A visit to Hokkaido, Japan: beautiful by nature
Since the Japanese government reopened Japan’s borders to tourists in October 2022, there’s no better time to start planning your trip to Japan.
Like most people, the first cities that come to mind are Tokyo and Kyoto, but many tourists don’t hear just how spectacular the city really is. Hokkaido is the prefecture.
I’m here to tell you why you should add this beautiful hidden gem as the third stop on your travel itinerary when visiting the “Land of the Rising Sun”, because Hokkaido’s charms are many and the Japanese “Omotenashi” (hospitality) is second to none.
A short flight from Tokyo, Hokkaido is located on the northernmost island of Japan’s four main islands. While Hokkaido is the perfect year-round escape to experience the natural beauty of The four seasons of Japan, I had the immense pleasure of visiting this fall and it was truly spectacular.
Upon arriving in Hokkaido at the new Chitose airport, I was picked up VIP style on the plane runway by a luxury charter company Executive transportation service. Offering the highest level of hospitality to all tourists visiting Hokkaido, the company’s CEO, Yatti, provided first class service, making our trip seamless and memorable. He also describes himself as “Hokkaido’s Onsen Sommelier” if you want to spend the day soaking in the therapeutic hot springs, he knows where to find them, and I can attest first hand that soaking in these naturally rich healing minerals will quickly eliminate any discomfort or pain.
The first thing that struck me as I passed the beautiful rolling landscapes was the myriad of brightly colored fall foliage.
A dazzling display of colors; burnt oranges, reds and yellows so perfectly showcased on the scenic drives, as if someone had painstakingly and methodically planted the trees on purpose to take my breath away.
The area is characterized by the majestic silhouette of Mount Yotei – also known as “Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido” for its size and beautiful shape that follows you almost anywhere you go as the watchful guardian of the island.
In fact, when staying at the newly opened 5 star luxury Setsu Nisekothe striking presence of Mount Yotei was a constant source of delight to take in its picturesque view from many vantage points throughout the hotel.
Timeless, modern Japanese-inspired design with every contemporary luxury imaginable, the Setsu Niseko is composed of 190 luxury hotel suites to delight all your senses.
Another wonderful five-star option for a truly authentic experience is to stay in a traditional ryokan. Zaborin 坐忘林 is a contemporary luxury ryokan located in Hanazono, Hokkaido.
Experience authentic ryokan traditions as you relax in the serenity of nature, absorb minerals from a natural spring onsen, and indulge in exquisite Japanese haute cuisine.
There are two private onsens (one indoor, one outdoor) of natural hot spring water in each villa, as well as all modern conveniences.
Hokkaido’s bountiful nature has made it one of Japan’s top culinary hotspots and I was blown away by the variety of delicious local cuisine and culinary creativity.
For a truly authentic farm-to-table experience, I highly recommend the Niseko Green Farm where you can hand-pick organic, pesticide-free vegetables and make your own pizza in their wood-fired pizza oven.
The most notable fine dining experience that really stood out was savoring a delicious array of fresh, seasonal Hokkaido produce and seafood during an eight-course dinner prepared by Chef Ozeki Tatsuya, at Somoza, a private gallery restaurant nestled in the forest in Hanazono. And the crab paella prepared by chef Niki at LOOP to Yoichi still leaves me salivating.
Forest bathing to de-stress and reconnect with nature is my secret to mindful travel whenever the opportunity arises – it’s especially a must when vacationing in a natural treasure like Hokkaido. Of course, I can’t think of a better place to partake in this form of ecotherapy than Japan, as it’s actually the birthplace of forest bathing, or shinrin yoku –“soak up the atmosphere of the forest”.
Not far from Setsu Niseko is Lake Hangetsu or “Half Moon Lake” where I had a fantastic “fix” of swimming in the forest admiring the scenery by the lake. Formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago, taking a deep breath beside the pure water surrounded by the Niseko rainforest is said to be very healing.
Walking through the amazing variety of fall colored trees, my hike was rewarded when I reached the bottom of the trail to find the dazzling crescent shaped lakes, rippling crystal blue water.
Perhaps the most impressive natural phenomenon I experienced in Hokkaido was Noboribetsu, or “Hell Valley.” A volcanic crater with massive amounts of steam rising from the mountains as hot water bubbles up from the Tessan Ike geyser. It is a unique hot spring resort, ranked in the top 10 of the top 100 Onsen in Japan and the most famous in Hokkaido.
Noboribetsu derives from the Ainu name nupuru petsu, which means “white muddy river, dark colored river”. In ancient times, the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan, used these hot springs as medicinal baths.
It is an absolute must to visit The Ainu National Museum of Upopoy to learn more about the Ainu culture as these indigenous people are native to the northern region of the Japanese archipelago, particularly Hokkaido.
The Museum is a magnificent tribute to the Ainu History with many cultural exhibits educating visitors about its traditional dances, wood carving, embroidery using their unique patterns, and the Ainu language which has no relation to Japanese.
What really spoke to me about the Ainu culture which reflected my own beliefs is that respect and gratitude are the essence of their spirituality, and nothing is more important than harmonizing and coexisting with nature.
When we travel, we drink in the energy of each new place in a way that can be transformational. It enhances our sense of being and this energy stays with us and uplifts us even after we are gone.
From ramen to robots to ridiculously beautiful landscapes, Japan is a stunning country that really has it all! Having explored many of its regions; Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Okinawa and now the beauty of Hokkaido, I can honestly say this is at the top of my travel list.
Article by Linda Cooper
Linda Cooper is an award-winning television host, producer and writer who serves as the brand ambassador for worldwide travel on her national luxury lifestyle series “Travel Time with Linda” and as a contributor to several lifestyle and travel publications. His specialties include television and in lifestyle publications, travel; way of life; luxury; tourism; hotels; Restaurants; food/wine; aptitude; retail industries and more recently longevity health and wellness with his latest series “The New 100 Longevity Campaign”. Seasons 1 and 2 of “Travel Time with Linda” aired nationally on AXS TV Network in 2018 and 2019 respectively and is the proud winner of four Telly Awards for National Daytime Broadcasting. Both seasons of “Travel Time with Linda” are now available on Amazon Prime Video.