At any rate, the goal for the trip was Hokkaido. We spent only two days in Akita and Aomori Prefectures before we crossed over into Hokkaido. We took the train under the water through the world's second longest undersea tunnel. It cost us about US$18 each to get on at the last stop on Honshuu and get off at the first stop in Hokkaido, Kikonai. It was already dark by the time we got there, so we had a little trouble finding a place to set up camp. Overall, though, crossing by train was pretty straightforward and definitely the cheapest way to get in.
Hokkaido, despite all of the stories circulating in Tokyo, is not so cold, and not so huge and wide open. We did enjoy the atmosphere of the countryside, but in some places it did not look much different from Chiba Prefecture which is right next to Tokyo. There definitely is a different atmosphere and different pace of life, but this may be more due to the fact that its more of a country atmosphere, not because Hokkaido is the final frontier for Japan. If you are in Tokyo for a short time and just looking for something quieter, you might run out to Chiba or up to Tochigi. These places offer some open space and tranquility without the incredible travel cost.
Don't get me wrong, there are some unique aspects to Hokkaido that make it fun. Aside from just the pace, the people have a different lifestyle, perhaps. There is a different accent and different history. There were a lot of dairy farms. There were a lot of large corn fields. There were some beautiful beaches. There were many nice people. However, there were also big cities and big mountains just like the rest of Japan. It felt like we could go from California to Wisconsin to Illinois to Boston all in one day's ride. It is definitely a place to see, and probably one of the best places to live in Japan. However, don't expect anything too exciting. Matt and I enjoyed ourselves plenty, of course, and plan to go back some summer soon.
On the way home we took a ferry from Muroran to Aomori for US$32. It was a nice combination of sea crossings (one by train, one by ship) and left a nice loop for biking inbetween. Hokkaido is a nice place just to travel. There are not necessarily any great temples or historical markers to see. It is more like the traveling itself is the adventure. You don't need to rush from one place to another to find that famous painting or that perfect restaurant. If you look at it right, everything around is an adventure.