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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.
- Price: ¥800
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
- Distance: 7.1km
- Estimate time: 3 hours 30 mins
- Starting point: Kafuka
- Endpoint: Shiretoko
- Highlights: Momoiwa Rock, Momodai Nekodai, Motochi
Cape Tour Route
- Distance: 12.4k
- Estimate time: 5 hours 20 mins
- Starting point: Cape Sukoton
- Endpoint: Hamanka
- Highlights: Beaches, capes, flowers
Rebun Forest Path Route
- Distance: 8.2k
- Estimate time: 3 hours
- Starting point: Motochi Entrance to Rebun Forest
- Endpoint: Kafuka
- Highlights: Forests and flowers
- Distance: 2km
- Estimate time: 1 hour 30 mins
- Starting point: Motochi Entrance to Rebun Forest
- Endpoint: Rebun Falls
- Highlights: Pass the waterfall
Eight Hour Route
- Distance: 16.5km
- Estimate time: 8 hours
- Starting point: Reburn Ladies Slipper Orchid Habitat
- Endpoint: Kafuka
- Highlights: Bamboo fields, alpine fir, cliffs
Mount Rebun Route
- Distance: 4.5km
- Estimate time: 5 hours
- Starting point: Nairo
- Endpoint: Mt Rebun summit
- Highlights: Panoramic views of the island and beyond
Lake Kushu Route
- Distance: 4.2km
- Estimate time: 1 hour 40 mins
- Starting point: Lake Kush Campsite
- Endpoint: Lake Kush Campsite
- Highlights: Circular rate, wetland flora, birds
Keen hikers should check out Asahikawa, the gateway to Daisetsuzan National Park
17. Enjoy the Ferry Ride
Finally, they say it is not about the destination but the journey and this is so true about the ferry ride from Wakkanai to Rebun Island.
Relax to the murmur of the ferry and watch the waves waltz by while you wait on Mount Rishiri coming into view.
18. Island Hopping
Japan is made up of 430 inhabited islands so why not island-hop from three of them? Over a long weekend, you could start in Wakkanai in Hokkaido prefecture then sail to Risihiri then on to Rebun!
Wakkanai, Japan’s Most Northerly Town
If you have time in Wakkanai don’t miss the following attractions:
- Cape Noshappu – dolphin structure, popular sunset spot
- Wakkanai Breakwater Dome – very cool structure for photographers
- Wakkanai Lighthouse – the second tallest in Japan
- Wakkanai Park – series of structures remembering the past
- Cape Soya – the northernmost part of Japan, a landmark location
- Soya Hills – hiking and stunning observatory
- Shiroi Michi – white shell path lined by plants with views to the sea
- Signage in Japanese and Russian!
- Seto Family Home – really interesting historical house, there’s a gold Kimono which I tried on!
- Uroko-Tei – informal group setting seafood meal, cool experience
- Wakkanai Grand Hotel – a really nice modern hotel with spa
» Planning to spend time in Hokkaido? Here’s our 5-day itinerary
Rebun Island Accommodation
We stayed in a Ryokan hotel on Rebun Island.
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.