Six Reasons Hokkaido Should Be the Scene of Your Next Sabbatical

Beyond the cityscapes of Tokyo and Osaka, Japan invites you to explore the great outdoors of Eastern Hokkaido

by Jam Pascual, photo by Paolo R. Reyes

Beyond the cityscapes of Tokyo and Osaka, Japan invites you to explore the great outdoors of Eastern Hokkaido

Also known as a home to four national parks and one of Japan’s main agricultural belts, Eastern Hokkaido is a unspoiled escape for anyone looking to get away from the smog and mosh of urban living and stretch one’s limbs in a welcoming rural setting. Allow us to offer a guide on how to make the most of your stay.


Shiretoko Pass


As the season transitions from winter to spring, the bamboo grass of the area grows tall and gold, covering the surrounding landscape.



Walk far enough and look back to where the footpath begins, and you can see the Mount Rausu mountain range.


One of the main attractions of Shiretoko National Park, which was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005, this pass tours you by way of elevated footpath through views of Eastern Hokkaido’s diverse plant and animal life. Walk ’till the edge of the pass during the spring or summer, and you might be able to see the Kunashir Islands, which neighbor the Kuril Islands of Russia, through the fog which usually hangs over the peninsula.

For more information on how to navigate Shiretoko National Park, visit




Kushiro River


A guided canoe tour of Kushiro River in the late morning, in the beginning of spring.



Teddy Saito, who handles Old Town Canoes & Kayaks, an adventure agency in Kushiro.


Canoeing along the Kushiro River ( might be a strange experience for adrenaline-seeking tourists more used to the likes of whitewater rafting. The currents are slow no matter the season, which creates a great sense of calm. The build of the canoe requires rowers to stay reasonably still and balanced, which makes taking in the various sights—the surrounding wetlands, white-tailed sea eagles, unassuming ska deer grazing by the banks—easier, and more engaging.


Washo Fish Market


Aside from being known as Japan’s agricultural belt, Hokkaido is generally known as a region rich in natural resource, flora or fauna. Which means the seafood available at the Washo Fish Market is always high quality.



A sample of Washo market’s DIY chirashi bowl.


Aside from the fact that it smells ten times more pleasant than the average palengke, the Washo Fish Market (13-25 Kuroganecho, Kushiro 085-0018, Hokkaido) allows you to take your pick from a number of seafood samples (shrimp, crab, choice cuts of tuna and salmon, however fatty you like it), pile them all onto a bed of rice, effectively create your own chirashi bowl. Imagine a buffet style dining experience where the food is so fresh, you’re pretty much eating the stock of the supplier.


COVO Restaurant


The interiors of Italian restaurant COVO, which also boasts a diverse selection of wine.



COVO’s bacon and asparagus pizza.


The chef of COVO, Hiroshi Matsui, moved to East Hokkaido roughly 18 years ago, leaving behind a life working as a nature guide in Kobe. He spent a decade building his own house from logs around the area all while teaching himself how to cook. That house, homey and rustic in both look and feel, eventually became COVO (89 Satsutomonai, Teshikaga-chō, Kawakami-gun, Hokkaido), and officially opened in 2010. The location is remote, but for a restaurant that uses the best ingredients found in the area, the meal is worth the long drive.



Lake Akan


New Akan Hotel’s Tenku Garden Spa, the view of which overlooks the picturesque Lake Akan.



The view from a boat cruise in Lake Akan, Akan National Park.


The general area of Lake Akan is the ideal place for first-time Hokkaido visitants to flock to. The Tenku Garden Spa of New Akan Hotel ( distinguishes itself from the average public bath house, in that the hot spring bath is located on the hotel’s rooftop, overlooking the area’s legendary mountains and its great lake. Lake Akan is located in Akan National Park, and because of efforts to preserve its environmental integrity, a cruise through its waters is incomparably serene.


Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park


Taken from the higher points of the park, which shows its winding race cart track.



Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park is full of slopes and climbs. The entire area can be walked, or toured through on a electronic bus.


Located about eight kilometers away from the Higashi-Mokoto city center (393 Higashimokotosuehiro, Abashiri-gun,Ozora-cho 099-3232), this spot is best visited in the tail-end of May, when winters thaws out to make way for spring. Phlox flowers bloom and blanket the landscape in varying shades of pink and carefully laid out lines of white during the transition of seasons. This carefully cultivated garden also doubles as a theme park of sorts, with a touring bus, a race cart track, and even a stage for musicians located on the premises.

The Japanese Travel Bureau (JTB) offers custom tours of Eastern Hokkaido. Visit or call 894-5528 for details on how to book a trip. For more information on what Hokkaido has to offer, visit