Nature in Hokkaido comes to life when the warmer seasons of spring and summer roll around between April to June. Colorful flowers cover the land and animals start becoming more active, filling the region with renewed vibrancy.
With so many places of interest to cover, visitors often wonder how to start planning. Check out this handy guide of 10 must-visit scenic spots that have been hand-picked by a local writer who knows where to find the best sights Hokkaido has to offer. Get yourself ready for a fantastic journey through Japan's northernmost prefecture!
- Table of Contents
- 1. May to June: Shibazakura Takinoue Park (Takinoue Town)
- 2. May to June: Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park (Yubetsu Town)
- 3. April: Miyajimanuma and its gaggle of 70,000 geese (Bibai City)
- 4. April to May: Hokkaido Shrine Sakura (Sapporo City)
- 5. May: Springtime with Mount Yotei at Mishima's Shibazakura garden (Kutchan Town)
- 6. April to June: Shiretoko Nature Cruise (Rausu Town)
- 7. May to October: Sea of Clouds at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu's Unkai Terrace (Yufutsu District's Shimukappu Village)
- 8. June: Fresh green foliage at Kushiro Marsh (Kushiro City)
- 9. June: Utase-bune and Hokkai Shimaebi prawning (Notsuke Peninsula)
- 10. June to August: Farm Tomita's colorful lavender fields
- Feed your stomach too as you feast your eyes!
1. May to June: Shibazakura Takinoue Park (Takinoue Town)
Takinoue Town, located in northern Hokkaido, is about a 4-hour drive from Sapporo via expressway. Key industries in this tiny town of about 2,500 are agriculture and forestry.
As you would expect, things are generally quiet around these parts, but during spring and summer, when the hills around start being covered by a seemingly endless amount of shibazakura (lawn cherry), the town becomes abuzz with activities as people from far-flung places make the journey here for one of the most incredible sights they can catch in Hokkaido.
This beautiful park had humble origins. In 1957, a small box of shibazakura seedlings were sown in the park now known as Shibazakura Park in order to cultivate it into a tourist attraction with this flower as its main feature.
After many years of proliferation, there is now a thriving community of shibazakura covering 100,000 square meters (about 1 million square feet) of park land.
The pretty pink flowers are not just eye-catching - they fill the entire town with a sweet and pleasant floral fragrance as well! Each Shibazakura usually have five petals, so if you find one with more, consider it your lucky day.
*Opening dates for 2021 to be determined.
2. May to June: Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park (Yubetsu Town)
About a 4-hour drive from Sapporo via expressway is Yubetsu Town, better known as Tulip Town.
Located along the coast of Okhotsk, the town's moniker traces back to 1975, when a small plot of land here was dedicated to cultivating tulips to leave behind a legacy for this enduring flower that had brought much life to the town.
As time went on, the flower field was developed into the Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park, an area now occupying 12.5 hectares of land, of which 7 hectares belong to 1.2 million tulips of 200 different species. The tulips bloom between early May and early June every year, and a Tulip Fair is usually held during this period as well.
Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park is best viewed from the observation tower on park grounds, a building designed to resemble a Netherlands-style windmill.
This will be a most unique experience that almost makes you feel like you're no longer in Japan! From this vantage point, the carefully laid-out rows of bright tulips below are a breathtaking sight to behold.
To get around the massive park without spending too much time walking, hop aboard an electric-powered Tulip Bus (16 and above: 300 yen; 7 to 15: 100 yen; 12 and below: free) that will take you to various scenic spots in the park.
Other than the area in front of the windmill and the manicured flower beds there, you'll be able to admire the majestic views of the large fields behind the windmill and deeper into the park.
*The Tulip Bus will not be in service in 2021 due to Covid-19.
3. April: Miyajimanuma and its gaggle of 70,000 geese (Bibai City)
Getting to Bibai's Miyajimanuma will take about an hour and 20 minutes from Sapporo via expressway.
