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Hokkaidō

Hokkaidō (北海道) is the Japan of wide-open spaces, with 20% of the country's land area but only 5% of its population. There are large swathes of wilderness here, with primeval forests, tropical-blue caldera lakes, fields of alpine wildflowers and bubbling, in-the-rough hot springs. In the summer, all this (plus the cooler, drier weather) draws hikers, cyclists and strollers.

Winter is a different beast entirely: cold fronts from Siberia bring huge dumps of light, powdery snow, which has earned Hokkaidō a reputation as a paradise for skiers and snowboarders; there are international-level resorts here, but also remote backcountry opportunities.

The island's stunning natural scenery and the promise of outdoor adventure tend to overshadow everything else Japan's northernmost island has to offer, which is a lot: there is excellent food, especially seafood; a vibrant capital city; and a compelling history, starting with the legacy of Hokkaidō's indigenous people, the Ainu.

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