38 Best Sights in Hokkaido, Japan

Daisetsuzan National Park

Fodor's choice

Daisetsuzan, which means "great snow mountain," refers to the park's five major peaks, whose altitudes approach 7,560 feet. They are climbable even by moderately experienced hikers, with a ring trail that is best done in summer. But you can also catch a bus or train or even drive just south of Asahikawa and simply enjoy the picturesque region.

On the park's east side is Soun-kyo, but on its unconnected west side, two spa towns serve as summer hiking centers and winter ski resorts. Shirogane Onsen, at 2,461 feet, has had especially good skiing since its mountain, Tokachi-dake, erupted in 1962 and 1988, creating a superb ski bowl. At Asahidake Onsen you can take a cable car (¥2,000 one way, ¥3,200 round trip) up Asahi-dake to an altitude of 5,250 feet and hike for two hours to the 7,513-foot summit. In late spring and early summer the slopes are carpeted with alpine flowers. Serious skiers come for Japan's longest ski season.

Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples

Fodor's choice

Hokkaido is the southermost point of the northern community of the Ainu. This museum's delightful exhibits link the polar indigenous people, such as the Ainu, Inuits, and Sami (or Lapps) in a way that shows surprising similarities over wide spaces. Displays compare and contrast the kitchen implements, clothing, and hunting tools of various cultures from northern Japan, the neighboring Russian island of Sakhalin, and the northern parts of America and Eurasia. English-language pamphlets are available. Of particular interest are videos depicting life in the frozen north, such as building igloos. The museum is 5 km (3 miles) from JR Abashiri Station inside Okhotsk Park.

Hokkaido-jingu Shrine

Chuo-ku Fodor's choice

Follow the long gravel paths under Maruyama Park's tall cypress trees until you come to the main gate of what looks like a fortress. Before entering, wash your hands and rinse your mouth at the stone basin, then climb the stone steps to Hokkaido's loveliest Shinto shrine. Hokkaido Jingu, originally built in 1871, honors the gods of land and nature, of land development, and of healing. To this day, families with babies, anxious students facing exams, and young engaged couples seek blessings under Shinto ceremonies. In May this is the city's main viewing spot for cherry blossoms, and as the year comes to a close it's coin-tossing central for those wishing for a better future.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum

Fodor's choice

An excellent resource for information about the Ainu, this museum remains sadly unknown to many Japanese. Ainu artifacts, such as shoes of salmon skin, water containers made from animal bladders, and heavy blue-and-black embroidered coats, are on display, as well as implements used in iyomante, an Ainu ritual that sent the spirit of the bear back to the nonhuman world. There is an hour-long movie in English and a selection of tapes with traditional Ainu chants and songs.

61 Nibutani, Nibutani, Hokkaido, 055-0101, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥400, ¥700 joint ticket with Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Archive, Closed Dec. 16–Jan. 15, and Mon. Nov. 16–Apr. 15, Apr. 16–Nov. 15, daily 9–4:30; Nov 16.–Apr. 15, Tues.–Sun. 9–4:30; closed Dec. 16–Jan. 15

Sapporo Odori Park

Odori Fodor's choice

Stretching for more than a mile through the center of the city, Odori Park is one of the defining landmarks of Sapporo. Buy roasted corn on the cob and potatoes from food vendors and feast on them as you watch the skateboarders and street performers. In winter, enjoy the famous Sapporo Snow Festival with its massive snow sculptures. There's the energetic and loud Yosokoi Soran Festival every spring, and for three weeks in July and August the park hosts a bacchanal called the Sapporo Beer Festival. Every block becomes a biergarten for a major Japanese beer manufacturer (the foreign and microbrews, naturally, are the farthest walk away), with Sapporo Beer smack in the middle of it all. Last orders at 9 pm, then everyone stumbles home or out for more partying in Susukino. Not to be missed if you're in town.

Shiretoko Five Lakes

Fodor's choice

A stop for every tour bus route in the region, this collection of small lakes sits on a forested precipice above the ocean. It takes just over an hour to walk around all five lakes on boardwalk paths, and there are some newer boardwalks for the city slickers who don't want to get their shoes dusty. The lakes are lovely reflecting pools for the mountains, but crowds do disturb the idyll a bit. Luckily, most tour groups only circle the first two lakes. Park at the Nature Center, and get bus tickets for the 20-minute drive Shiretoko Goko and beyond. Guided tours off the boardwalk paths are also available depending on the season. Check their website for available guides. During certain times (bear season or times when the ecosystem is particularly sensitive), you might have to pay for a guide or pay to attend a lecture before setting out.

Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park

Fodor's choice

Upopoy, meaning "singing in a large group" in the Ainu language, is the National Ainu Museum and Park. Opened in 2020, this impressive facility "aims to build a society where Ainu pride is recognized, raise awareness of Ainu history and culture, and help to forge a future for the Ainu people." The large permanent exhibition in the museum covers aspects of Ainu culture including language, farming, fishing, and migration. Exhibits have explanations in both Japanese and English, and there are sections especially designed for children. Performances of Ainu singing and dancing take place year-round inside the cultural exchange hall, and also outdoors during the summer months. The kotan, traditional village, has demonstrations of archery and canoeing, plus several traditional houses with thatched roofs. It's a great day-trip from Sapporo, or a stopping-off point on the way to Noboribetsu Onsen.

Abashiri Prison Museum

Spartan cells line the central corridors in five wooden prison blocks, showing how the convicts who built much of early Hokkaido lived out their years. Used between 1912 and 1984, the prison is now a museum with cell blocks, watchtowers, and farm buildings. Only the most heinous criminals were banished to this forbidding northern outpost, the Alcatraz of Japan. Anguished-looking mannequins illustrate the grimness of life behind bars, and how for those who did escape it could be even worse. If you're in the mood, try out a prison meal—a tray with a bowl of rice, a piece of fish, miso soup, and a few pickles.

Akan International Crane Center

In the middle of winter, Akan International Crane Center is one of the key locations for viewing the stately red crowned cranes. The museum teachers visitors about the anatomy of the cranes, their courtship behaviors, and the kindness of Yamazaki-san who began feeding corn to cranes in winter and helped their population grow. The center is 60 minutes from Kushiro Station by bus.

Akan-Mashu National Park

Volcanoes rise from primeval forests and lakeside beaches bubble with hot springs in this national park, unfairly overshadowed by neighboring Daisetsu and Shiretoko. In Akan's northern forests, strange, cylindrical algae called marimo bob to the surface of the namesake lake. Elsewhere Ainu men pluck and blow eerie music from traditional instruments, while women dancers duck and weave in honor of the red-crested tancho white cranes that fly in every winter, breeding on the wetland on the park's southern border. In summer it's a hiker's heaven of trails and hot springs; in winter the lakes freeze over and ice festivals spill out onto the frozen expanses.

Akanko Onsen

A major stop on bus tours, this small town on the lakeshore has giant hotels blocking the views from the main road. Kitschy souvenir shops sell endless rows of carved Ainu-style bears, and bottles of marimo algae balls line the shelves. At the western end of the town is the one cobbled street of the Ainu village, lined by shops and restaurants and home to a small museum and a performance center.

Botanic Garden Hokkaido University

With more than 5,000 plant varieties, these gardens are a cool summer retreat. Highlights include a small Northern Peoples Museum with a grisly but fascinating 13-minute film of an Ainu bear-killing ceremony in Asahikawa in 1935, and a stuffed husky sharing a room with bears and an Ezo wolf. This glassy-eyed hound in Hokkaido's oldest museum in the center of the park is Taro, one of the canine survivors abandoned in a 1958 Antarctic expedition—a story brought to non-Japanese audiences in the Disney movie Eight Below (2006). After his ordeal, Taro retired to Hokkaido University, died in 1970, and remains here in dusty, shaggy glory.

Kita 3 Nishi 8, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 060-0003, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: May–Oct. ¥420; Nov.–Apr. greenhouse ¥120, Closed Mon. Nov.–Apr., only greenhouse open

Farm Tomita

For many Japanese, lavender is one of the favorite souvenirs Hokkaido, and this is the farm where it all started—back in 1903. Now thousands of visitors come to see fields of lavender, poppies, cosmos, herbs, and marigolds. Irodori is the field with flowers planted in seven strips, each a different color. Lavender peak season is early July to early August. During this time, the JR Lavender Farm Station—seven minutes closer than JR Nakafurano Station—is open. This is worth a look if you're a flower aficionado.

Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture

Hakodate Morning Market

Bright-red crabs wave giant claws from old fishing boats filled with water, squid dart furiously around restaurant tanks, and samples of dried octopus parts are piled high—it's all at Hokkaido's largest public fish market, located one block from Hakodate Station. It opens at dawn; if you can stomach it, try a fish-on-rice breakfast. Asa-ichi, which also has a fruit-and-vegetable section, stays active until 2 pm.

