Ishikawa has the samurai. Okinawa boasts beautiful beaches. Kyoto is known for its temples, and Tokyo has just about everything. However, none of these locations match Hokkaido – the most northern Japanese island with regards to soaring, serene vistas, unparalleled beauty, boundless energy, and for a road trip in a unique location.
The best time to visit Hokkaido, of course, is in the summer. The warm weather makes the locale gorgeous and beautiful. Further, the splendor and magic of nature come out in summer. While traveling to Hokkaido in summer, consider the following tips for a fun holiday:
Ride up the best motorcycle roads in Hokkaido and head to any or all of the six national parks on the island. The long, untrammeled trails all have something new for you. At Mount Yotei, for instance, there are a couple of paths you can follow to get to the top.
For something less ambitious, go for long walks on the flat terrain and through huge birch trees. As you do this, ensure you watch out for the contrast between the white bark of the birches with the tall, gracefully bamboo grasses.
Close to Hokkaido’s capital (Sapporo), you’ll find the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. You can get accommodation at this Park – ranging from camping sites to luxe. The park also houses Noboribetsu, Mount Yotei, and Lake Toya. The former is home to Hell Valley – a sulfurous and bare gorge teeming with highly active ponds, streams, geysers, and volcanic vents that are almost always on the boiling scale.
If you are more seasoned as a hiker, another alternative would be to ride your motorcycle up to the east to visit the spectacular but remote Daisetsuzen and Shiretoko National Park. Be sure to carry your binoculars for watching the numerous bird species in the region.
- Flower and Fruit Farms
On your motorcycle rides across Hokkaido, you might also want to consider heading over to a couple of fruit farms. The island is home to the finest flower, vegetable, fruit, dairy, and cattle farms in Japan. What is more, it also produces some of the daintiest cheeses and wines.
Visitors and tourists are allowed to stop by any of the farms to observe the ingenuity of Japanese agriculture. Alternatively, you can also check out the farm stands, most of which are an arrangement of beauty featuring magnificent cherries and other seasonal produce.
- Seafood and Fish
What with the clear, clean, and cold waters of the Pacific and the Sea of Japan ferociously swirling around Hokkaido, the boasts some of the best seafood and fish you’ll ever get on your trip.
More particularly, the scallops, salmon, squid, crab, and sea urchin harvested from the island tends to find its way to higher-end restaurants in more southern cities. However, nothing quite measures up to eating these produce fresh on the island.
Hokkaido’s specialty, ikura (salmon roe) is served in dollops on top of rice – with a side dish of dry seaweed. The local culture is to use the seaweed for scooping everything up.
Another local treat you absolutely must try out is kani (crab), which has an entire festival dedicated to it in June.
Another fact few visitors are aware of is that Hokkaido is the ramen epicenter of Japan. Whereas only southern students tend towards ramen, Hokkaido has popularized ramen and come up with ingenious menus that you’ll find both delectable and genuinely local.
Noodle soup, in particular, is a local antidote to chilly, cold, and breezy evenings. As Hokkaido’s soul food, the soup is something you must stop for – even if you are speeding up on the best scenic road on the island when the hunger pangs strike.
Interestingly, Hokkaido is also the source of dried kelp (Japanese kombu). This ingredient is essential for making ramen broth. As such, you can rest assured that you’ll feel the depth of savory flavor when you taste the uniquely local iterations of this dish.
What you’ll be sure to observe while on a motorcycle trip to Hokkaido is that almost every city, town, and village on the island boasts a couple of ramen joints. Therefore, you should stop by some of these, sit by the counter, and take a pick between miso, soy, spicy, or salty broths with braised pork, vegetables, or tempura shrimp. For around $8, your meal (plus a beer or so) should leave you feeling replenished and ready for the motorcycle ride ahead.
In the recent past, Japanese whiskeys have been attracting international accolades and for a good reason. Intensely flavorful, highly refined, and extraordinarily smooth, these whiskeys are churned out from some of the best distilleries you’ll ever visit.
The distilleries, you should keep in mind, have been around for over a century. Today, most vintage single malts are considerably unavailable for purchase on a retail basis. However, that shouldn’t stop you from sampling them in restaurants and bars.
Therefore, it might be worth your while to pay a call to the Nikka distillery. Located smack in the middle of Yoichi, Nikka is a complex of museums, warehouses, a souvenir shop, and a restaurant where visitors can pick up annual whiskeys and small bottles of uniquely crafted single malts.
Kelp, locally known as kombu, is essential in dashi – a Japanese broth used in all sorts of soups. The very best kombu, as you might already have guessed, comes from Hokkaido.
Hand-harvested and dried for months/years on end, kombu comes with such distinctive, complex, and intense flavors that a couple of Japanese islands have kombu sommeliers charged with the responsibility of selecting the type to use, and in what dish.
As with wine, the location where the kelp is harvested is important. Hokkaido has several regions for harvesting kombu – forming networks not completely unlike the provinces producing wine in France.
Over and above everything else, Hokkaido has something for everything. From the best road to tons of unique sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, you can be sure that the island will make for the perfect getaway the next time you wish to visit the east. What is more, you can even add in a motorcycle ride here and there while still on the island – meaning you won’t have to abandon your riding enthusiasm on your trip.
Peter Hanson is a motorcycle enthusiast and expert on motorcycle travel. He loves to travel and has covered a lot of countries over the past eight years. In each country, he takes the time to record his impressions.
Be sure to visit his blog to read more articles and helpful tips about motorcycle travel.