Offbeat Japan: Discovering the Autumn Beauty of Hokkaido

Offbeat Japan: Discovering the Autumn Beauty of Hokkaido

Cruising through the placid waters of Lake Toya on a cloudy day of October, at last I had made peace with my waging mind.

Just few weeks back I was losing my sleep over finding answers to questions, which were left unanswered. Fed-up with my situation I was contemplating taking antidepressants and sleeping pills but my cure was somewhere hidden in the wide-open spaces of Hokkaido, Japan.

As a lone passenger when I alighted from the Cruise at the floating islands of Nakajima, I didn’t know I would not only be left spellbound by the beauty of the tropical-blue caldera lake of Toya, but that it would also bring quietude and peace to my life. I sat on the shore marveling at the fantastic art gallery of nature.

Perhaps the uninhabited island was expecting me and that’s why it was all decked up in the pretty autumn colours of red, orange and yellow with streaks of green and brown thrown in between. Maple leaves were busy teasing the sometimes-gentle-sometimes-rough waves. The wild berries of tall mystical pine trees were holding the water droplets by their edge. The bright red Shrine gate was keeping a strict eye on everyone.

Nobody seemed to be in hurry. Neither nature nor me. I was in a state of stillness not bothered to click selfies when I heard a voice whisper in my ears,

“Welcome home, Honey. You took long to arrive. Let’s have a chat. Why do you get hurt when people leave? Look at me. I have been all-alone all my life. People come and go. Each person has a specific role in your life. Why do you want to hold on when they are gone? Do I run after others? No. So stop chasing. Make yourself so enigmatic that others run after you.”

Yes, it was that simple. Complicating the simple comes naturally to Homo sapiens. It was time to simplify. The enormous Lake Toya, which stretched flat and smooth and blue all the way to the edge of the grey sky, had healed me. Probably the secret conversation between the lake and me was heard by the seagulls too. They were all celebrating my happiness by flapping their wings around me.


Why Hokkaido?

This was a slightly long prelude to why Hokkaido in Autumn should be your next destination in Asia. But how did I end up visiting the most offbeat part of Japan and not the famous Kyoto-Osaka-Tokyo trail? The credit goes to the most potent tool of marketing, word-of-mouth. My friend had visited Hokkaido in May and shared the offbeat charm of the northernmost island of Japan. Being an offbeat traveler it clicked immediately. And then the icing on the cake was Lonely Planet naming Hokkaido as the top destination in Asia.

Another reason for choosing Hokkaido was to witness the amazing kaleidoscope of Autumn Colours, which starts in the mountains of Hokkaido in September and descends to the central and southern parts of Japan until November. I wanted to travel along with the autumn leaves. And I actually did.


When To Go?

Summers (June to Aug): Perfect time if you want to hike Mt. Fuji or other peaks or visit the national parks for flowering season

Autumn (September-November): Best time to catch the fall colours that travel from top to bottom of Japan

Winters (Dec-March): Best time for the Skiing and winter sports. Also, snow festival happens during this period

Spring (Mid-March –Mid-April): Most famous season to see Sakura (cherry blossom) that starts from bottom to top


Where To Go?

I decided to follow the autumn leaf path. I spent seven days chasing the fall colours in Hokkaido and 7 days in Honsu.

My itinerary:

Day 1: Manila to Tokyo to Sapporo

Day 2: Local sightseeing in Sapporo

Day 3: Day tour to Jozankei from Sapporo

Day 4:  Day tour to Yoichi and Otaru

Day 5: Lake Toya & Noboribetsu

Day 6: Noboribetsu and Hakodate

Day 7: Travel to Hakodate and local sightseeing

Day 8: Local sightseeing in Hakodate and travel to Sendai

Day 9: Sendai to Matsushima to Sendai

Day 10: Sendia to Nikko

Day 11: Niko local sightseeing

Day 12: Nikko to Kawaguchiko (Mt. Fuji) via Tokyo

Day 13: Kawaguchiko and Tokyo

Day 14: Tokyo sightseeing

Day 15: Kamakura to Tokyo to Manila


How To Go?

Japan is a heaven for public transport. It can’t get better than here. Everything runs on time, convenient and well organised. But quality comes at a price so transportation is incredibly expensive in Japan. Bulk of my expense was on transportation.

1. Flight: To save on time I flew from Tokyo to Sapporo. A one-way ticket costed me around 8000 JPY but I did the booking at the last moment so I had to pay almost double the usual booking amount

2. Trains: The fastest but the most expensive mode of transport. I got a 14 days JR Pass, which I used extensively for intercity travel except for Kawaguchiko where JR train service is not available

3. Buses: Used them for intra-city travel and day tours to destinations like Jozankei, Nikko, Kawaguchiko. They were cheaper than trains. For example a train ticket from Sapporo to Toya costs approx. 5000 JPY but a bus ticket (Hotel service) costs only 1000 JPY. However, the bus is infrequenty. So it was imperative to check the timetable before venturing out.

4. Subway: Used them in big cities like Sapporo and Tokyo. Buying a day pass was economical. For example a 24 hour pass in Tokyo cost 600 JPY.

5. Trams: Hakodate’s old world charm is incomplete without its tram. I bought a day pass for 600 from my hotel and it was very convenient and romantic way of traveling

6. Cruises: I took three cruise rides – Lake Toya, Matsushima Bay and Tokyo. Cost between 1200-1500 per ride.

7. Walking: I walked a lot. On an average I walked for 15 kms per day. Japan has well paved walking pathways.