Hokkaido is the northernmost and second-largest of the four main
Japanese islands. The main attractions for visitors are nature
and winter sports. While the whole country is mountainous, Hokkaido
also has areas of rolling hills and farmland. The island produces
most of Japan's dairy foods as well as large quantities of rice
and vegetables. Inhabited by the native Ainu people, the island
known as Ezo was largely ignored by the Japanese until the late 19th century.
After renaming it Hokkaido in 1869, the government encouraged
people to settle on the island and the Ainu were gradually assimilated
into Japanese life. Today, Ainu culture can be seen mostly in
museums and occasional festivals.
Apart from the major cities, places worth visiting include several
national parks, active volcanoes and lakes. The climate is quite
different to that of the mainland. Colder and drier, it's a popular
destination during both the hot summer months and the winter ski
season. From Tokyo, it's less than 1 hour 30 minutes by air to
Sapporo (Chitose airport) or Hakodate. Recently, a new airline Air Do, started providing discounted
air travel to Sapporo. The travel time by Tohoku Shinkansen from
Tokyo to Morioka and express train to Sapporo, via an undersea
tunnel, is around 11 hours. Sleeper trains are a good option.
There are also ferry services connecting various parts of the
island with Tokyo, Sendai and Hachinohe.