Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, The Golden Route in Japan is great but expect lots of lines, tour bus crowds and Instagram wannabes. The solution? These Japan off the beaten path locations! Culture, nature, food, photography and adventure, this is the side of Japan that hardly anyone knows about. And the best bit? You can do this lesser-known Japan route during one trip to the country, just like we (Gemma and Craig) did.
Get Your Bearings
Japan has 430 inhabited islands, with the four main ones being:
Honshu – Largest island, home to the capital, Tokyo, and the Golden Route
Hokkaido – Second biggest, nature lover’s playground from the mountains to the sea
Kyushu – Third biggest, Land of Fire (volcanoes), home to Nagasaki
Shikoku – Smallest of the four, fishing villages
This guide will focus on the island of Hokkaido, famous for winter sports but because of its visible rapidly changing seasons, second-time Japan fans choose to visit all year round.
Japan’s Off the Beaten Track Untouched Locations
1. Asahikawa City
The most popular Hokkaido entrance destination is the island capital, Sapporo but did you know that Asahikawa in the central Hokkaido is a great jumping-off point to the likes of Furano, the famous flower fields?
However, this guide isn’t about the popular Japan attractions!
Asahikawa has lots more to offer for a quiet city such as:
Winter sports enthusiasts may prefer to use Asahikawa Aiport over Sapporo as a higher percentage of its plane touchdown during winter.
Higashikawa is a small, hip town known close to Asahikawa. Its town mayor is known for his forward-thinking approach and ability to entice young families into the area.
Higashikawa, the town of photography, nurture’s many of the Kamikawa region’s creatives, tour guides and entrepreneurs.
You’ll find the best freshwater here, even the city folks visit during the weekend to drive up to bottle some!
The food is also fresh, grab rice balls straight from the field at Chamise. I recommend the tuna mayonnaise balls. Learn more about food in Japan.
Visit in winter to experience the ice sculpture festival and use Higashikawa as a gateway to skiing, boarding or snow-shoeing at Daisetsuzan National Park (Taisetsuzan).
3. Asahidake Onsen
Mount Asahidake is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido and part of the largest national park, Daisetsuzan.
Visitors can take the Asahidake Ropeway to the summit station and enjoy a leisurely walk around the lake (1 hour) or a more intense hike up to Mount Asahidake’s peak, inhaling in the geothermal vents along the way.
Mid-September the leaves turn and locals swamp the area to see the foliage. A week later, the snow starts to fall and the winter sports commence. The Ropeway is open all year round.
Check into one of the luxurious onsen hotels such as La Vista Daisetsuzan and soak in the outside private bath after a day’s hike.
We are featured in the official tourism video. Check it out below
4. Higuma Brown Bear Information Center
Looking for an ethical bear sighting experience in Hokkaido? Visit Brown Bear (Hiuma) Information Center in July or August for the best chances of spotting a bear and her cubs in the wild.
This 7 km trail is a nice hike through forests, wetland and ponds even if you only leave seeing day-old poo and a bear paw print in the mud like us.
5. Daisetsu Kogen Sanso
These ex-forestry staff premises is a digital detox paradise without the pretence.
No shoes, no Wi-Fi and no winter hours.
Daisetsu Kogen Sanso is only open for 123 days out of the year making a unique experience for those who do get to sleep on the traditional tatami mats.
There are four onsen hot spring baths and one foot bath on the premises.
Two of the onsens are outside which means you can bathe under the stars with bears potentially watching you!
So whether you are planning your first trip to Japan and prefer not to follow the crowds or a return trip and want to see more than the tourist route, Hokkaido has lots to offer, especially for food and outdoors fans!
If hiking or biking by day then soaking in a hot spring onsen bath under the stars at night is your kind of trip then our Hokkaido itinerary is for you.
Hokkaido in northern Japan is the second biggest island and a playground for adventure lovers. The island itself is massive with lots of opportunities for outdoors fans, too much almost, so selecting which are of the island to focus on can be a challenge.
We spent five days in Japan’s Kamikawa subprefecture, with most of our time outdoors in Daisetsuzan National Park (early September). The benefits of choosing this region as your Hokkaido road trip include:
You can fly into Asahikawa and rent a car in the city/at the airport
You skip the toll fee at Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city
Daisetsuzan National Park is not a tourist spot like Furano, Biei or Blue Pond
You can still see bears but ethically, unlike other bear areas in Hokkaido
Tip: Remember that Japan is pretty much a cash-only country. You will find ATMs that foreigners can use at 7/11 shops and Post Offices. As you are about to do a Hokkaido road trip through rural Japan, there won’t be as many ATM opportunities than in the likes of Tokyo so take out money whenever you see a 7/11.
5 Day Hokkaido Itinerary
Day 1 Asahikawa City
Asahikawa is a quiet city in central Hokkaido. You can fly into Asahikawa Airport then take the public bus into the city to pick up your rental car. Asahikawa Station is perfectly located for those arriving by train.
Although you can collect your rental car from Asahikawa Airport, I think it is worth spending a day in Asahikawa visiting the city highlights such as Otokoyama Sake Brewery, Kamikawa Shrine and Asahikawa City Museum.
At Asahikawa Museum you can learn about Ainu culture in Hokkaido, previously called Ezo, through the artefacts over the two floors of the museum. This is a great starting point for hitting the hills in Hokkaido because Ainu people believe strongly in the power of nature.
For dinner, consider a traditional Japenese Izakaya such as Izakaya Tenkin.
Here, visitors sit around a low table and eat a selection of food such as seafood and fried chicken then wash it down with a beer and/or sake. Not too much though, reserve your energy for an early start tomorrow.
Remember to take out money from a 7/11 ATM to cover you for your trip.
Accommodation: Asahikawa Art Hotel. Hotel parking if required.
Day 2: Asahidake
Asahikawa to Higashikawa: 22 minutes drive.
On day two of this Hokkaido itinerary, we head to the hills stopping off at the hipster town of Higashikawa.
Higashikawa, the town of photography, has risen in popularity over the years. Its forward-thinking mayor has encouraged incomers to settle in the town which has brought about a vibrant and young family-friendly crowd.
Interestingly, Higashikawa is the only town in Hokkaido that doesn’t need to rely on paid-for public water supply, as they enjoy the fruits of Mount Daisetsu.
The water is renowned, so much so, even the Asahikawa city restaurants fill up water containers for their eateries.
In Higashikawa, stop off at Chamise to purchase some local rice balls filled with tuna mayonnaise, meat or veggies for lunch.
Pick up hiking snacks at Higashikawa Hokuren Supermarket (1 Chome-5-1 Minamimachi) before hitting the road to Asahidake.
Note: The word onsen is added to the areas of Daisetsuzan National Park so you will see it repeated throughout this guide. Confusingly, the word onsen also refers to the hot spring baths in hotels at Daisetsuzan National Park.
Arrive at Asahidake Onsen, approximately 35 minutes drive from Higashikawa.
Leave your luggage with Hotel La Vista Daisetsuzan (〒071-1472 Hokkaido) grabbing a complimentary hot chocolate and ice cream in the hotel lobby.
Stretch your legs by taking a stroll around the Asahidake Visitor Centre. You can walk a loop of the wetlands in under two hours, but it is very wet underfoot so consider this for your next full day of hiking.
Look out for the purple flower, Gentiana triflora, which uniquely grows at higher altitudes. You’ll see it often throughout the activities in this itinerary. National Park rules in Japan state not to pick flowers.
