of the waves then act as natural architects that mould these impurity-free lumps into pristine crystal-like globules – truly nature at its finest.

someone holding a piece of the toyokoro jewelry iceCop a feel of the jewelry ice – just make sure you have layers of gloves on
Image credit: Toyokoro Jewelry Ice

While Singapore’s notorious for its sweltering heat, Toyokoro’s known for their sub-zero temperatures that can go below -20°C. Like every kiasu Singaporean should, suit up with thick layers of long-sleeved sweaters and hoodies to keep yourself warm. 

sun rays reflecting off of the toyokoro jewelry iceThe flashy chunks of jewelry ice will change colours under the rays of the sun
Image credit: Toyokoro Jewelry Ice

Fun fact: If you’re wondering what’s the difference between drift ice and jewelry ice, the former is characterised by its chunky, opaque ice blocks while the latter has a more delicate, transparent build. 

Toyokoro Jewelry Ice
Address: 110, Moiwahonmachi, Toyokoro-cho, Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido 089-5392
Opening hours: 6AM-11PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 015-578-7202
Toyokoro Jewelry Ice’s website


3. Spot wildlife & explore the lesser-known Notsuke Peninsula


ezo deer at the notsuke peninsulaThose with a zeal for wildlife photography will have field day here
Image credit: @juancarlos.sugiyama

For those who love venturing off the beaten path, look no further than Notsuke Peninsula – a rather obscure 28KM-long sandspit that’s home to a range of wildlife and vegetation. Animal spotting is a highlight of the area, as you’re bound to witness grazing ezo deer, spotted seals, sea eagles and even cheeky little red foxes.

different seasonal views of the notsuke peninsulaWhether you’re coming in July or December, visiting during different seasons make for some vastly different views.
Image adapted from: @bettinakruemel & @thankyougogo

Fun fact: The Notsuke Peninsula is a sandspit or sand bar, which means it’s a shoal that juts out from the mainland into a body of water.

dead oak forest of narawaraThe dead oak forest of Narawara stands out from the vibrant seascape
Image credit: @cat.owl.meaw

Living up to its reputation as an uncommon tourist attraction, a peculiar forest called Narawara is one of the peninsula’s attractions – it’s a dead oak forest populated with the remnants of fir and pine trees. With Hokkaido being peppered with other blooming sights to behold, the barren scenery provides a stark change of pace to the other nature hotspots found on the list.

While you’re here, make sure to pop by the Notsuke Peninsula Nature Centre to visit their historical museums or grab some keepsakes to immortalise your trip. 

Notsuke Peninsula Nature Centre
Address: Notsuke, Betsukai, Notsuke District, Hokkaido 086-1645, Japan
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily (April – October) | 9AM-4PM, Daily (November – March)
Telephone: +81 153-82-1270
Betsukai Ice Horizon official website (Notsuke Peninsula)


4. Cruise on a crater lake at Akan-Mashu National Park


whooper swans at lake kussharoLake Kussharo is also a roosting spot for whooper swans
Image credit: @enjoy_kushiro

Nestled in the eastern ends of Hokkaido is Akan-Mashu National Park, which is notably home to a trinity of lakes – Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu. The largest of the lot is Lake Kussharo, a caldera lake which has a circumference of 57KM. 

the kami-no-koike pondThe Kami-no-koike pond gets 12,000 tonnes of underground water everyday from Lake Mashu
Image credit: Kiyosato Tourist Association

Competing for the title of ‘clearest lake in the world’, Lake Mashu is a crater lake that’s formed in a dormant volcano. You’ll want to head to the Ura-Mashu viewpoint if you’re heading here between April and November – it’s the closest you’ll get to snap pixel-perfect mementos of the lake.

Lake Mashu also shares its clear water with the Kami-no-koike, spawning a blue pond that changes hue depending on the season. Also known as ‘The Child Pond of God’, the pristine water body is so clear that you can evidently track the resident fishes’ movements to a T.

a frozen-over lake akanLake Akan freezes over during winter
Image credit: @sa_yu_ri_925

While at Lake Akan, seize the opportunity to jump aboard the Akan Sightseeing Cruise that takes you on a scenic route with mountainous views.