Hakodate Orthodox Church

A green Byzantine dome and tower rise above this beautiful white Hakodate Russian Orthodox Church. The present building dates from 1916, and donations help with the upkeep of one of the city's most exotic attractions. If you're less orthodox, the Episcopal and Catholic churches sit on either side. Extensive renovations took place until the end of 2022. Services are held Saturday at 5 pm, Sunday at 10 am.

Hell Valley

A volcanic crater in a bow-shaped valley, Jigokudani has hundreds of multicolored geysers pulsing like the heartbeat of Earth itself. Not to worry, though; the walkways to photo-ops have handrails and are very safe. It's a short walk from all Noboribetsu hotels and well worth a look. There's no admission fee or formal open hours, but parking is ¥500 during the day.

Noboribetsu Onsen, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, 059-0551, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Historical Village of Hokkaido


Step back into 19th-century Hokkaido and see the herring-fleet dormitory, where 60 fishermen appear to have just folded up their futons and left for a day's work, or the village clinic where a Dr. Kondo seems to have vanished, leaving his scary-looking birthing table and books behind. It's easy to spend a few hours walking in and out of 60 historic homes, shops, farms, and offices brought here from all over Hokkaido. This park museum very effectively depicts how ordinary Japanese lived and worked under Japan's policy to develop Ezo into Hokkaido before the Russians could. You can ride down the main street in a horse-drawn trolley (in summer) or sleigh (in winter). Ask for the excellent free English guide at the ticket counter.

1--50--1 Konopporo, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 004-0006, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥800; trolley or sleigh ride (both seasonal) ¥250, Closed Mon.

Hokkaido Museum


From woolly mammoth molars to bulky 1950s home electronics, the history of Hokkaido is meticulously exhibited here in glass-topped cases—it's all a tad dry compared to the vivid history lesson at the nearby Hokkaido Historical Village, but much more thorough. The building houses an overview of Hokkaido's natural history, how Meiji-era Japan realized that this northern island had coal, fish, and agricultural opportunities ripe for the picking, and also portrays Hokkaido's story in modern times in a newly renovated building. Basic audio guides are available in English.

Kamuiwakka Onsen

Kamui means "spirit" or "god" in the Ainu language, and there's something wondrous, almost otherworldly, about this tumbling hot waterfall on the north shore under Io-zan (Mt. Io, as in Sulphur Mountain). Hot water rushes down the mountain through a series of multicolor falls and pools. Wear shoes that can get wet as you will scramble up over slippery rocks to a couple of pools higher upstream; the park staff are there to help you up down and caution you not to go much farther than the roped-off third pool. Access is by car or bus only (at certain times of the year) from early June to early November.

Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses

On the cobbled waterfront of Motomachi, the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses now bustle with shops, bars, and restaurants. Enjoy harbor cruises, cheer on street entertainers, or poke your head into glassblowing studios. In December there's a giant Canadian Christmas tree and nightly fireworks. The place is a 1½-km (1-mile) walk from Hakodate Station.

Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum

This small but important museum puts a spotlight on Ainu clothing and other items used in sacred rites, all of it collected by the late prominent Ainu activist and Nibutani resident Shigeru Kayano. Until his death in 2006, Kayano traveled extensively, and the archive contains presents to the Ainu from other indigenous peoples. The museum is across the main road from the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum.

79-4 Nibutani, Nibutani, Hokkaido, 055-0101, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: ¥400, ¥700 joint ticket with Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum, Closed irregularly Dec.–Mar., Apr. 16–Nov. 15 daily 9–5, Nov. 16–Apr. 15 by appointment

Lake Akan

Out on Churui Island, silence is green among Akanko's strangest inhabitants, marimo, as they nestle peacefully in display tanks. Marimo are spherical colonies of green algae that may be as small as a ping-pong ball or as large as a soccer ball (the latter taking up to 500 years to form). Rare life forms, marimo can only be found in Lake Yamanaka, near Fuji-san, and in a few lakes in North America, Siberia, and Switzerland. These strange algae act much like submarines, bobbing to the lake surface when bright sunshine increases their photosynthesis, then diving below during inclement weather when light levels drop. Nearby shops offer them in bottles.

Northeast of Lake Akan you will find Lake Kussharo the largest caldera lake in Japan. In winter, hot springs keep sections of the lake free of ice, and these steamy areas attract large numbers of whooper swans. Sunayu, on the east edge of the lake, is the best place to find the swans in winter. You can even strip off and enjoy the hot spring waters at several outdoor onsen along on the lakeshore.

