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[Photography & GIS] - Popular Photo Spots in Hokkaido, Japan - 2019 Summer Special

13 June 2019 - Planning your mid year trip to Hokkaido and not sure where to visit? This post may share some new insights for your itinerary considerations. Welcome to the summer special of the Popular Photo Spots blog series, a spatial data science initiative that we have started some time ago this year. The series explore the concept of data-driven photography through visualizing location-enabled photograph data from the Flickr photographic community in various cities using GIS and spatial mapping techniques, to highlight trendy spots good for photographic activities which photographers, locals or on holidays alike, may consider visiting in the future. If you have missed out the previous posts from our series do check them out at the links belo

Today we are making a special coverage just on Hokkaido, mainly because in July I will be travelling there for a short vacation, and as a photographer visiting there for the first time, I am interested to find out more about the specific spots or hangout places other photographers have been to during their journey. And as a free and easy traveller I sometimes find most online guides or travel articles lacking a spatial perspective that makes route planning a troublesome task. As I will have to plan the trip regardless, so I decided to make this web map as an alternative, especially for itinerary planning as commuting in Hokkaido may be more challenging than in other urbanized parts of Japan. As such this post will be slightly different than others in the series, besides mapping the photo spots, I will also try to include additional information for itinerary planning and cover more useful details from a traveller's perspective, hope these will be relevant to your future trip as well.

For now, this post will present all geo-tagged photograph data from Flickr last year summer between June - August 2018, but I will update here with the latest information in 2019 along the way, visualizing both data from the Flickr community and perhaps some from my own trip as well. So do keep a look out and check back here again in the next few weeks or so!

Without further ado here goes the web map (It may take some time to load on mobile devices):


The big picture:

Most popular month for photography

According to the Flickr community, here are some key discoveries:

  • July is the most popular month for photographic activities in Hokkaido, comprising of around 55% of total photos taken in entire summer.

  • Photos taken in June and August appeared more clustered (in greater Sapporo region and southern Hokkaido respectively), whereas photos taken in July appeared to be more scattered across the island, concentrating mainly in the central region (the Furano farm region, of course!), certain visual trials of roadtrips are clearly visible and really interesting.

Most popular cities / regions based on quantities of photographs taken

  1. Sapporo is the most photographed city in Hokkaido during summer, making a contribution of more than 1000 photos or approximately 13% of the total number.

  2. The Furano region (comprising of Furano, Kamifurano and Biei) is next on the list with more than 800 photos.

  3. Hakodate comes in third with around 550 photos.

  4. The Daisetsuzan National Park is the 4th popular region with more than 350 photos

  5. Noboribetsu comes in 5th with around 350 photos

Where and when?

Here is a snapshot of the preferred months when Flickr photographers visit different cities /regions to take photos:

All summer - Sapporo

June - Otaru, Bibai, Biei, Furano, Lake Toya, Rebun Island, Yuni (largely due to some local mascot event)

July - Asahikawa, Biei, Furano, Kamikawa, Abashiri, Teshikaga, Shari / Rausu, Haboro, Rishiri island

August - Otaru, Noboribetsu, Hakodate, Hamanaka


The essential journey:

Based on the journeys of the Flickr community as mapped out above, as well as some useful guides (link below), here are some suggested cities / places that you may want to check out if you are visiting Hokkaido for the very first time

1. Sapporo as transit node

Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido and for new travelers, this will be the best transit node or stop over to access other regions. It is ideal to stay around the train stations within the city centre. The city itself is also filled with great photo spots, such as the Odori park landscape corridor, the Hokkaido Botanical Gardens, the former Hokkaido Government Office are all in close proximity

Credit: Adam Hinett /Flickr

2. Visit the famous Otaru Canal

Just about 30 minutes away from Sapporo by train is the cozy little town of Otaru. Its great for a day trip but you may also stay here for a night just like what I am planning to do. The Otaru Canal is ideal for architectural & night photography.

Credit: [M!chael] / Flickr

3. Asahikawa as the point of entry for Furano

If you are travelling to Furano via the train you may consider stopping over at Asahikawa for a day. The city is like an urban gateway to the lavender farm region and from here you may take the sightseeing train to reach Biei and Furano. Within the city itself there is a cable car that will take you up to Mt Asahi for some amazing scenery, there is also the Asahikawa zoo that is also pretty famous for its penguins.

Credit: fredcclin / Flickr

4. Furano & Biei

The Furano lavender fields are perhaps the most famous attraction of summer Hokkaido, the most famous lavender farm is Farm Tomita, which is pretty accessible via train from either Furano Station or the Asahikawa Station. Alternatively you may also check out Hinode Park (picture below) at Kamifurano. You may also check out the Sapporo zoo to see polar bears.

