Cruisers’ Guide to Japan

Cruiser’s Guide to Japan

Regions of Japan

There are several different ways to label the geographical regions of Japan. For the purposes of cruising, we will break down Japan into ten regions: Hokkaidō, Tōhoku, Hokuriku, Kantō, Chūbu, Kinki, Chūgoku, Shikoku, Kyūshū, and Okinawa. We hope the information will help the reader prepare for their cruises to Japan.


Hokkaidō, Japan’s northernmost region and second largest main island, is also its largest prefecture by land area.

It is separated from Japan’s main island of Honshu to the south by the Tsugaru Strait. It is bounded on the west by the Sea of Japan, on the northeast by the Sea of Ohkotsk, and on the south and east by the Pacific Ocean.

To the east of the Sea of Ohkotsk, you will find the Kamchatka Peninsula; to the southeast, you will find the Kuril Islands; to the west is Sakhalin Island, and to the east and north is the coast of Siberia. Several islands historically disputed by Japan and Russia are located in this region.

These islands, known collectively in Japan as the “Northern Territories” and in Russia as the “Southern Kuril Islands” were occupied by the Soviet Union in the final days of WWII. Currently, they are administered by Russia, but Japan still claims them as their own. In fact, due to this ongoing dispute, Japan and Russia have never signed a formal WWII peace treaty. It was announced in September of 2016 that President Putin and Prime Minister Abe will be discussing this matter at their planned summit in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok at the end of the year.

Known for its scenic beauty, Hokkaidō is sometimes referred to as the “Alaska of Japan”.

The island itself is crossed by several mountain ranges. In parts of the island, you can still find breathtaking, unspoiled natural beauty that include active volcanoes, large lakes, and virgin forests. Major tourist attractions near port cities such as Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Lake Akan and the Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcase this natural beauty. Hokkaidō’s climate is different from other parts of Japan; it is typically colder and drier. However, it can still get quite hot and humid, like other parts of Japan, in the summer.

The island was not originally part of Japan.

It was inhabited by the indigenous Ainu which means “human being” in their native language. The Ainu people were physically distinguishable from the Japanese by different physical traits such as facial features and more body hair. Traditional Ainu culture centered around fishing, hunting, and gathering. Bears played a prominent role in their rituals. The names of many in Hokkaido originated from the Ainu language. One of the best places to learn more about the Ainu is the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi, accessible from the port of Muroran.

During Japan’s Edo Period (1600-1868) the Matsumae clan expanded into the southwest corner of the island. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the central government encouraged the colonization of the entire island by relocating settlers from other parts of Japan to develop the area. In 1869, the area was officially named Hokkaidō which means “Northern Sea Circuit.” In 1886, it was designated as a prefecture of Japan.

Placeholder image

Traditionally, the area has been an important agricultural region known for its dairy and vegetable farming.

The cuisine of the area often showcases local dairy and vegetable products as well as fresh, local fish. In addition to fishing, other important industries include forestry, mining and related industries. Hokkaidō is host to ten different port cities, listed below.

Hokkaidō Cruise Ports

Port Name Japanese Pronunciation Port City Population (as of date)
Abashiri Port (網走港) Abashiri-kō 37,013 (as of 9/30/16)
Hakodate Port (函館港) Hakodate- kō 266,192 (as of 9/30/16)
Kushiro Port (釧路港) Kushiro- kō 174,938 (as of 9/30/16)
Muroran Port (室蘭港) Muroran- kō 87,498 (as of 9/30/16)
Otaru Port (小樽港) Otaru- kō 121,269 (as of 9/30/16)
Rumoi (留萌港) Rumoi- kō 22,242 (as of 9/30/16)
Tokachi (十勝港) Tokachi- kō 5,023 (as of 9/30/16)
Tomakomai (苫小牧港) Tomakomai- kō 173,226 (as of 9/30/16)
Wakkanai (稚内港) Wakkanai- kō 35,675 (as of 9/30/16)

Placeholder image
Placeholder image