JAPAN Inspiration Gallery 11 Japan
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Hokkaido

If you venture far enough North in Japan to reach Hokkaido, we promise you will be rewarded for taking the somewhat unusual journey to this far-flung island, since this region is truly the wildest of them all. Famed for its epic landscapes, rare animals and cooler temperatures, this colossal wind-swept region is the least developed part of the country, meaning a visit here is sure to be memorable.

Home to phenomenally pristine terrain, a distinctive culture and a sparsely distributed population, Hokkaido is heaven for adventurous travellers and outdoor enthusiasts. Its National Parks offer unparalleled beauty and a vast array of pathways that weave their way through ancient forests, sweeping landscapes and staggering mountainous areas past scenic volcanic plateaus from which steaming spring water bubbles up from the ground to form the natural hot spring pools (onsen) that the country is celebrated for. While the UNESCO-protected Shiretoko National Park is perhaps the most well-known, we believe the mighty wilderness of Daisetsuzan is also worth a visit - not to mention Shikotsu-Toya National Park with its caldera lakes, geothermal springs and Fuji-like Mount Yotei.

Those seeking extraordinary wildlife sightings will not be disappointed for dramatic viewings are likely here, from the endangered Japanese red-crowned cranes (whose dancing mating ritual have won them the nickname ‘snow ballerinas’) found in The Kushiro Marshland, to the graceful whooper swans (that migrate to onsen lakes to keep warm) found in Lake Kussharo in Teshikaga. Hidden within sheltered forested areas, you can also find traces of brown bears and see Steller’s Sea eagles, deer, squirrels, foxes and more. Take to the expansive Sea of Okhotsk in the East of the island to spot whales and dolphins, as well as walk across the magnificent ice floes for an intrepid experience. While Joanna Lumley visited Hokkaido in the first episode of her BBC TV series, she hardly saw this part and it remains virtually virgin territory for foreign visitors.

Keen skiers will also love this region - in particular, Niseko - for its sublime powder snow, countless runs and hot spring onsen, which make for the most relaxing après-ski activity. The fresh snowfall is celebrated annually in the Sapporo Snow Festival, which you may well recognise, for it draws visitors from all over the globe every February to admire the impressive ice sculptures that lie scattered around the city. Sapporo also has plenty of other attractions if you enjoy city-life, including a unique food scene (don't miss out on its delicious crab meat, regional ramen found down a dedicated atmospheric alleyway, or the local beer that has won international acclaim).

If you would prefer to visit Hokkaido during warmer months then fear not, for summer is also a great time to visit. Sakura spring blossom bursts into flower on this island later than Honshu, so you can avoid the peak season crowds that hoard the mainland - bliss - and rolling fields burst into vivid carpets of wildflowers. To add to this, unique Japanese festivals abound; our favourite being the Nachi Biei Fire Festival that takes place in July, during which participants carry giant flaming torches to a Shinto Shrine.

>> Read our blog: Japan's Wild North: James' Winter in Hokkaido

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