Credit: enixshen1 /Flickr

If you have had enough of lavender fields, there are also hidden treasures such as the Shirogane Blue Pond (青い池 Aoi-ike) that provides an alternative landscape of tranquility, The Blue Pond is located in Biei.

Credit: davidthegray /Flickr

5. Noboribetsu onsen getaway

Upon completing the trip at Furano, Noboribetsu will probably be the most convenient and worth a visit place to head to next before the long trip to Hakodate. As public transport may not be very convenient in the Furano region, it is a good idea to return to Sapporo first before heading south. Noboribetsu is about less than 2 hours journey from Sapporo. There are many onsen ryokan along the onsen street as well as the Hell Valley (Jigokudani) that are worth checking out, they are located within walking distance from one another.

Credit: PIPIQ.LAI / Flickr

6. Hakodate's - paradise for cityscape photographers

The last stop (or the first, whichever direction that suits your need), will be Hakodate, the southernmost city of Hokkaido. The ropeway to Mount Hakodate is a very popular spot for cityscape photography as it offers panoramic view of the entire port city.

Credit: Jeremy Royall / Flickr


The path less traveled:

It appears that there are also quite a number of seasoned travelers on Flickr who enjoyed visiting the less explored regions of Hokkaido, so if you are looking for an in-depth journey to experience the more remote spots of the island here are something that I picked up from the map.

1. Island hopping in the north

If you would like to venture beyond the main island of Hokkaido, do consider checking out the Rebun Island and Rishiri Island located at the northernmost area of Hokkaido. There has been quite a bit of popular spots for landscape and nature photography, and some views are really breathtaking. They are accessible from Wakkanai Port. Before heading over to Wakkanai, however, you may also stop over at Haboro to access the Yagishiri and Teuri Island.

Credit: taniuniyana / Flickr

2. Daisetsukan Nature Park

The Daisetsukan Nature Park is a magnificent region filled with beautiful mountains and onsen resorts, ideal for hiking and landscape photography. There is the Asahidake Ropeway located in the eastern part of Asahikawa, which connects directly to Mount Asahidake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido, from there you may take your time to explore the Daisetsuzan mountains. Here is a more detailed guide.

Credit: claptonchen / Flickr

3. Take a scenic road trip around the eastern region

Although its perfectly fine to explore the eastern region by train, some of the scenic spots are more accessible by car. Many different Flickr photographers have documented their journey across the eastern coastal drives of Hokkaido, especially from the stretches of roads overlooking Lake Saroma, Abashiri and Teshikaga.

Credit: tnoma / Flickr

4. Get up and close with cliffs, bears and nature at Shiretoko Peninsula

Located at the easternmost region of Hokkaido is the Shiretoko National Park, one of Japan's most beautiful and relatively unspoiled natural reserve. Besides the natural cliffs, bears have been spotted, as these rails along the walking trails are suppose to keep them away from visitors. More information available here. Be sure to take a ride on the sightseeing boat, as it appeared to be one of the popular activities done by Flickr photographers based on the visual trials.

Credit: hiromakuharisato / Flickr

Credit: hiromakuharisato / Flickr

5. Astrophotography in the southern region

Lastly, if you are a fan of astrophotography, Hokkaido may be a perfect destination for you as well. A Flickr photographer called 小林諒斗 has some amazing shots of the milky way taken at very remote places of Hokkaido. In fact these are some of the highest viewed photographs. Be sure to check out his profile.

Mt Kyujima - Okushiri-Cho

Credit: 小林諒斗 /Flickr

Hyakunin Beach - Tomabetsu

Credit: 小林諒斗 /Flickr


What's next?

Ok this is definitely the longest post I have ever written! Hope you find these handy for your trip. I will be sharing more of my trips after I return so keep a look out at this space. meanwhile here are some other useful guides:


About the author

Kevin Siyuan

I am an architectural photographer / GIS specialist and founder of Shiya Studio. I do architecture, hotel and interior photography assignments most of the time but also enjoy writing travel articles and perform spatial analysis like this one.

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*Additional information & disclaimers:

As you may have noticed the data from social media in general tends to be rather disorganized and even biased. We did some basic data wrangling and cleaning before using the data to create this map. What we find amazing about this dataset is simply that it offers a fresh point of view for us to explore Hokkaido with intuitive information readily available, and what we shared is essentially what we picked up from the array of information we have obtained. If you find anything inappropriate or have other great suggestions in terms of data visualizations, please feel free to drop us a message.

That's it for now! See you again for the next post. Happy exploring!


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