The focal point of this 85-minute tour is on the elusive spherical algae, marimo. The ship makes a pit stop at the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center, where you’ll get the opportunity to learn more about one of Japan’s natural life forms that kind of looks like matcha mochi.

marimo moss ballsThese moss balls can grow to the size of soccer balls after a few centuries
Image credit: Japanese National Tourism Organisation

Akan Sightseeing Cruise Company
Address: 4 Chome-5-8 Akancho Akankoonsen, Kushiro, Hokkaido 085-0467, Japan
Opening hours: 6AM-5PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 154-67-2511
Price: ¥2,000/adult (~S$25.39) | ¥1,040/child (~S$13.20)
Akan Sightseeing Cruise Company’s website


5. Go birdwatching at Japan’s largest marsh


tanchos at the kushiro marshImage credit: Japanese National Tourism Organisation

Wildlife lovers have another reason to rejoice at Kushiro Marsh, as it’s the only place you’ll be able to spot the auspicious Japanese red-crowned cranes. Colloquially known as the tancho, these majestic birds can be spotted grazing on food all round the marshland. 

Other seasonal birds to look out for include the Latham’s snipe and the Steller’s sea eagle, but these aviary friends can only be spotted between the periods of June to September and December to February respectively.

greenery of the kushiro marshImage credit: @niessing_a

Pro tip: To get even better views, there are several observatories scattered throughout the marshland. Keep a lookout for feeding sites like the Tancho Observation Centre as flocks of tancho throng these spots during winter – perfect to snap a group photo op of the huddled birds.

Some odd 600 species of plants also reside across the sprawling Kushiro Marsh, so it’s little wonder that lush greenery envelops Japan’s largest wetland. Adventure seekers will also relish the prospect of canoeing down Lake Toro that’s at the northeastern part of the marsh.

canoe tour on the kushiro riverCanoe tours on the Kushiro River are available too
Image credit: @gooddayhokkaido

And just a friendly reminder, make sure to embrace the serenity of the marsh’s greenery while you’re here – it’s a precious moment that you’ll definitely miss once you’re back to the weekday hustle. 

Kushiro Marsh
Address: Kushiro-cho, Kushiro-gun, Hokkaido toritoushi wilderness Minami-5-sen
Telephone: +81 0154-31-1993
Kushiro Marsh’s website


6. Relax in Hokkaido’s most renowned hot spring resort


Onsens are a hallmark of Japanese culture, and there’s no better place to soak in this tradition than Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort, Noboribetsu.

natural footbath at the oyunuma riverThe natural footbath by the Oyunuma River
Image credit: @iijima_akio_

To get your R&R fix, make your way down to the natural footbath at the Oyunuma River. Take a seat on an elevated wooden platform, and sink your feet into the warm water. You can give your feet a therapeutic exfoliation too, by scrubbing them with the sunken mineral deposits in the river.

walking trail for jigokudaniThe walking trail for Jigokudani
Image credit: Japanese National Tourism Organisation

Just above the bustling spa town lies the renowned must-visit Jigokudani, which directly translates to Hell Valley. Functioning as Noboribetsu’s main source of hot spring water, it doubles as a sightseeing haunt to view erupting geysers and volcanic gases as they leak from the gravel.

demon statues at jigokudaniSee how many demon statues you can spot around Jigokudani
Image credit: @iammsnap

Don’t be alarmed by the iconic demon statues leering at you all over the town – they’re there to pay homage to the eerie theme of Jigokudani. 

Noboribetsu Onsen
Address: 6–11 Chūōchō, Noboribetsu-shi, Hokkaidō; 059-8701
Telephone: 0143-84-3311
Noboribetsu Onsen’s website


7. Hike up an ocean peninsula at Kamui Misaki


walking trail on cape kamuiIt takes roughly 30 minutes on foot to complete the walking trail
Image credit: @harugggram

If hiking trails are your thing in Singapore, then try Kamui Misaki – or Cape Kamui – on for size. As you saunter along the weaving trail, immerse yourself in the scenic hilltop greenery and admire the panoramic views of the deep blue sea aptly named ‘Shakotan Blue’.

Fun fact: The ‘kamui’ in Kamui Misaki stands for ‘god’ in the language of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido.

rock formations at cape kamuiThe rock formations lying in the middle of the sea resemble a caped figure
Image credit: @aya.aya5018

To get a better view of the ocean, clamber up the Cape Kamui Lighthouse that’s in plain sight as you edge closer to the tip of the peninsula. Shutterbugs will have a field day from this vantage point, as they’ve got unobstructed views of the vast seascape laid in front of them.

