Hokkaido is known as a skiers paradise; plenty of snow and mountains. But come summer, the snow melts, and the most vibrant colors change the landscape. That is exactly what I wanted to see and I just know that you’ll want to visit too. Wade and I just got back from our 8-day trip to visit Hokkaido, the most northern island of Japan. Guess what? We loved loved loved it. Hokkaido in the summer had everything we wanted. Our original plan was to visit for a few days and then head down to climb fuji. With some extensive research and close look at our budget, we opted to use our vacation time to visit a quieter Japan, while still incorporating both our wants; flowers, and hiking.
Thinking back on all my retells of our trip, the first thing I mention is the weather. I realized talking about this is a big reminder that I’m no longer in my 20’s, but rather settling comfortably in my 30s. Who cares, the weather was so friggin amazing. I’m from New England and every single summer through college my family took a camping trip to Maine. The weather in Hokkaido reminded me of those trips and made me miss home more than ever. Warm and slightly humid during the day, and cool enough for a sweatshirt by the fire at night. It was glorious, a great break from the thick muggy air of Okinawa. Wade and I were able to go camping, visit on outdoor onsen, hike in two national parks. Each day the weather couldn’t have been better regardless of what we were doing. When visiting in the winter, many trails, mountain, and park roads are closed which means there are some major scenic sites you will miss. Hokkaido in the summer, however, is open and ready for adventure.
The capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo, is beer-loving city. Sapporo has a solid month-long beer festival in Obori park, which includes all the popular Japanese beers. Asahi, Kirin, Suntory, and Sapporo brewery (named after the largest northern city) all had large stalls. Sure, those beers go down easy, but there are some craft brews here that really trying to get away from the lager style Japan leans towards. We tried a variety of beer as we traveled. Some were delicious, some were … experimental. Whichever side of “Okay” they landed on, we had a great time trying them out. Plus who doesn’t love a beer in summer with a view?
Of course, this is my favorite part. Hell, it is the sole reason I wanted to travel to Hokkaido. Flowers, flowers everywhere. I could not get enough. Every garden was just perfect, an organized mess of colorful wildflowers. Wade was quite the trooper. We stopped the car every km or so; apparently, I needed a few thousand photos of flowers. Most of the flowers were of the self-seeding and overwinter variety. Daisies, and poppies galore. Oh, the poppies! They are easily one of my all time favorites but hate the heat and will wilt instantly from cuttings so it has been years since I have seen them. We visited 4 major flower farms, stopped at a couple parks. Each gently sloped hill was glazed with flowers. It was my heaven.
This is a bonus because, though the wildlife is far more active during the short summer, there is still a chance you won’t be able to catch the variety of animals that call Hokkaido home. I had three animals on my “must see” list, and I was lucky enough to catch two; a brown bear and foxes. July is bear season and the constant jingle of bear bells won’t let you forget it. There are even a couple of trails that you must hire a guide due to the bear activity. We opted not to pay 50 bucks a person for an hour long walk, led by a Japanese speaking guide. Instead, I camped out in the parks elevated walkway to watch the sunset and waited patiently. Now I guess the park closes before sunset but I must have misunderstood the sign that said :::something something something in Japanese::: 6:00 – 17:30 ::: and a smidge more Japanese:::. A kind park ranger came to usher me towards the exit when I saw it. A BEAR! Big, brown and beautiful! He let me snap some pictures but I wasn’t able to run back up the walkway to get closer. I promise I tried!
The rest of the animals we came across were much easier to come by. Except for the Ezo momonga. I guess that little ball of adorable wasn’t in the mood for photos.
Bliss. It is the only word that comes to mind when I think about our trip to Hokkaido in the summer. And to think, we almost climbed Fuji instead. Maybe next year!