This area is a swampy wetland that stretches out for about 30 hectares and is most well-known for being the biggest resting spot in Japan for migrating greater white-fronted geese. Up to 70,000 can appear at once!
In early April, the geese flock here to rest up a little before crossing the Sea of Okhotsk later in the month in the direction of the Arctic Circle, where their breeding grounds lie. In total they will be covering about 4,000 kilometers (about 2,485 miles).
A daunting journey, to say the least! This formerly secret scenic site has surged in popularity lately and many now view it as a must-visit sanctuary for wild birds observation.
At around 4 a.m., the birds will depart all at once in search of feeding grounds, and the moment where 70,000 hungry geese beat their wings energetically as they take flight is a majestic sight that must be seen in-person for the fullest appreciation. It can almost feel as if an earthquake has struck!
This scene has been aptly named neguradachi (leaving the roost). Not a morning person? Don't fret, there's something else you can look forward to without sacrificing sleep: the equally impressive evening negurairi (entering the roost), when the geese start flocking back in formation, covering the sky as they do and making the sunset scene here quite an interesting one to see.
Guests are required to disinfect their hands and wear masks before being allowed entry into Miyajimanuma Waterbird & Wetlands Center.
- Address Omagari, Nishibibaicho, Bibai City, Hokkaido 072-0057
Access: 27 minutes by bus from Bibai Station
Phone: 0126-66-5066 (Ministry of Environment Miyajimanuma Waterbird & Wetlands Center)
Hours: 6:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
4. April to May: Hokkaido Shrine Sakura (Sapporo City)
Right in the middle of Sapporo City is the Hokkaido Shrine. This stately building is known to locals as an excellent place for admiring sakura blossoms.
All in all, there are about 1,100 sakura trees planted on shrine grounds, including species such as the petite ezoyamazakura. The approach leading to the main hall is also lined with sakura trees.
Plum flowers will also be in season when the sakura start blooming, and the contrast between the plum's pastel petals and the sakura's vivid hues somehow makes the view much more appealing than usual. The flowers are generally expected to bloom between late April to early May every year.
During blooming season, visitors can expect to find plenty of shops on shrine premises, and this gives the usually solemn area a festive mood.
This festive mood further morphs into a magical one when lights from the shops fall on the sakura petals as they fall and flutter about. "Shinkan no Sakura" is a tea blend that's being sold at the amulet booth, and it's made from - you guessed it! - sakura flowers.
As you pour hot water into the cup, the sakura flowers slowly open up as if they were blooming. Now you're in the right mood for appreciating the flowers on the trees!
Visitors are not allowed to eat and drink when viewing the sakura / Operating hours may change due to Covid-19
5. May: Springtime with Mount Yotei at Mishima's Shibazakura garden (Kutchan Town)
Kutchan Town is an hour and 10 minutes away from Sapporo by car. The must-visit place of interest here is known as "Mishima Shibazakura Garden" because it's actually a garden in the house of Mishima, a town resident who has kindly opened it up to the public.
This is a popular place to visit during spring, because every year from late May to early June, flowers of various colors here bloom beautifully across a 4,000 square meters (about 43,000 square feet) field located just in front of the lofty Mount Yotei.
The view is so spectacular and the garden so well-kept that it's hard to believe the area is managed entirely by a private citizen and not as a national park!
Note that because this is private property, there are no public parking spaces available, so if you're driving, park at the nearby Kutosan Park Parking Lot or Asahigaoka Park before heading over, and be sure to always display good manners during your visit!
Mishima's Shibazakura Garden三島さんの芝ざくら庭園
- Address 51 Asahi, Kutchan-Town, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 〒044-0083
Access: 15-minute walk from Kutchan Station on the JR Lines
6. April to June: Shiretoko Nature Cruise (Rausu Town)
Shiretoko Peninsula on Hokkaido protrudes into the Sea of Okhotsk, and the remarkable interaction between marine and terrestrial ecosystems can be clearly discerned around these parts. As such, the area is the habitat of many rare plants and animals. Robust administrative measures have been put into place to ensure the preservation of the original state of this natural haven, and in 2005, the peninsula was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - the third one in Japan under the natural sites category. The nearby Nemuro Strait located along the coast of Rausu has an uneven water depth, allowing it to accommodate a large variety of marine creatures and making it an exceptional fishing ground as a result. The area is also a popular nature spot for observing dolphins, whales, and marine birds such as Steller's sea eagles in their natural habitats.
