The best way to get around Hokkaido is by rental car, which means you can stop and have a rest along the way when little ones get cranky. Japan is neither as difficult nor as expensive to get around as you might imagine. Rental cars cost from around $80 a day and all the major companies are represented. The Japanese drive on the left and all road signs are in English as well as Japanese. Hokkaido is Japan’s most sparsely populated island and we sometimes drove for kilometres along arrow-straight roads without another car in sight. As we got nearer to the national parks in the east of the island, giant volcanoes, endless pine forests and aquamarine lakes surrounded us.
One of the highlights of any trip to Japan is the food. Hokkaido is famous for its ramen, a delicious noodle soup, and nabe, a soup dish with meat and vegetables placed in the middle of the table that the whole family can eat together. The seafood is also probably the best in the country. Most restaurants have plastic models of the food in their windows, so you can just point to something you fancy eating. For those places without the plastic help, many Japanese speak a smattering of English and will try to assist as much as possible.
Another typically Japanese experience that you won’t want to miss is the hot springs or onsen. Most hotels have their own onsen and once you figure out the protocol (wash before you get in the baths!) you’re sure to love them.
We found that by staying in small family-run inns known as minshuku, we could arrange to have the baths all to ourselves and so enjoy it as a family. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of soaking at the end of a fun-filled day, out under the stars with a cup of sake in the hand and your family around you, having the time of your lives.