If you’ve been following our newsletter for a while, then you probably already know that Japan’s Hokkaido island has the best riding in Japan and is one of the most motorcycle-friendly places on earth. MotoQuest founder Phil Freeman first became acquainted with Hokkaido as a young man teaching English in the small town of Minami-Furano. The nation of Japan, and the island of Hokkaido in particular, have been near and dear to Phil ever since. A few years ago MotoQuest began taking groups of riders here to explore the wilder side of Japan. Keep reading to find out why this is at the top of Phil’s list of motorcycling destinations.
1. Wide open spaces and not so many people
Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island behind the main island of Honshu, accounting for 22% of the country’s total land area. But despite its large size, Hokkaido only houses 4% of the country’s population, and roughly a third of those 5.4 million residents live in the capital city of Sapporo. If you’re looking to get away from the masses, this is the place to do it.
2. Great roads, no traffic
Going along with the previous point, few people in a large area translates to wide open roads. The pavement is excellent and nicely maintained, and there are plenty of winding mountain roads to get the inner road racer in you fired up. Traffic signals are a rare sight here, just because there’s no need for them.
3. National parks abound
National parks and other protected lands make up about 10% of the island of Hokkaido. This dedication to preserving the natural habitat does not go unnoticed by visitors, who flock from the main island and other countries to visit the 6 National Parks, 5 Quasi-national Parks (think State Parks here in the U.S.) and 12 prefectural natural parks (similar to regional parks here in the states).
4. It’s the “Alaska of Japan”
Phil coined this phrase for a few reasons, such as the aforementioned expanses of protected wilderness and the small number of people. Another reason is the sizable populations of brown bears. In fact, Hokkaido is home to more brown bears than anywhere else in Asia with the exception of Russia. You might not see any on your motorcycle trip, but you very well may spot migrating salmon depending on the time of year.
5. Volcanos and hot springs
Like the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is very seismically active. There are more than 60 volcanoes on the island, 6 of which are considered active, having erupted at least once since 1850. In addition to the occasional eruptions and earthquakes, the island features many “onsen,” or natural hot springs. Taking a relaxing hot bath in a serene natural setting is quite possibly the best way to end a day of motorcycle riding!
6. Shinto Culture
Shinto is the predominant Japanese religion, with a majority of the population practicing its customs aimed at connecting present-day Japan with its ancient past. There are more than 80,000 shrines throughout Japan, and we always make a point of visiting some of them during our trips here.
7. Japanese Cuisine
As you might expect, the food on Hokkaido is simply exquisite. One of the advantages of being on an island is the access to fresh seafood, which makes for some of the best sushi and sashimi you will ever experience. If you have different food preferences than fish, there is always something for everyone at each meal. You might have also noticed that Hokkaido’s capital city is Sapporo, and indeed it is the birthplace of Sapporo beer! In fact, beer brewing is one of the island’s biggest industries along with agriculture.
8. It’s where the Japanese go to ride
When visiting a new place, it’s usually a good idea to get recommendations from the locals about where to eat, what activities to try, and so on. If you asked a Tokyo resident for vacation recommendations they might very well tell you to go to Hokkaido, and indeed many Japanese will go each year to enjoy the open spaces and natural beauty. The summertime is relatively cool, drawing people from the hotter and more humid parts of Japan and other Asian countries. The island’s open roads are also a big draw for Japanese motorcyclists. Hokkaido attracts travelers in the winter for exceptional skiing and other snow sports.
9. Japanese Rider Houses
Hokkaido receives a good amount of motorcycle travelers throughout the year, particularly in the summer. Rider Houses are ubiquitous on the island and offer motorcyclists a haven to share space, food, and stories. This concept is fairly unique to Japan but is indicative of their warm and welcoming hospitality. What better way to immerse oneself in the local culture?