Check out the height of the sign on the forest trees. Any guesses why the signs are so high? Yes, that’s the height of the snow you can expect at Asahidake Onsen come winter.
Naturally, you need to be alert. Make lots of noise to warn any brown bears that you are in the vicinity. Save the bear spotting for day three!
Next, check-in at La Vista, enjoy the rustic rooms and cool coffee grinders.
Make use of the private onsens baths, aiming for the room with the romantic inside and outside bath at the end of the corridor.
As the baths are private, there are no issues for customers with tattoos, like us.
There is also a communal onsen, gender-specific if you prefer.
Onsen hot spring-fed baths are a very big part of Japenese culture. You do have to enter naked and wash before entering.
Onsen hotels always provide a robe, tie and shoes which you wear to the onsen. La Vista rooms have a cute picnic-like basket for you to pack your belongings.
Dinner can be, and should be, reserved at time of booking. Kaiseki-style dining is a really special experience in Japan.
Several bowls and plates resembling trinkets are served throughout dinner. Lift lids to reveal seafood, local meats, vegetables and tofu.
Sizzle meat on your private BBQ, which the Japanese refer to as Yakiniku.
If you are not a seafood eater, let the hotel know at the time of booking. Craig enjoyed the ‘meat seat’ while I dined on seafood.
Let your food digest then enjoy another onsen. Yes, another! That’s how the Japenese utilise their time during their ryokan hotel stays.
Tip: You can book traditional ryokan hotel rooms with tatami mats or western style rooms with beds.
Day 3: Mount Asahidake
Wake early and fill up on the La Vista buffet breakfast. Like most accommodation in Japan, there are Japenese and western options.
Aim to be out for 7:45 to catch an early ropeway (cable car) schedule. The Ropeway runs every 15-20 minutes, season depending. The drive between the hotel and the Ropeway only takes a couple of minutes but if you intend to use the car park, factor that time into planning.
You can leave your car the car park close to the Ropeway for free, or for a fee (cash only) at the Ropeway if you intend to descend Mt Asahidake. There are free toilets at the Base Station as well as at the Sugatami Summit Station.
The Asahidake Ropeway is some ride. Watch the sea of trees become smaller from the massive windows of the ropeway carriage as you make your way to the summit station of the tallest mountain in Hokkaido. Watch out for your ears popping.
Just imagine all these leaves turning orange and red mid-September then within a week, the snow starting to fall and skiers and boarders filling the cable car.
I get the impression you’ve not seen the Kamikawa unless you’ve experienced it in all four seasons which gives us an excuse to return.
Doors open, Sulphur wafts in, welcome to Mount Asahidake!
Important note: This is your last stop to use a public toilet and using nature’s toilet is frowned upon in Daisetsuzan National Park. There is a shop here too, cash only.
We are featured in the official tourism video. Check it out below
The initial part of the trek is more like a casual stroll up the lake which has smoke from geothermal vents ranting around it.
From there, the incline starts to build. Most of the hike is loose underfoot so appropriate footwear must be worn.
Regardless of how warm it is on the ground, the weather up the mountain changes like the wind (boom boom).
Layers, waterproofs, hats and gloves must be worn/packed. I wore a vest top, wicking wool layer, waterproof jacket and wished I had a down jacket for warmth.
Mountainous hikes in Japan are broken up by gates. The gates measure either the height or distance divided up ten. Cable cars usually start around gate five.
We reached the peak at 2,291m in a complete white-out after 2.5 hours of incline.
We had full intentions to hike over to Kurodake hut and end the descend into Sounkyo Onsen but the mountain had different ideas for us so the group decided to choose safety first (always) and head back down to Asahidake Ropeway.
About halfway down the mountain, the mist lifted and we could see the lake and vents again. The descend took around 1.5 hours so all in all a 4.5-hour hike with cable car rides at either end.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to hike up to the peak of Mount Asahidake you can walk the 1-hour loop around Kagami Pond (Meoto Pond), Sugatami Pond and Suribachi Pond. The route is under 2km.
Daisetsu Kogen Sanso
Accommodation for the night is one of my favourites in Japan.
Daisetsu Kogen Sanso is a relaxed hotel with traditional Japanese rooms.
What makes this place extra special is that it is only open for 123 days of the year because the dirt road to get there is blocked off in winter.
Be warned, the drive is bumpy as you turn off the main road to a dirt track road. One European couple managed to roll their car while we were there so be careful driving up and down.
The journey from Mount Asahidake takes around 2-3 hours.
When we first walked into the empty room with tatami mats, Craig thought it was a judo room!
There was a table sat in the middle and a box packed with two robes, feet socks and towels. Curtains opened to trees and small geothermal vent. Onsen hotels are absolute bliss and definitely one of the top things do in Hokkaido.
After unpacking, grab a shokudō casual snack of ramen and/or enjoy the onsen spa which has an inside and outside steamy experience. The staff will make up your bed as you dine later.
It is common for hotels to switch the genders of the onsens so you can experience both onsens, or in Daisetsu Kogen Sanso’s case, all four baths. Cool eh?
If you don’t want to fully enter a bath or are just passing by Daisetsu Kogen Sanso after a day of hiking you can use the foot spa at the front of the hotel. We saw a group of hikers do this as we were leaving on day three.
Note: It is advertised that there is no WiFi on the premises. There is a cosy lounge area in the shop with a coffee machine which you can chill and read a book at. Daisetsu Kogen Sanso is zen.
Dinner is another platter affair with plates and bowls of local produce, miso soup, rice and hot tea. Craig jokes that if this was the Scottish Highlands you’d be lucky to get a crisp sandwich this far out.
Part of the Kaiseki-style dinner often includes a hot pot where several pieces of food are cooked by a candle which your server lights for you. When the light goes out, you can remove the lid and eat.
For dessert, we enjoyed mochi which is a sweet dumpling made from mochigome rice grain. Japanese breakfast is also included in the price.
You will see a similar pattern for the evenings in Hokkaido. Dine, digest then hit the onsen! If you leave it late enough you can bathe underneath the dark sky and stars.
There is a car park for hotel guests or a shuttle bus to/from Sounkyo which can be booked at an additional cost.
During the autumn foliage, cars are prohibited so guests must use the shuttle bus service.
Between June and October, visitors are welcomed to hike the designated path around the 7km trail of forest, wetlands, onsens and ponds with the snow-capped mountains as the backdrop.
From mid-July to the start of August is prime bear sighting time but it is also when the mosquitoes are out in force so pack sprays and nets.
Somewhere among the mountains, nestled within the trees or even swimming in a pond, you might just see a bear in its natural habitat.
Bear sighting is not promised but the walk itself is a pleasant day out.
The morning begins with an information lecture (in Japanese with a written English pamphlet) about the Center and the brown bears.
For a few days in September, the Bear Center becomes a traffic light of leaves and crowds visit to see the foliage before the snow washes all the colour away.
For the remainder of the season, you will have the trail to yourself as unlike the unethical bear places in Hokkaido, this centre prides itself on not disturbing bears in their natural habitat while staff members study them.
Before you join the trail, clean your boots with the brush and water. This stops any cross-pollination of foreign seeds. Straight away you will realise how much the Center knows and cares about its surroundings.
Keep an eye out for bear scratches on trees, one of which has been embedded for over 20 years and has grown in size with the tree.
Although there were no bear sightings, we did see day old bear poo and a bear paw in the mud. You? Tell us in the comments below.