Between April to June, orcas start appearing in the region to hunt for food. These lively creatures are known to breach the water surface on their own and occasionally poke their heads out of the water to get a better view of what's going on outside - an interesting cetacean behavior known as spyhopping. On good days, an extremely curious orca may even swim very close to the cruise ship you're on! These unique views and experiences can only be seen and had right here at Shiretoko Peninsula.
Cruise Ship Etiquette
1) Wear a mask at all times and practice cough etiquette.
2) Use alcohol hand sanitizers to sanitize hands during reception and embarkment.
3) Once the ship is offshore, the strong winds out at sea will lower your body temperature. Although you may borrow rainwear from the ship, it's best if all passengers can take personal measures against the cold for health and hygiene reasons.
4) Try to put on protective gear like gloves.
5) Ship capacity has been temporarily reduced so as to avoid overcrowding and allow for proper ventilation and social distancing.
6) Keep group number at absolute minimum when approaching the receptionist's office.
7) Practice social distancing when going in and out of ship cabins.
Shiretoko Nature Cruise知床ネイチャークルーズ
- Address 〒086-1833 北海道目梨郡羅臼町本町27−1
- Phone Number 0153-874-001
Hours: From 7:00 a.m.
Admission: Adults 8,800 yen / 4,400 yen (including tax) *Minors 7 and below free of charge
Closed: Not fixed
Access: 1) About 1.5 hours by car from Nakashibetsu Airport
2) About 3 hours by car from Memanbetsu Airport
3) About 3.5 hours by car from Kushiro Airport
7. May to October: Sea of Clouds at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu's Unkai Terrace (Yufutsu District's Shimukappu Village)
The natural phenomenon where mist and cloud banks are generated due to radiative cooling is known as the "sea of clouds" because of how the clouds spread out in a way that looks very similar to the open ocean, making mountain peaks look like floating islands.
Hoshino Resorts Toramu Unkai Terrace, located in Yufutsu District's Shimukappu Village, is one of the best places in Hokkaido to enjoy this fantastical sight.
Although staff operating the gondola here during summer are rather used to the phenomenal scene, their desire to share this mystical sight with visitors resulted in Unkai Terrace being built in 2006 for the benefit of all. That goal was definitely met!
People from all over have flocked to the terrace in search of this heavenly view. Unkai Terrace is slated to undergo renovation in August 2021, with plans to make the current deck stretch out even farther into the sea of clouds, so as to enhance the intensity of the observation.
Come to Unkai Terrace to experience what it feels like to frolic among clouds at 1,088 meters (about 3,570 feet) above sea level!
* Gondola may sometimes be out of service due to weather conditions.
* Opening hours differ from season to season.
8. June: Fresh green foliage at Kushiro Marsh (Kushiro City)
Summer at Kushiro is an amazing season for enjoying greenery, as all plants in the region start using up all the energy they've stored up from previous seasons to flourish like never before.
The marsh covers an area large enough to contain all of Tokyo City and will come alive with activities from 700 species of plants, 39 types of mammals, 4 types of amphibians, 5 types of reptiles, 38 types of fish, 2000 types of avians, and 1,150 types of insects that call this area home. And these are only the species that have been verified!
Kushiro Marsh was included in the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, in recognition of its immense natural importance.
There are many observation points here that visitors can go to take in incredible, sprawling views of the marsh. Some viewpoints are located at quite a height, too!
The area is equipped with a number of nature trails that can be used for bird-watching, botanical observation, or just a leisurely stroll to appreciate the marsh.
