Hokkaidō is Japan's second-largest island, bordering Russia to its north. The capital city is Sapporo, famous for its beer, skiing and annual snow festival featuring enormous ice sculptures. The Sapporo Beer Museum celebrates the city’s brewing history and has tastings and a beer garden. Nearby is also the city of Otaru, a popular tourist destination.
Separated by the Tsugaru Strait from Honshu, it is also the home to the largest underwater railway in the world, the Seikan Tunnel (青函隧道 Seikan Zuidō ). The Seikan Tunnel is the only land-based link between Hokkaido and Japan’s main island of Honshu. Trains through the Seikan Tunnel are one of the few ways to enter Hokkaido, the others being ferries and airlines.
Southern Hokkaidō is connected by the Shinkansen train network, and ‘Sleeper’ trains from Tokyo are also a popular option. There is a railway network, the Hokkaidō Railway Company, but many of the cities in Hokkaidō can only be accessed by road. Ferries are the only option if a car is required, with ports between Sendai, Niigata, Oarai, Tomakomai, Maizuru (Kyoto Prefecture) and Tsuruga (Fukui Prefecture). Airlines frequently use the Tokyo – Sapporo (New Chitose Airport), known as one of the 10 busiest air routes in the world.
During the summer, temperatures can range from 17°C to 22°C, meaning cool summers which are not found throughout the rest of Japan. This is a great time to see the lavender gardens, as well as cycling the old tracks between Sapporo and Kitahiroshima. The winters are icy, with the average temperatures in January ranging from -12°C to -4°C. Snowstorms can be seen in the winter, with snow banks that last for a long time.
Hokkaido also boasts some of the highest quality powder snow in the world, and with the plethora of mountains, Hokkaido is a popular destination for travellers with snow sports in mind.
Hokkaidō celebrates its winter with the Sapporo Snow Festival, or Yuki Matsuri. The festival is also seen as an opportunity to promote international relations, including an International Snow Contest, held at Odori Park since 1974 with teams from various countries of the world participating. Within the various sites, visitors can enjoy long snow slides, snow statues, ice slides, ice sculptures and a gigantic maze made of snow.