For many Japanese, Hokkaido is the last frontier, and this is for good reason. There are more open spaces and national parks here than anywhere else in Japan. While tourism is an important industry, the number of annual visitors is relatively low. Tourists in Hokkaido have the mountains and vistas to themselves.
Sapporo is the most important city on Hokkaido, and it has gone so far as to secure fifth-city status in all of Japan. Even so, the entire Hokkaido region is home to a paltry five percent of the national population, another testament to the remoteness of this island.
In 1972 Hokkaido hosted the Winter Olympics. Since then this has remained a world-class place to ski and snowboard. Two million skiers visit over the course of one season, many of them staying close to Sapporo due to the wealth of local facilities.
The northernmost region in Japan, this part of Hokkaido is synonymous with extremes and cold weather. Tourists come for the annual dogsled race in the winter, or for the views of Mt Rishiri, which creates the appearance of a floating mountain out to sea. Finnish reindeer are reared on farms in this part of Hokkaido as well.
Still rugged and relatively untouched, Eastern Hokkaido is renown for its virgin forests. Shiretoko Peninsula and the accompanying UNESCO World Heritage site are wildly popular with nature lovers and outdoors types. Japanese cranes are bred here and can be spotted in local marshlands.