Practical Information – Bear Observation
There is nowhere to buy food on the premises and food can only be eaten at the designated ponds like Daigaku-numa Pond.
Do not eat snacks as you hike and only drink water. This rule is in place to ensure the bears’ natural habitat is not impacted by visitors.
There are no toilets on the trail and as with Mount Asahidake, you cannot use nature’s toilet.
The trail loop is 7km and takes up to five hours with food stops and photo opps.
You can walk to the Midoriuma (south of trail) and back to the Center in two hours or further to Kogenuma and back in four if you want a shorter route.
Accommodation for tonight is at Choyotei Hotel in Sounkyo which is a massive complex popular with tour groups. The hotel itself is surrounded by mountains giving Sounkyo a real alpine feel.
Buffet style dinner is served in a large room with karaoke songs belting out in the next. There is a communal onsen which we never used as we finished the relaxed dinner slightly later.
However, looking at the images, I regret that choice! Floor to ceiling windows let in floods of light, worth a visit during the day to see the mountains as you bathe.
We were told tattoos were fine but if anyone mentioned them just to be respectful in our responses.
Larger group tours open up opportunities for more people to be offended but in all honesty, we only had positive comments about ours during our three weeks in Japan.
Day 4 Sounkyo Onsen
Japanese and western style buffet breakfast is served in the large hall at Choyotei Hotel. Consume some calories for a day of rafting and bike riding!
Toshii, our Japanese and English speaking guide at Alpine Rafting Tours, is one of the coolest people we’ve met.
You can tell he is self-employed by his beard, our friend whispers. A cultural aspect we hadn’t noticed!
With years of rafting experience in several countries under his life jacket, you can be certain that your rafting experience in Hokkaido is going to fun and safe.
Tours start at 9am or 1pm and require a minimum of two people. The meeting point is at the office (159 Kyōshin, Kamikawa, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido 078-1732) where you are asked to sign your life away and given a dry suit, shoes and a helmet in return.
There’s a toilet on site. Use it before you put the suit on.
I took my sunglasses but instantly regretted it after putting the helmet on just before the ride so leave them in the car.
After a short journey to the water, the river route will depend on the time of year and water levels, you’ll be given a briefing and time to put on your suit fully. Then it is into the water!
Toshii talks over the instructions you can expect him to shout as he navigates the team through the rapids and away from rocks and low hanging trees.
Another team member rides along in a kayak, just in case. Our ride was pretty tame and scenic. There were no water casualties but I can’t guarantee that will be the same for your experience. It is half the fun getting dumped into the water!
At the end of the ride, hot drinks and help removing your suits await. I highly recommend taking a rafting tour in Sounkyo, even if it is your first time. Set aside three hours for the tour.
Next up is a very quick lunch and it would be rude not to try the local ramen! Ramen House Tozanken is popular with tourists and also does fried dishes if you don’t fancy a bowl of soupy goodness.
We went for a more local bowl of ramen at Asahi Shokudo Kamikawa (135 Minamimachi, Kamikawa).
Refuelled, hit the road again, this time on a rental bike from Mount Kurodake Ropeway.
As the rental closes at 3.30pm, you can just about squeeze in an afternoon ride or save a morning of biking for day five, depending on when you need to return your car rental.
If you decide to bike this afternoon, cycle for 20 minutes to the two waterfalls in Sounkyo, Ryusei and Gin Ga.
From Gin Ga Waterfall, cycle along the Ishikari River enjoying the pockets of heat through the shadows of the trees. If you visit during June and July, the imposing mountains will be snow-capped.
The terrain changes as you turn left into the cycle pathway. Pedal through the buckwheat fields and working farms.
Return the bikes to Kurodake Ropeway by 3.30pm closing time or arrange a pick up at Kamikawa Train/Bus Station. Two-hour rental costs ¥1000 per person.
Accommodation and dinner for the night is either a second night in Sounkyo Onsen or your last night in Asahikawa city.
Day 5 Sounkyo or Asahikawa
Day five depends on whether you need to return your car to Asahikawa city or airport. If you do have a morning return you may want to stay in the city on night four.
If you have time, there are several things you can do around Sounkyo including taking a more leisurely cycle to see the waterfalls. You can hire bikes for a full day instead of just two hours.
Or, take a Morning Cable Car Tour with a guide which includes the Kurodake Ropeway journey. The tour takes one hour and boasts views of Sounkyo Gorge.
You can take the cable car independently to the seventh station and hike to the peak of Mount Kurodake in 1.5 hours. The Ropeway runs every 20 minutes.
If you are up for more hiking it takes a day to hike Mount Kurodake past the rim of Ohachidaira caldera and over to Mount Asahidake, the reverse route that we planned to hike on day two.
For a more relaxed hike that takes one-two hours, join the Momijidani Footpath which starts at the Sounkyo Youth Hostel which is next to Choyotei Hotel. At the end of the trail, you will see Momijidani Waterfall.
If you are into a round of golf, the scenic Sounkyo Golf Course is on the cycle route and welcomes visitors of abilities. There are toilets and a shop at the golf course if you need a comfort stop.
Sounkyo to Asahikawa: 1 hour 20 mins.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Hokkaido?
This depends on what Hokkaido attractions you want to see and do.
During a Hokkaido summer itinerary, you can enjoy the warm weather and increased chances of spotting bears in July/August.
To see the foliage, aim for mid-September but be warned that the leaves turn very quickly and the area gets really busy.
For skiing and boarding season, choose to visit during November – March.
There’s even a slight chance that you could catch the end of the ski season and a cherry blossom bloom at the start of April.
Can you drive in Hokkaido in winter?
Yes, you can. Some roads may close but rental cars are equipped for winter driving and roads are cleared frequently.
Planning a Japan trip? Pin to your board for later
Choosing Kamikawa in Hokkaido as the destination for your Japan road trip is a brilliant idea if you enjoy nature, wide roads, unique traditional accommodation with onsens and the prospect of seeing bears in the wild!
Support by Hokkaido District Transport Bureau. We would like to thank Kamikawa for inviting us on this adventure Hokkaido road trip! We’ve very much enjoyed getting out in the wild and meeting the locals who run businesses in the region. As always, the above opinions are our own.
Ainu culture, sake brewing, traditional izakaya restaurants, modern malls and the gateway to the national parks of Hokkaido. Whether you are visiting in winter for ski season or summer for hiking there are many things to do in Asahikawa.
To us, Gemma and Craig, Asahikawa city feels very much like Vancouver. Not only is it surrounded by mountains but it works on a grid system with beeping crossings.
Get Your Bearings
Asahikawa is a city in central Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island (north Japan). It is part of the Kamikawa subprefecture. Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second-biggest city after Sapporo.
What to do in Asahikawa
Asahikawa is very much a working city and its streets come alive when the office workers clock out.
While the city is quiet, you can enjoy several tourist attractions which introduce Hokkaido culture.
1. Kamikawa Shrine
Kamikawa Shrine is a peaceful shrine. You won’t find busloads of tourists here as you do in Kyoto, making it the perfect spot to appreciate the process of approaching a shrine.
How to Enter a Shrine
Wash hands before entering the gate. Wash left hand, right hand, mouth, left hand again and then the ladle.
Pass through the gate to the side, not the middle to let the gods through the centre.
Sometimes there is a threshold you step over.
At the shrine, throw in coins, clap twice, bow, clap once.
