Hokkaido is the second largest and northernmost of Japan's four main islands. The Tsugaru Strait separates it from Honshu, the largest island of Japan, and the underwater Seikan Tunnel connects Hokkaido to Honshu. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo.
Hokkaido's weather is severe in winter with a lot of snowfall, cold temperatures and frozen seas. The average January temperature ranges from 10°F to 25°F, depending on the elevation and latitude. There can be isolated snowstorms that produce long-lasting snow banks. Although Hokkaido is the coldest place in Japan, it is a popular destination for travelers in winter. Along with the snow and ice festivals held all over Hokkaido, "ryuhyo" (drift ice) in the Sea of Okhotsk attracts many travelers. It is said that a half million people visit the northeast Hokkaido to see ryuhyo ice annually. The Okhotsk Sea in Hokkaido freezes by the cold wind from Siberia from late January through to early April. Winds break and move the layers of ice and the ice layers get thicker.
The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is the most famous winter festival in Japan and draws the attention of many people from all over the world. This festival is held in early February and lasts about a week. More than three hundred large snow statues are exhibited in three sites in Sapporo-city, Hokkaido: the Odori Park, Makomanai and Susukino areas. At night, these ice statues are illuminated and the views are amazing.
In summer, it is as hot and humid as in the other parts of the country. In fact, a cool summer is a landmark for many tourists from the other parts of Japan. Hokkaido's unspoiled nature magnetizes many outdoor lovers, including skiers and snowboarders in the colder seasons and cyclists, hikers and campers in summer. There are many undisturbed areas, including six national parks, five quasi-national parks and twelve circuital natural reserves. On July 14, 2005, UNESCO designated the Shiretoko National Park as a World Heritage Site.
What are the other attractions of Hokkaido? You should visit Hokkaido's famous cities, such as Sapporo, Japan's fifth largest city; Hakodate, Hokkaido's third largest city, Furano, a rural city with beautiful lavender and flower fields; and Otaru, a harbor city near Sapporo. Daisetsuzan is Hokkaido's largest and wildest national park and Noboribetsu is Hokkaido's most famous hot spring resort.
The point of vital importance for any tourist is how to get to Hokkaido. Certainly, the most convenient means of transportation are air flights. Tokyo-Sapporo is the world's busiest air route with dozens of flights per day at the regular airfare of twenty eight thousand Yen. Booking tickets in advance is a way to save money considerably. Along with Tokyo airports, many other airports throughout Japan have a direct air connection to Sapporo and other airports in Hokkaido.
Going to Hokkaido by daytime train is surely somewhat a cheaper option. The whole trip from Tokyo to Hakodate costs around eighteen thousand and five hundred Yen and takes about six and a half hours. The trip from Hakodate to Sapporo takes other three hours and eight and a half thousand Yen. There are also several night trains operating daily between Tokyo's Ueno Station and Sapporo in each direction and there are direct night trains between Sapporo and Aomori and Sapporo and Osaka.
Finally, if you enjoy a leisurely and inexpensive travel, there are long distance ferries between various ports in Honshu and Hokkaido.