You’ll also get the opportunity to gaze at the aquatic life of the Shakotan Blue when you set sail on the Shakotan Glassboat (¥1,600/person, ~S$20). Besides getting closer views of the natural rock formations, the cruise is furnished with glass bottoms so you can get clear vistas of fishes and sea urchins during the 40-minute long ride.

Kamui Misaki
Address: Kozakicho, Shakotan-cho, Shakotan-gun 046-0321 Hokkaido
Telephone: +81 135-44-3715
Kamui Misaki’s website


8. Snap portraits at vibrant flower fields at Farm Tomita


vibrant flower fields at tomita farmImage credit: @okkoqhey

Flowers in Hokkaido are at their peak kawaii-ness during the summer, and the botany at Farm Tomita is no exception. Proudly displaying 13 vibrant flower fields across it’s 20-hectare-large expanse, the farm’s an ideal place to hold a casual floral photoshoot to liven up the ‘Gram. 

Fun fact: To put the size of Farm Tomita into perspective, the plantation is roughly the same size as our very own Jurong Bird Park.

soft-serve lavender ice cream at tomita farmYou can get soft-serve ice cream during the summer, in flavours like lavender and cantaloupe.
Image credit: @non0629

The optimal time to drop by is between early to mid-July, as that’s when their popular lavender field is in full bloom. The best part is that the farm welcomes visitors without charging them an entrance fee all year round, so you won’t have to fork out anything to enjoy.

Keep tabs on these other hotspots to view more blossoming flowers in Hokkaido:

  • Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park: visit the 24/7 flower park that has gorgeous fields of lavenders and sunflowers. Best to visit between June to October.
  • Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park: explore the 10-hectare-large oasis that showcases a bright pink display of spring Moss Phlox flowers as one of their highlights. Best to visit in early May to mid-June.
  • Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park: be enthralled by over 200 types of tulips that add up to 1.2 million flowers in this farm in western Hokkaido. Best to visit in mid-May.

Farm Tomita
Address: Kisen Kita 15-go, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido 071-0704
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Telephone: +81-167-39-393
Farm Tomita’s website


Feast your eyes on picturesque nature sights in Hokkaido


From sightseeing cruises to a myriad of lush flower fields, there’s no shortage of breathtaking nature sights to admire while you’re in Hokkaido. Once post-Covid travel is allowed, consider making Hokkaido your destination of choice to take in these eight unreal landscapes.

Timeless Beauty
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Timeless Beauty

 

If you want to take in the magnificent natural scenery of Hokkaido, go to the east of the country. 

Nature hotspots are found in abundance in East Hokkaido – the Akan-Mashu National Park, Abashiri and the Kushiro Marsh all encompassed in the area.

If you’re not sold, have a look at these other impressive attractions that can all be found in East Hokkaido.

Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort’s Sunset Deluxe roomKiki Shiretoko Natural Resort’s Sunset Deluxe
Image credit: Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort

For lodging that takes advantage of the season, the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort is your best bet. With a window view of the Sea of Okhotsk where the drift ice lies, staying in their Japanese-style Sunset rooms during the winter period literally gives you a sight to look forward to when you wake. 

Prices for a Sunset twin room begin from ¥10,545/night (~S$133.75), and you can browse the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort website for facility and reservation details.

brown bears at ShiretokoImage credit: Shiretoko Peninsula Cruising

While at Shiretoko, spotting brown bears is one of the national park’s flagship attractions. Embark on a 3-hour round trip aboard the Shiretoko Peninsula Utoro Cruise (¥6,000/adult, ~S$76.07) and keep your eyes peeled for wild bears in their natural habitat fishing for some fresh trout.

the Taushubetsu River BridgeImage credit: @japantrip_jp

Another notable landmark you need to see the 84-year-old Taushubetsu River Bridge – an arched bridge found in Kamishihoro Town. This historical piece of architecture sprawls over the Nukabira Lake, with its watery reflection being a symmetrical sight that’s pleasing on the eye.

Bottomline is, you won’t run out of nature sights and things to do when you’re planning a trip to Hokkaido. While we can’t jet on over to Japan just yet, it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead and keep the anticipation brimming so we know exactly where to go once travel reverts to normal. 

Find out more about the attractions in Hokkaido here


This post was brought to you by Hokkaido Tourism Organization.
Cover image adapted from: Japanese National Tourism Organisation, Japanese National Tourism Organisation, @soheilajapan, Toyokoro Jewelry Ice