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LAST UPDATED 03/01/2008
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Lincun: Map of Japan with highlight on Hokkaido; 3 March 2007

Hokkaido (formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso) is the second largest of the four main islands of Japan, located north of Honshu. The largest city on Hokkaidō is its capital, Sapporo.


Japan with Hokkaido to the north

Hokkaido represents the last vestige of untamed wilderness in Japan. The ancient Ainu people have long inhabited the region albeit in small pockets and concentrations. Being so far north, Hokkaido experiences a very cold winter and has more of a European feel to it. Whilst linked to the mainland by train, Hokkaido is technically an island and nothing keeps crowds down like an island, add some severe weather in winter and a juicy North Pacific swell and you could be in for something interesting and more importantly, uncrowded.

All of Hokkaido's coasts have exposure to swell trains, which maximises your chances of scoring something clean somewhere if the swell is steaming in from the Pacific.


Bihoro Pass and Highway 243, Akan National Park, Hokkaido (from www.wikitravel.org)

Japan has one of the world's best transport systems, so you will really enjoy travelling around the country. Transportation can be quite expensive, but fast and safe. Train is definitely the most popular option. Japanese railway system covers the majority of the country and trains nearly always depart and arrive on time, so you can rely on the schedule. Just remember that most trains don’t operate 24 hours, so plan a backup if want to be out late. The first and most confusing aspect of the system is the overlap of several private railway networks with the JR network, plus Tokyo also has two separate metro systems. So just be aware of that. Also note, that private railways are often cheaper than JR for an equivalent journey.

Another option is to travel by plane with the majority of domestic flights leaving from Haneda (HND) in Tokyo, Itami (ITM) in Osaka and Kobe’s airport. Book tickets in advance, which may allow you to get a significant discount, otherwise it will be quite expensive; and allow 3-4 hours to transfer. If you are 22 or younger, check the Skymate Card for special prices.
Boats are a surprisingly uncommon means of transport, mainly because the major islands are linked together by bridges and tunnels. There are some long-distance ferries linking Okinawa and Hokkaido, but it will be cheaper to travel by plane/train.

Long-distance highway buses are much cheaper than trains, but prepare for the longer journey and less comfort. Local buses are common in smaller towns and have the idiosyncratic payment system, where you board from the back of the bus and grab a little numbered slip as you enter. You pay at the end of your trip after pressing a stop button. You should deposit the slip and corresponding payment in the fare machine next to the driver (there is an electronic board there displaying numbers and prices below), just make sure before the trip that you are nor short on change.

Taxis are a bit expensive, but they are clean, completely safe and can be found everywhere in Japan, even in the country.

where to stay

Jpatokal: Tengudake peak, Mt. Ishizuchi, Japan, 23 September 2004

Hokkaido is one of Japan's best places for camping but it can get extremely cold at night time. Even in summer, a thick sleeping bag would be highly recommended! In particular, the southwest coast can be surprisingly cold, due to the ocean currents.

Most accommodations in Hokkaido will charge an extra fee for winter heating, as houses in Japan are poorly insulated and tend to eat up a lot of fuel when it gets colder. However, this fee shouldn't be more than ¥500.

If you are staying in the mountains, most of the mountain huts are free to live in or really cheap. It is a really good cultural experience and you'll definitely make a lot of Japanese friends!

what to pack

Pupils info-Some folded scarves, 20 December 2005

Hokkaido has cool summers and icy winters, so take warm things with you. All the gear if you plan to camp: a good sleeping bag and tent that are good for very low temp; special gas container u can use for heating food and water; a sturdy backpack or a cargo pack with a good daypack. Invest in a portable water filter or at least take some puri-tabs or boil the water.
There is a large variety of medication in Japan and you will be able to buy almost anything there. No need to pack much. Save some space for your shopping!

A small backpack makes a good carryon bag and will be useful in daily life. Women: remember to take a good flat pair of shoes.... And for everybody: pair of comfortable walking shoes will be great for walking.
Definitely take along some bug repellent spray, good sunscreen and sunglasses!

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