Hokkaido: for soothing the soul
The northern most island of Japan is littered with magnificent nature scenes, gourmet food, and Onsen (hot springs) all waiting to replenish the weary and restore the traveled.
1. Kaminoko Ike (神の子池, “Godchild Lake”)
Kaminoko Ike is located in Kiyosato-cho, Shari-gun in Doutou (Eastern Hokkaido). The name of the lake comes from generations ago, when it was thought that this lake was so beautiful it must have been a child of the gods. Aside from just being a beautiful body of water, the connection to the divine was inferred by those ancients because of the lake’s changing colors. The color of the lake shifts with the seasons, a spectacle that has been drawing increased tourist attention in recent years.
Near Kaminoko Ike is Sakura no Taki (The Sakura Waterfall). This particular waterfall is highly ranked on Japanese tourist sites, in particular for its summer spectacle. From June to August you can watch cherry-mouthed-salmon make their migration upstream - literally up the falls.
2. The Shiretoko National Park Waterfalls, (知床)
The Oshinkoshin Falls
Oshinkoshin Falls was the third world heritage site UNESCO recognized in Japan, and was only just awarded in 2005. The name of the river comes from the indigenous Ainu phrase “O Shunku Ushi”, which means “Where the Ezo spruce grows down by the river.” Oshinkoshin is ranked near the top of Japan’s top one hundred waterfalls.
The waterfall also has a second, more colloquial name, “Hutami no Taki, 双美の滝.” Hutami means two, or twin beauties, and is in reference to how the waterfall is divided into two streams. Above the waterfalls you can feast your eyes upon the twin beauties from an observation deck.
Kamuiwakka Falls (カムイワッカ湯)
As its name might suggest, Kamuiwakka Falls is located near the Kamuiwakka River. What makes the Kamuiwakka Falls special is that it has the unique and fortunate circumstance of also being an onsen (hot spring). The hot spring can be found in the basin of the falls, allowing patrons to soak in the open, surrounded by nature. The water of the hot spring is a modest 40°C (104°F) so most anyone can enjoy the bath, even if they are not accustomed to visiting onsen.
3. Hakodate Morning Market, Hakodate Asaichi
Morning markets in Japan are known for being open as early as possible, and having literally tons of delicious fish. The most famous of such places would be Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the largest fish market in the world. Local to Hokkaido is the Hakodate Morning Market.
A specialty that you can find at the market is Kaisendon, which is a bowl of rice topped with sashimi. You can find varieties of them in the market and their prices start from ￥500 (about $5 USD). With this price you could be easily tempted to sample several of the restaurants operating at the market, but be warned that the portions are also generous, so bringing friends to help eat is also advised - after all, food is always best when shared.
4. Okhotsk Ryu-hyo (drift ice) Museum (オホーツク流氷館)
The Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum offers a lot more than just ‘drift ice.’ It is part museum and part animal exhibit. Many animals that survive in cold, frigid environments have found a safe haven in the museum’s refuge. This was only improved upon after the museum went through a large renovation in 2005.
In addition to having awesome animal life, they also offer a cold room exhibit, recreating the feeling of being on the tundra. To show you just how cold it is, the staff will let you spin a damp towel, which will almost immediately freeze solid.
5. Mt. Hakodate, (函館山)
Hakodate is a port town, and the closest hub to Honshu, the main island of Japan. For this reason, Hakodate is an obvious tourist destination for people heading north. For those who stop in Hakodate, Mt. Hakodate is usually their number one destination.
The elevation of Mt. Hakodate’s peak is 334 meters (1096 feet). From this height, the mountain has a night view of great reputation. The placement of the mountain and its angles add up to a great sight. It is said that the city at the foot of the mountain resembles a jewelry box that opens as twilight sets. The scene is completed by a mountaintop restaurant, happy to host and feed the people eager to take in the gifts of the mountain.
On a cloudless day the view is vast and beautiful. You can often see all the way across to Honshu - specifically as far as the Tsugaru Channel and Shimokita Peninsula in Aomori.