Note: If the top of the shrine points out, you are praying to a female god!
You can buy a fortune (omikuji) to see what your future holds.
My luck is below average but for the past week, I thought our translator said my LOOKS were below average. Lost in translation.
By the way, Kamikawa is the name of the wider region that Asahikawa is part of. One of the most challenging things about Japan travel is getting your head around area names and placement.
Address: 2 Kaguraokakoen
Cost: Free, donations
2. Asahikawa City Museum
If you are interested in finding out about the Ainu culture in Hokkaido, previously named Ezo, Japan, Asahikawa City Museum has two floors of artefacts and information.
Ainu people respect nature, live off the land and believe that their gods connect with them through worship and sacrifice. You can observe the tools of the trade, housing styles, ceremonial staffs and traditional outfits at the museum.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Ainu people were formally recognised again. The numbers of Ainu people in Hokkaido have reduced dramatically (diminished by disease and assimilation) so researching ancestry is difficult. This makes Asahikawa City Museum one of the very few places with Ainu knowledge on display.
Moving forward, an application has been put through to allow traditional Ainu dance during the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Address: 7 Chome-1 Kagura 3 Jo
3. Otokoyama Sake Brewery
One of the best free things to do in Asahikawa is to visit Otokoyama Sake Brewery to learn about the sake-making process.
Otokoyama has been making sake for over 350 years and using the high-quality Hokkaido water throughout that time.
If you visit during winter you can see sake being made in this working brewery through the glass windows in the museum.
There is also a nifty multi-language video which talks you through the process and explains why Otokoyama has won so many gold awards, some of which you can see hanging on the walls of the museum.
The main reason for visiting? To try sake of course.
There is a free tasting session which includes a variety of traditional dry to sweet variations of Otokoyama sake and also seasonal options such as the fizzy sake which I like. I had to take one or two away with me as a souvenir naturally…
Address: 7 Chome-1-33 Nagayama 2 Jo
4. Asahikawa Shopping Street
Heiwa dōri kaimono kōen is Asahikawa’s shopping street. You won’t be surprised to hear that the large pedestrianised street is lined with towering blocks of shops and restaurants.
Recorded voices can be heard over speakers to try to entice visitors and locals into eateries. Helpful images on shop fronts capture what each restaurant sells.
Dotted along Heiwa dōri are several sculptures including a man playing the saxophone to a cat, open hands in a pond of water and a few posing ladies.
Head to the bottom of Heiwa dōri for ice cream at the best-named store in town, Japancheese. It serves cheese too apparently but we only saw customers with soft-serve ice cream.
5. AEON Mall
If writing about any other destination, shopping malls would not feature heavily in our itineraries but they make up such a big part of Japan city life so we found ourselves in them often.
Top tip: If you can’t find a location on Google Maps, especially in Tokyo, there is a good chance the shop is actually inside a mall.
AEON Mall is a massive hit for two reasons.
Firstly, there is a food court that sells a variety of food including the famous Hokkaido ramen.
Order your food at the stall, take a seat with the buzzer and wait for the sound to collect to your fresh steaming bowl of ramen goodness, or sizzling beef, whatever you choose.
Each stall has plastic versions of its meals on display which is typical for Japan. If you are a fussy eater, like Craig, these toy-like models of meals will save you from hanger!
The second reason I loved this mall? Taiyaki.
Taiyaki is not a new dessert in Japan but the kind you see in malls like AEON are an updated version of the pudding.
So what’s new? They’ve added sugar to the top of the pastry and there are variations.
I tried the chocolate pastry with chocolate fondue in the middle. It’s kind of like a Poptart. Delicious.
Remember that it is not part of the Japanese culture to walk and eat, even with snacks like taiyaki so take a seat and enjoy with a coffee while you people watch.
AEON Mall is attached to Asahikawa Station (train) where you will find the Japan Rail (JR) office if you need to book ongoing Shinkansen bullet trains.
We did so here and the process was easy. We advise that you write down your desired journey destinations, dates, times and that you prefer no smoking before waiting in line.
If you’ve chosen non-JR trains by accident, as we did, the attendee will help source the closest time.
You must have your JR vouchers. These are not sent in the post, you have to swap the information sent to you for vouchers before you book Shinkansen trains.
Address: 7 Chome-2-5 Miyashitadori
Cost: Ramen under ¥700
5. Breakfast with a View
Art Hotel, Asahikawa is a modern hotel with beautiful large window views of the city.
Japenese and western-style buffet breakfast is served on the top floor so you can eat mochi while looking out at the mountains.
We stayed here twice and while one room was very modern, the second one was slightly more dated. Both served our needs with hot showers and a typically sized twin room.
The location is ideal, there are two 7/11s across the road, Heiwa dōri Shopping Street is about 5 minutes walk away and the train station is less than 10 minutes drive (¥650 taxi).
6. Tsuboya Kibana no mori
If you like cakes and biscuits you’ll love Tsuboya Kibana no mori.
Predominantly a souvenir shop near Asahikawa Airport, Tsuboya biscuits are made and packaged on the premises then sold in cute boxes on the store floor.
Tsuboya are popular biscuits in Hokkaido. Two circular biscuits sandwich a variety of fillings such as white chocolate and strawberry.
You can also buy our friend Karl’s Taisetsu coffee to sit in or takeaway. Keep your eyes peeled for the creative Taisetsu souvenir packaging at the airport too.
Address: 19 Chome Minami 6 Jodori
Nightlife in Asahikawa
7. The Alleys of Asahikawa
Furarito Alley is the most famous of Asahikawa culinary small back streets but the beauty of the city is finding all its wee nooks and crannies by yourself at night.
We stumbled across a selection of bars and small restaurants down 4 Jodori including Switch Flavor which sells tea in a hipster dimly lit book cave, packed with date nights listening to soft indie music.
Craig said he felt like he was on the set on a coming of age movie. My favourite kinda flavour the night before work starts!
Craig made his way to the pub to watch football promptly after. Yes, he went to the British pub in Asahikawa, shame!
Address: 4 Jodori
8. Izakaya Tenkin
An Izakaya pub/restaurant is an old traditional culinary experience where groups of friends dine around a very low table. Diners sit on the ground using cushions for comfort.
Shoes are removed at the door so remember socks if you prefer not to sit with bare feet.
The dining event is kicked off with a round of beers. Food, predominantly seafood in Asahikawa, is then ordered for the group to share.
Once the meal is over, it closes with a cheer and a round of clapping. You can watch our experience here.
Note: Otoshi is the name given to the table fee in Japenese restaurants. It is typically between ¥300-600 per table and for that price, you get a small plate per person.
At Izakaya Tenkin our small plate was a bowl of tuna, we just pretended to Craig that it was steak as he doesn’t like seafood. He ate it and said it was bearable. Mwahaha.
Izakaya Tenkin is not only the best restaurant in Asahikawa but one of the oldest Izakayas in the city!
You can find many bars and restaurants around 3/6 San Roku.
Address: 7 Chome 4 Jodori
9. Drink Sake
Part of the Izakaya experience, if you want it, is to drink sake via the traditional process.
A bottle is presented by the host. Next, the sake is poured into a large shot glass and the pour continues until the sake is overflowing, filling up the wooden cube in which the glass sits.
One member of the group takes the first sip and then the others try it. Sake isn’t shot, it is enjoyed.
10. Snack Bars in Asahikawa
One of my favourite things about Japanese nightlife are the snack bars.