Plenty of other nature-based activities are available for visitors to take part in as well, such as canoeing and horse trekking. Feel free to embrace your wild side while you're here and be blown away by the thrilling sensations they bring!
Guests are required to disinfect their hands and wear masks before being allowed entry into the facilities.
9. June: Utase-bune and Hokkai Shimaebi prawning (Notsuke Peninsula)
It takes about 140 minutes to reach Notsuke Peninsula from Kushiro City by car, and June is a great time to visit because Hokkai Shimaebi prawning season starts around then. The peninsula is a 26-kilometer (about 16-mile) long sandbank that juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk, and its narrowest point is a mere 50 meters (about 164 feet) wide. The area's prize catch is the Hokkai Shimaebi, a species of prawn that lives among seaweed. Traditional sailboats known as utsuse-bune are deployed to do the catching because they move gently along with the breeze and are less likely to damage the seaweed beneath as they fish.
Fresh-caught Hokkai Shimaebi are quickly boiled in salt water. Live prawns have green or brown stripes, but these turn crimson red after being boiled, giving the prawns a banded pattern on their bodies. Every year, fishermen are only allowed to fish for these prawns for four weeks, so the amount caught is understandably low, and you'll barely see any Hokkai Shimaebi being sold in regular supermarkets, if at all. Therefore, if you happen to be traveling here during prawning season, definitely stop by to judge for yourself if these prawns live up to the hype!
Guests are required to disinfect their hands and wear masks before being allowed entry into Notsuke Peninsula Nature Center.
- Address Notsuke, Betsukai-Town, Notsuke-gun, Hokkaido 086-1645
Phone: 0153-75-2111 (Betsukai Tourism Association)
Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed: Weekends and public holidays
Access: 1) About 2.5 hours by Akan Bus from Kushiro Station to Shibetsu Bus Terminal, then about 20 minutes by Akan bus from Shibetsu Bus Terminal to Odaito
20 About 140 minutes by car from Kushiro City
3) About 50 minutes by car from Nakashibetsu Airport
10. June to August: Farm Tomita's colorful lavender fields
Furano is often associated with lavender because of the great number of lavender farms in the area, and Farm Tomita, located in Nakafurano Town, a 2 hour and 10-minute drive from Sapporo via expressway, is the pioneer of them all.
Lavender was first planted in Furano in the year 1952 to harvest their fragrant oil for perfumes. However, when floral oil prices fell, countless farmers threw in the towel.
The owner of Farm Tomita thought of doing the same, but out of pity for these lovely lavenders, left part of the flower field untouched for ornamental purposes.
After many long and arduous years of waiting and cultivating, a change of fortune finally favored the farm in 1976, when a picture of their beautiful lavender field was published on a railway company's calendar.
The amazing scene thus spread to all corners of Japan, casting a spotlight on Furano and the tenacious little lavender farm that resided there. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Farm Tomita's manicured slopes bloom with colorful flowers of all kinds between late June to early August, and the brilliant view can be quite the dreamy sight!
Although there are now a number of lavender farms in the Furano area, Farm Tomita is still the must-visit place in the area for the way their lavenders are beautifully laid out in carefully sculpted rows.
The very first lavender field here, known as the Traditional Farm is still being very well-taken care of. Come here for a piece of Furano's lavender history if you're ever so inclined!
Guests are required to disinfect their hands and wear masks before being allowed entry into the facilities.
Feed your stomach too as you feast your eyes!
There's a great deal of food in April and June in Hokkaido as well, with local produce such as herrings, asparagus, and horsehair crabs appearing throughout this period.
Some of these foodstuffs can only be found from spring to early summer as well, so grab this chance to feed your stomach with delicious local delicacies while you let your eyes feast on the magnificent sights that Hokkaido has to offer!
* Information in this article is accurate as of March 2021. Check the official websites for the latest information before traveling.
Text by: Masakazu. English translation by: Huimin Pan.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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