Motomachi Historic Area

Overlooking the western bay at the foot of Mt. Hakodate is a 2-square-km (1-square-mile) area of wide, sloping brick- and stone-paved streets lined with the 19th-century churches, stately consulates, interesting shops, and homes of the Japanese and other nationalities who first opened up this part of Japan to commerce. Return here at night when the illuminated buildings show why Hakodate is a favorite filming location for romantic movies and TV shows.

The most interesting historic buildings and museums are the Old Public Hall (Kyu Hakodate-ku Kokaido 旧函館区公会堂), with the Emperor's Toilet; the Old British Consulate (Kyu Igirisu Ryojikan 旧イギリス領事館), a nice place for tea and scones; and the Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples (Hakodate Hoppo Minzoku Shiryokan 函館市北方民族資料館). They can be visited with combined tickets. To visit Motomachi, get off the streetcar at the Suehiro-cho stop.

Mt. Hakodate Observatory

Rated as one of Japan's three finest night views, the Mount Hakodate Observatory delivers sweeping views of urban Hakodate and the surrounding mountains and ocean after dark. The easiest way to get to the viewpoint is to take the cable car from the base of the mountain. Depending on the season, it operates until 9 or 10 pm daily.

19--7 Motomachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: Cable car ¥1,500 round-trip

Mt. Rausu

Towering 5,448 feet along the spine of the peninsula, Mt. Rausu is snow-covered from October to June. The most accessible trailhead is 5 km (3 miles) east of Utoro behind the Hotel Chi-no-hate; if you are a fast hiker, you can walk for one hour, 20 minutes to a 1,920-foot rocky outcrop, then another two hours to the top. From there trails head west (two hours) to meet the Utoro-Rausu highway at Shiretoko Pass, or go over the ridge and down to Rausu (three hours). Check weather conditions before hiking, sign the trailhead books, and fix a bear bell to your backpack.

Aching muscles can be soaked in open-air hot springs waiting at the end of the hike: Iwaobetsu Onsen, just below the Hotel Chi-no-hate parking lot, has four steaming rocky pools. Near the trailhead and campsite on the Rausu side, look for Kuma-no-yu, two boiling pools areas for men and women separated by some unfortunate concrete and rusty pipes, but fenced in for privacy.

Yunosawacho, Shiretoko, Hokkaido, Japan

Nakajima Park


This green oasis is a 10-minute walk beyond Susukino's lights and contains Hoheikan, a white-and-blue Russian-influenced 19th-century imperial guesthouse; Hasso-an Teahouse, an Edo-era teahouse moved here in 1919 and located in a Japanese garden; a boating lake; and the Kitara concert hall, home of the Pacific Music Festival, started in 1990 by Leonard Bernstein. It's a pleasant stroll during the day.

Nishiyama Crater Trail

A fire station, a school, and houses stand at crazy angles amid the solidified ash flows where the 2000 eruption reached the edges of Toyako Onsen. See it all from boardwalks that wind up into the still-steaming hills. It's an impressive scene of what can happen when you live next to a volcano. As a bonus, there are views both of the lake to the north and the ocean to the south. There's also a whole series of boardwalks, mountain trails, and short stretches of roads that were cut off after the eruption. Access is from just behind the Toyako Onsen Visitor Center.

3--4--5 Takashaga-dori, Toyako-cho, Hokkaido, 049-5721, Japan
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura

Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura is a touristy, culture park that's a good year round option for families with budding ninjas. There's a village of merchant houses, samurai residences, and shrines that are manned by numerous staff dressed as geisha, samurai, merchants, innkeepers, and ninjas. The shows are in Japanese, but international families will enjoy many of the activities including a disorientating ninja maze house, and posing for photos with the performers. If you'd like to dress up in Edo period costumes then stop by the Utsuro-kan to embrace your warrior spirit. The park is located just off the main road connecting Noboribetsu Station with Noboribetsu Onsen and is easily accessible by bus from the Noboribetsu Station (¥190) or taxi.

Otaru Canal Area

Otaru Canal is the town's most famous attraction, located eight blocks downhill from JR Otaru Station. The canal is pretty in winter and is at its most photogenic during the "Otaru Snow Light Path," when the walkways beside the canal are illuminated by flickering candles. The Otaru Snow Light Path is held around the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival due to the huge increase in visitors coming to the area. Next to the canal you'll find Sakaemachi Street Historic District, which is charming year-round: old banks and trading houses have been converted into boutiques and shops. Don't miss the music-box collection and the musical steam clock at Marchen Square on the eastern end of the district.