Previously, snack bars were reserved for the shadier side of Japanese entertainment but now there are varying levels of snack.
‘Accessible for all’ snack bars are run by hosts who take drink orders and make sure that your glass in never empty in a non-creepy way, just in a great host way. Unsurprisingly, there are snacks on the table.
The host service isn’t the real appeal of a snack bar, the karaoke is!
We’ve enjoyed singing western songs with new Japanese friends in private rooms in Asahikawa (a bar called You) and more public small snacks in Tokyo. So much fun.
It may be difficult to get into a snack bar in Asahikawa without Japanese members in your group but You Snack Bar seemed very happy we were there and asked us to go back.
I know what you’re thinking, why would I leave when I’m looking for an Asahikawa itinerary?
One of the benefits of the visiting Asahikawa is the ability to get out into the mountains, as the locals do.
11. Daisetsuzan National Park
Daisetsuzan National Park (Taisetsuzan) is Hokkaido’s largest park.
The park is split up into different onsen areas and in those areas, you can hike, bike, ski, and even go rafting!
Part of the authentic Hokkaido experience is to hike (or ski) during the day, dine on a kaiseki-style platter of seasonal food then soak in a hot spring onsen which is part of hotel facilities. Bliss and balance!
Car rental stores can be found at both Asahikawa city and airport. Self-drive is the best way to get around Daisetsuzan National Park because public transport is not very frequent.
» Read next: 5-day Daisetsuzan National Park itinerary
12. Asahikawa Winter Festival
We’ve not yet had the chance to experience Asahikawa in winter but hope to get there very soon.
From October to November, temperatures drop by half and then come December to February, the city freezes over.
February is the best time to visit as the Asahikawa Winter Festival takes over the streets for one week.
For over 60 years, visitors have enjoyed the massive sculptures which all meet the annual theme.
Previous themes include ‘Zoo in a Dream’ and Daisetsuzan Mountains which is the mountain range mentioned above.
The event is always stepping up to the challenge. In 2018 it hosted the world’s first snow mosque!
There are two sculpture areas in the city, one by Asahibashi Bridge and another on Heiwa dōri Shopping Street.
Getting to Asahikawa
The quickest way to get to Asahikawa from Tokyo is by flight.
Domestic, internal flights are just over 1 hour 30 minutes and can be found for under $100.
Avoid public holidays as prices skyrocket.
Public buses connect Asahikawa Airport with the city in 35 minutes.
Asahikawa Airport is popular with ski sports enthusiasts because it has a better track record for successful winter flight touchdowns than Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport.
By flying into Asahikawa you skip the road toll fees incurred from driving from Sapporo, which saves your budget for the wonderful onsen hotels in the surrounding areas.
Frequent trains run from many Hokkaido stations. Japan Rail (JR) passes can be used on JR trains. The JR office can be found in Asahikawa Station (train).
Planning a trip to Japan? Pin to your board for later
In Asahikawa, you won’t find the flashing lights of Tokyo’s Shinjuku or the excited Instagram mob of Kyoto’s Gion but that is the appeal of this working city. Arrive keen to learn about local culture and then ready to leave for the nature surrounding the city.
Support by Hokkaido District Transport Bureau. Thanks to Asahikawa for hosting us as part of a fun adventure Hokkaido campaign. We can’t wait to visit the region again during winter!
Rishiri Island, located in the north of Japan, is an outdoor lover’s playground! Home to one of 100 Famous Mountains of Japan, Mount Rishiri, many hikers enjoy this day trek, others come for the island views and seafood fans enjoy the famous urchins. Rishiri makes a great combination trip with its smaller sister, Rebun Island (Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park). So, let’s dive into the best things to do in Rishiri Island, Hokkaido.
Mount Rishiri is in the very north of the Hokkaido region of Japan. To get there, you take a quick and scenic ferry ride from Wakkanai Port in Hokkaido. There are four main areas to this small island; Oshidomari in the northeast (ferry terminal), Oniwaki in the southeast, Senhoushi in the southwest and Kutsugata in the northwest.
Rishiri isn’t just far away geographically, it’s also so far removed from the craziness of the likes of Tokyo and Japan’s Golden Route. Think tranquillity and you are there. Stop dreaming! Let’s check out the Rishiri Island itinerary starting from Oshidomari and moving anti-clockwise.
Heading to Japan? Read our ultimate planning post for tips, coming soon
Best Things to do at Rishiri Island
1. Himenuma Pond
Take the short path, walk across the Omoide Bridge then, as if by magic, 50 shades of green of Himenuma Pond will appear (see feature image).
Sandwiched by a variety of species of trees, walk along the 1km boardwalk around the pond.
Photograph Mount Rishiri from different angles as well as the ducks, butterflies the size of small birds and dragonflies.
If the water is still you can capture a cool reflection image.
Himemasu (kokanee salmon) were released into the pond when it was first built in 1917 hence the name Himenuma.
2. Hike Mount Rishiri (Oshidomari Trial)
If your visit includes trekking, do consider the day hike up Mount Rishiri.
The route official timing is 12 hours, 6 hours accent (peak at 1721m), 2 hours lunch/rest, 4 hours descent.
We met three Austrians who did it in approximately 7.5 hours. Starting from this stage is said to be the easiest trail, Kutsugata Trail (west Rishiri) is harder.
Enquire at your accommodation for a starting point drop off.
If you don’t want to hike it all, you can endure the 100 steps from Mikaeridai Park to the lovely observatory.
Hiking fans should check out Asahikawa, the gateway to Daisetsuzan National Park
3. Peshi-Misaki Cape
Peshi-Misaki is the cliff you see as you dock at Oshidomari Port.
You can’t miss this rocky mountain which stands out as if emerging from the sea.
This is a popular sunrise and sunset spot which takes around 20-30 mins to climb.
Unfortunately, we never made it up to the top, tell us in the comments below if you do, or tag us @twoscotsabroad in your social media photos.
4. Gorilla Rock
Gorilla Rock is a standalone rock formation surrounded by turquoise waters and is part of Cape Peshi.
The cliff to the right of the rock is a popular sunset spot.
5. North Itsukushima Benten Shrine
By the side of the road on the southwest of the island stands a small bridge.
At the start of the short bridge, there is an orange gate which visitors can walk through and down to the shrine which sits on the rocks.
The shrine has a bell. The religious act is to ring the bell, clap your hands twice and pray. Some people leave bits of paper at the shrine. There is a pot for donations too.
The starkness of the orange against the grey ground really is striking.
This shrine stands by the sea to protect the island.
6. Sea Urchin Collecting Experience
Get your hands a little dirty at Kamui Kaigan Park! This sea urchin (uni) experience shows you where your food comes from.
Hop aboard the stationary boat and use the magnifying glass tool to search for the spiky uni under the water.
If you can catch it, you can keep it! Use the fishing rods to pull out from the sea, drop it into your basket then head to the cracking and cleaning area onshore.
A guide will teach you how to open the search urchin and then how to clean it. For an additional ¥100, you can add your uni to some rice and seaweed to create sushi. Alternatively, eat it with a spoon straight from the basket.
The demand for uni by city restaurants has grown massively over the last few years, on Rishiri you can try it fresh from the water.
7. Izakaya Kamome
If you are a fan of sea urchin you can eat a full bowl on top of rice (don) for ¥3000 at Kamome Shokudo.
8. Numaura Observation Deck
Shiroi Koibito-no-oka (Numaura Observation Deck) is a Mount Rishiri photo opportunity stop in the south of the island.
On a clear day, you can see the definition of ‘White Lover’s Hill’ from this spot as it sits over Lake Otatomari. The mountain top looks like a set of jaggy teeth!
Here you can read about the famous Hokkaido Shiroi Koibito cookie covered in white chocolate which took inspiration from Mount Rishiri for its packaging. Which country do you think this Mount Rishiri snapshot looks like? Hint, the same country is known for its chocolate…
If you propose here Shiroi Koibito will send you a certificate!
9. Otatomari Pond
Otatomari Pond is a popular refreshment stop with a boardwalk which is built into the pond. Locals eat corn on the cob at the pond shop.
We tried the green tea and pink flower ice cream mix. Delicious. Dairy is a massive part of the Hokkaido region’s culture and economy.
10. Spend the Night at a Rishiri Ryokan Hotel
One of the best ways to unwind from city travels is to relax at a ryokan hotel.
Ryokan hotels are a type of Japanese accommodation that often includes use of an onsen hot spring bath spas.
You don’ t have to book a typical room which has tatami-mats and low mattresses on the floor. You can book western-style rooms too.
Some onsens are inside, others are outside. I’ve even experienced a Ryokan with a sauna onsite too.
There are two main rules when it comes to onsens. Firstly, you have to enter the bath naked. Secondly, you must use the correct onsen; women and men are separated.
Another thing to consider is tattoos. Each onsen has different rules. We were allowed to use onsens on both Rishiri and Rebun. Just ask before you book your room.
How to use Onsens
Wear your hotel robe, wrap and shoes
Take your hotel room towel
Remove your hotel shoes as you enter and store in the shoe rack
Leave your items in the provided locker
Remove your robe and pack in the box
Clean your body
Enter the bath and relax
11. Kaiseki-Style Dining on Rishiri
Another part of the Ryokan experience is dinner.
It is common for guests to use the onsen when they check-in then again, a few hours after dinner. This means you can wear your robe to the hotel restaurant.
The dinner itself is a platter of different kinds of seasonal seafood, which may include fish, clams, crab, uni, salmon. There is always rice, miso soup and a cup of tea too.
Kaiseki is a special kind of dining experience as it encourages everyone to talk about their food while they make their way through the numerous bowls and plates.
One of my favourite parts of Kaiseki dining is the hot pot. The waiting staff light a fire underneath a pot which boils until the fire goes out. Then it is ready to eat.
Enjoy your Kaiseki dinner with sake, plum wine or Sapporo beer.
Like food and drink? Check out Yokohama, a cool city less than an hour from Tokyo.
You can cycle around Rishiri Island in a day which makes it an attractive spring, summer or autumn activity.
The Rishiri Cycling Road is 60.2km and takes around 8 hours to cycle.
Bike rental is available near Oshidomari Ferry Terminal and at Kutsugata Misaki Park.
13. Enjoy the Ferry Ride
Honestly, sailing to and from Rishiri Island was one of the top highlights of our trip to Japan.
We had had the luxury of sitting in first class with its large, comfy seats and big windows to watch Peshi Misaki disappear into the distance.
The Heart Land ferries have an onsite shop that sells the famous creamy Wakkanai Milk.
I’d seen this milk on Instagram while doing my research so was looking out for it. Super fresh with cream that coats the inside of your mouth. Remember to shake it first.
14. Island Hopping
Japan is made up of 6,852 islands, 430 of which are inhabited. In northern Japan, you can island-hop three out of the 430!
Start in Wakkanai then hop to Rishiri then on to Rebun Island.
15. Japan’s Most Northerly Town, Wakkanai
Wakkanai is not just a ferry port town! You will be surprised to see the Soviet/Japanese mix of architecture around the town and the Russian influence on the signage.
If you have time in Wakkanai don’t miss the following tourist spots:
Cape Soya – Monument celebrating the most northern part of Japan
Soya Hills – Stunning windmill observatory and trekking
Shiroi Michi – A white path made from the shell with sea views
Cape Noshappu – Popular sunset photography location
Wakkanai Lighthouse – Red and white striking lighthouse, the second tallest in Japan
Wakkanai Breakwater Dome – Really cool concrete structure for photographs
Wakkanai Park – A park of remembrance
Former Seto Family Home – Interesting historical house, I tried on a gold kimono!
Uroko-Tei – Casual seafood dining, cool experience eating with a group around the grill
Wakkanai Grand Hotel – A nice modern hotel with spa
Domu Wakkanai Onsen – Day onsen if not looking for an overnight stay
Kitaguni Grand Hotel has a high-rise restaurant called James Skybar where dinner and a Japanese/Western buffet breakfast is served each morning.
We dined at sunset, it was a lovely setting having the island visible on each side of the Skybar restaurant while we ate Kaiseki dinner.
The twin rooms are large with two beds, a table, a TV and a fridge. WiFi works in the lobby. The bathrooms are typical of Hokkaido hotels. The shower is hot and there is an inside and outside onsen hot spring bath.
Maruzen Pension Reramoshiri (Ryokan)
Maruzen Pension Reramoshiri is the most relaxed ryokan that we stayed in.
The vibe is adventure. There are skies, hiking boots and bikes as you walk into the hotel reception. The staff are young and smiley. This Rishiri hotel feels more like a friend’s home than formal accommodation.
The rooms are spacious, clean and modern. The bathrooms are similar to all other hotels we stayed in Hokkaido and the shower water was hot.
WiFi worked in our hotel room, which is a first for the area. The restaurant is compact with an outside seating area.
Cooked breakfast is a mix of Japanese (soup) and Western (quiche, croissant). There is extra bread served throughout the sitting.
Camping on Rishiri Island
Camping is allowed on Rishiri Island. Please avoid wild camping, using the official campgrounds instead. There are two, Rishiri Family Camp Yuni and Rishiri-cho Forest Park Campsite.
Getting to Rishiri Island
Heart Land Ferries run daily from Wakkanai Port in Hokkaido to Rishiri Island. You can take an internal flight from Haneda Airport (Tokyo) to Wakkanai Airport in less than two hours.
The drive between the airport and the ferry is around 25-minutes. A taxi costs approximately ¥5000.
The ferry ride takes around two hours and docks at Oshidomari Port in the northeast of Rishiri Island.
Wakkanai Ferry Port has is big. It has a restaurant selling noodle dishes, rice meals and burgers so you can dine there before you board if you wish.
If you are just looking for the travel aspect of the trip you can book at the tour desk at the Wakkanai Ferry Terminal although there is no guarantee that there will be available seats.
Rishiri Island is an island in the northwest of Japan. It is part of the Hokkaido region which is closer to Russia than Tokyo!
Credit and debit cards are not a part of island life for Rishiri or Rebun. This is pretty typical of Japan as a whole.
Bring enough currency to last your trip or use the island Post Office (郵便局にあります) to take money out from the bank machine.
Most hotels do not accept major credit cards.
There is no currency exchange on the island. You will find currency exchange in Wakkanai.
There is no need to tip for the great service you will experience on Rishiri Island. Tipping is not part of Japanese culture.
Local shops close by 6pm so buy your snacks or lunches as you travel throughout the day.
As with the majority of places in Japan, locals do not speak fluent English on Rishiri Island. Signs can be found in Japanese and English for the island’s main attractions.
You can pick up maps and guides at the tourist information found at the Fujimicho Ferry Terminal (香深のフェリーターミナルにあります).
WiFi in Rishiri Island accommodation is mostly only found on the lobby floor.
Planning a trip to Japan? Save for later
Nature, viewpoints, seafood, cycling, and hiking, Rishiri Island is an ideal trip for those wanting away from the hustle and bustle of the city and looking to explore one of Hoddaiko’s lesser-known places.
If you are short on time you can visit Rishiri Island, or Rebun Island, as a day trip from Wakkanai. However, I think that Japan’s most remote national park deserves at least two days of your Japan itinerary!
We would like to thank Rishiri Island and Wakkanai for inviting us to explore this lesser-known region of Japan. The above review is our honest opinion.
Rebun and Rishiri are lesser-known islands in Northern Japan. A scenic and easy ferry ride away from Hokkaido mainland (Wakkanai Port), Rebun Island is a peaceful haven for hikers, seafood fans and those looking for a genuine Japanese ryokan spa hotel experience. In this guide, we (Gemma and Craig) will detail the best things to do in Rebun Island. Don’t miss our advice on how best to spend your time on Rishiri Island too (Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park).
Heading to Japan? Read our extensive planning post coming soon
Things to do on Rebun Island
Forget the crazy fast-paced hustle of Tokyo and get ready for a peaceful few days breathing in the sea air and relaxing amongst nature of Rebun Island. Welcome to the most northerly floating island in Japan!
The main town in the south of the island is called Kafuka. This is where the ferry docks.
The north’s main area is Funadomari.
Both of the island’s biggest areas have hotels, parks, a store and some attractions.
You can drive between the two within an hour. Now you’ve got your bearings, let’s look at the best things to do on the island starting from the south to the north of the Floating Island of Flowers.
Here’s the official map to help picture your itinerary.
1. Stay in a Ryokan Hotel
My first impression of a Ryokan hotel was, wow, this is much bigger than I expected.
Surprisingly, the Ryokan hotels on Rebun Island are just like the hotels that we are accustomed to in the west. They have multi-level floors, receptions, lobbies and some even have shops.
What makes them different to western hotels is their style of dinners and often onsen bath spas which I will discuss in detail below.
You don’ t have to book a Japanese room which has tatami-mats and mattresses on the floor. You can book western-style rooms too.
As many Ryokan hotels are located in rural parts of Japan, locals book their stay as part of a relaxing holiday with friends and family.
If you have done any research on accommodation in Japan, you will know that rooms are typically smaller than western hotels. To ensure more space, reserve a twin room. Remember to book a non-smoking room if you do not smoke.
If you plan to book a hotel near the water like Mitsui Kanko Hotel, request a seafront room for lovely views over the Sea of Japan.
» You may also like our guide to choosing accommodation in Japan coming soon
2. Relax in an Onsen
An onsen is a communal Japanese bath spa, filled with hot spring water. Some are indoors, others are outside.
Soaking in an onsen is a big part of the culture in Japan and visitors are welcome to join as long as they respect the rules of the process.
You must enter the bath naked
Clean yourself before entering
Baths are gender-specific
Tattoos are not always allowed, check with the reception/cover-up using Leukotape
How to use an Onsen
Your hotel will provide a robe, wrap and shoes
Wear this attire when walking from your room to the hotel onsen
Remember to take your hotel room towel
Remove your slip-on shoes at the door and store in the shoe rack
Store your personal belongings in the locker
You can leave your robe in the boxes provided
Wash using the facilities
Enter the bath and enjoy
Mitsui Kanko Hotel, and every other hotel we stayed with, permitted entry for visitors with tattoos (us) however other hotels in Hokkaido might not allow them.
So, what’s the deal with tattoos?
If you visit Scotland you will see tattoos everywhere. Tattoos are no longer seen as taboo in the UK and are very much part of youth culture.
It is not surprising to see teachers, police officers and service sector staff with openly visible tattoos. Some are works of art!
There are some professions where tattoos still have to be covered up such as air stewards and some beauty therapist jobs.
In Japan, the view on tattoos is softening slightly but there is still an association with the Yakuza who are an organised crime network.
We did see young women with arm tattoos in Tokyo, so times may be changing but for now, it is down to the hotel or the public bath to decide if they allow tattoos or not.
3. Dine on Kaiseki
Kaiseki is a style of Japanese dining which has been recognised by UNESCO.
The first time you experience Kaiseki you will be surprised to see your meal waiting for you! This is part of the process. You don’t wait for your meal, it waits for you.
At your seat, you will have a platter of seasonal food which means seafood in Rebun Island.
Expect decadent plates and bowls of rice, crab, seaweed, miso soup, clams, fish, the list goes on and on!
One of the most fascinating parts of the Kaiseki dinner is the hot pot. A BBQ style candle is lit underneath a pot which has some kind of food item inside.
Once the candle goes out, a server removes the lid and it is ready for you to eat. A very interactive style of dining.
I love how social Kaiseki dining is too. Everyone in your group talks about the food in front of you. The expectations, the taste and previous experience of eating it.
I went all out and tried everything. This is a big step in my culinary journey!
Japan makes you push the boat out and the boat is pushed out very far with Rebun Island’s seafood offerings.
If you are a foodie, I highly recommend you visit Rebun Island for the fresh seafood Kaiseki experience alone.
You may also like the below activities if you like to play with your food…
How to Enjoy Kaiseki Dining at Rebun Island
Reserve your meal time slot
Arrive early to book in and enjoy an onsen session before dinner
Wearing your onsen robes if you like, arrive for dinner
Stare in awe at the number of beautifully presented bowls and plates
Clean your hands with the wet wipe
Using your chopstick, dive in
Your rice dish can be used as a bowl, add to it
Your server will light your hot pot; once the candle burns, enjoy
Staff will collect empty bowls and plates as you dine
Chat, enjoy and be merry. Sake or umeshu? Why not!
As Craig does not eat seafood, the hotels switched his menu for mostly vegetarian options. This is not something that can be decided on the night, you must prearrange with the hotel at least one day beforehand.
Appreciate that the kitchen staff spend a long time creating the Kaiseki dinner and it is Japanese etiquette to have dinner ready for the customer before/as they enter so last-minute changes disturb the equilibrium!
4. Kita-no-Canary Park
Kita-no-Canary Park is a very scenic area in the south of Rebun Island. So scenic, the Japanese film A Chorus of Angels used it for filming!
Now the ex-elementary school building is a museum for the film and historical educational artefacts. The backdrop of Mt Rishiri is picture-perfect.
You will be asked to remove your shoes before entering the museum, but slippers are provided.
There is a small café selling tea and coffee. Restrooms are also on the premises.
Kafuka Port to Kita-no-Canary Park: 10 min drive
Open: From May until the end of October
5. Momoiwa Rock Observatory
Popular during the day with sightseers and at night with stargazers, Momoiwa Rock Observatory is a short 5-min hike up steps from the designated free car park.
From the observatory, you can see panoramic views of the island and beyond. Landmarks include Mt Rishiri, Momodai Nekodai and Momoiwa Rock.
From here you can hike to Motochi Lighthouse and then on to Shiretoko which is just under 5km.
6. Momoiwa Rock
Momoiwa Rock, or peach rock, is a fruit-shaped rock on the island. Its teardrop peak can be seen from various spots around the southern part of Rebun Island.
Momodai Nekodai Observation Platform is where you can take fun pictures of you squeezing the peach!
7. Momodai Nekodai
Momodai Nekodai is a rock formation which sits in the waters by the cliffs.
Can you see the cat-like shape in the rock?
To the right of the viewing platform, you can take pictures of the coastline where the blue sea pops against the white sand and green cliffs.
8. Interactive Lunch
Kaisen Dokoro Kafuka puts on quite the display when it comes to dining.
The chef lights the fish on fire in front of your very eyes. As the grills are directly in front of your table you can see the seafood cook as you enjoy your miso soup.
The views from this upper floor restaurant are spectacular too.
9. De-shell Hokkaido Sea Urchin
Sea urchins are the alien-looking spiky balls found in the sea. Over the past few years, urchins or uni have become a highly sought after Japanese dish, served seasoned or in a sauce.
Rebun and Rishiri Islands are renowned for their sea urchins and here you can enjoy a fresh sea to spoon experience at Unimuki Activity Center.
During the de-shelling experience, you take a sea urchin, crack open the outer shell and scoop out the uni. After cleaning out the darker parts of the urchin, you eat it.
10. Eat Uni
If you are slightly squeamish and prefer your uni best served in a bowl, you can buy urchin for dinner or enjoy it as part of a Kaiseki meal.
Male and female uni taste different, the female tends to be slightly more bitter. The female also gives a different taste post-pregnancy.
Uni is served alone, as part of sushi or in a bowl with rice (don).
11. Mount Ruben
Mount Ruben offers 360 degrees views of the island and is great for bird watching. It takes around five hours to trek in total.
12. Lake Kushi
Lake Kushi has a path that circles the full lake for those looking for an easy hike in under two hours.
Look out for birds and regional plants as you walk. See hiking section for more details.
There are a couple of times during the year that the lake is still so if you are visiting during that time be sure to snap a reflection shot!
13. Flower Hunting
Horticulture fans will want to keep their eyes peeled for the regional Rebun Lady’s Slipper Orchid.
There are over 300 types of alpine flowers on the island.
If you pick up a town guide you can make it a competition to see how many of the types, you see. Can you beat us? We spotted three.
If you are a fan of gardens don’t miss Sankeien Garden in Yokohama which is a less-frantic city close to Toyko.
14. Cape Sukoton
Cape Sukoton is the most northerly point of Rebun Island with beautiful views of Todo Island ahead.
There is a shop selling seafood items with free restrooms onsite.
Momoiwaso Youth Hostel is located at Cape Sukoton, a perfect location for visitors on a budget.
On the way to your next stop, keep an eye out for Ruban Lady’s Slipper Orchid Habitat.
15. Cape Sukai
Driving down the hill towards Cape Sukai you will see what looks like Ireland or Scotland!
Park up and walk up the small inclined steps to the viewing platform. Here you see the turquoise and blue waters to your right and cliffs to your left.
16. Hiking Rebun Island Trails
Along with seafood, the outdoors is one of the biggest attractions on Rebun Island.
Rebun’s hiking routes are not too strenuous so suitable for hikers of all levels.
Hiking here is something I would like to return to do. Hokkaido is famous for its hiking which means many of its routes are popular, these northern island trails are far quieter which is an appeal.
Momoiwa Rock Observatory Route
Estimate time: 3 hours 30 mins
Starting point: Kafuka
Highlights: Momoiwa Rock, Momodai Nekodai, Motochi
Mitsui Kanko Hotel, is a few minutes drive from the ferry terminal.
The air-conditioned double room is large with a table and small sofa. The bathroom has a hot shower. Request a seafront room for the best views of Mount Rishiri across the water.
Elevators work and WiFi is available in the lobby.
Mitsui Kanko Hotel has an onsen hot spring spa available for guests. Although we were allowed to use the onsen with our tattoos it is best to ask permission before visiting.
Kaiseki style dinners are served every evening.
19. Camping on Rebun Island
Rebun Island welcomes campers but it asks that you use the official campsites on the island, this means no wild camping to ensure that the land is protected.
There are two campsites, Midorigaoka Park at Kafuka and Lake Kushu at Funadomari.
Practical Information For Rebun Island
Rebun Island is an island in the northwest of Japan. It is part of the Hokkaido territory and is closer to Russia than Tokyo!
Like many areas of Japan, credit and debit cards are not a part of island life.
Bring enough currency to last your trip or use the Rebun Post Office (郵便局にあります) at Kafuka or Funadomari to take money out from the bank machine.
Most hotels do accept major credit cards.
There is no currency exchange on the island. You will find this in Wakkanai.
Tipping is not part of the Japanese culture, there is no need to tip for the great service you will experience on Rebun Island.
As you will see in most of Japan, locals do not speak fluent English. This is also the case on the island.
Signs do detail the English translation for attractions and travel literature in English can be picked up from the Rebun Island tourist information shop (香深のフェリーターミナルにあります) at the Kafuka Ferry Terminal.
WiFi in Rebun Island accommodation is mostly only found on the lobby floor.
Local shops close early by 6pm. Izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) close at 10pm.
Getting to Rebun Island
Direct Heartland Ferries run daily from Wakkanai Port in Hokkaido. You can take an internal flight from Haneda Airport (Tokyo) to Wakkanai Airport in under two hours.
It takes approximately 25-minute drive from the airport to the ferry port.
The journey takes around two hours and docks at Kafuka Port in the south of Rebun Island.
The ferry port has is very spacious. It has a restaurant selling noodle dishes, rice meals and burgers.
Heart Land Ferries offer first and second-class seating. First-class is very comfortable with large seats, windows and outside viewing areas.
Tickets are approximately ¥6000 for foot passengers.
You can reserve your ticket in advance on the Heartland Ferries website or buy a second class ticket without a reservation.
Also, you can make a reservation at the ferry terminal even on the day of departure.
In the second class, there are two levels. Firstly, floor-only seating. Here you must remove your shoes. The second option has seats.
There are also Japanese style rooms with pull out mattress beds.
Ferries have restrooms and an onsite shop selling drinks and snacks.
Getting Around Rebun Island
Rebun Island is small and can be covered in 72kms. It takes about 50 minutes from the south of the island to the north tip.
The best way to get around is to self-drive, hiring a car in Rebun through Nippon car rental.
Alternatively, you can use the Rebun Island bus which stops frequently between Kafuka Port Ferry Terminal to the northern tip of Cape Sukoton.
To use the bus, board and take your ticket. Push the stop request button before the stop you would like to get off at.
You can let the driver know if you would prefer an informal stop between official stops. Pick up a map and point to the area.
Pricing for the bus tickets can be found on the bus which is around ¥1200. There is also a day pass at ¥2000. As mentioned, payment is cash only.
There are tour buses but only in Japanese. You can still use them for getting around though!
If you prefer not to self-drive but would like a little more freedom than the public bus, consider a private taxi hire which costs around ¥30,000 for three hours.
Planning a trip to Japan? Pin to your board
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is the most remote park in Japan making it truly unique in comparison to the busy city of Tokyo or tourist bus hop-off spots in Kyoto.
Rebun Island, the Scotland of Japan, boasts of turquoise blue waters, fresh seafood platters and multiple hiking routes with the bonus that it gets much warmer than the Scottish Highlands and Islands!
Rebun Island makes a great day trip from Wakkanai if you are short on time or an island-hopping trip with Rishiri Island.
We would like to thank Rebun Island and Wakkanai for inviting us to explore this lesser-known area of Japan. The above review is our honest opinion.