If you’re an animal lover, Hokkaido is a paradise that you absolutely must visit during your time in Japan. There are many parts of the prefecture that feel almost untouched by humans, and you’re able to see a variety of wildlife, including birds, deer, and marine creatures.
Meet earless seals at Okhotsk Tokkari Center
One of the most moving encounters I’ve had with wildlife in Hokkaido was at the Okhotsk Tokkari Center. The center here is a wildlife preservation facility for earless seals (fun fact: the word “tokkari” is the Ainu word for earless seal), and you’re able to get up close to the seals themselves.
Interestingly, this is Japan’s only conservation facility for seals. Many of the seals living here have been injured in the wild – for example, those that have been caught in fishing nets – and the center allows them to rehabilitate in a safe environment before returning to the ocean. The keepers who work here are able to give you information about each of the seals and why they are there if you speak Japanese. There are also signs on the tanks about each seal, with their name, age, gender, and some other tidbits of information.
It is incredible being able to interact with the seals here – and it’s quite amazing seeing the repertoire of tricks that they’re able to perform! From flips and rolls in response to simple commands, through to catching rings on their necks, it’s evident that they are highly intelligent creatures. You’re also able to feed them if you’d like – and don’t worry, the center will provide you with gloves if you want to go down that route!
I think my favorite memory from the Okhotsk Tokkari Center had to be when I was able to touch an earless seal itself. They do advise you not to make any sudden movements or loud noises to avoid scaring them, but you are able to “pet” the seals. Ever wondered what a seal feels like? The closest thing I can describe it to would be a wet, smooth haired dog! Be sure to bring a camera so that you can snap a picture or two to preserve those memories.
Also, if you visit here in the winter months like I did, bring your winter woollies. This part of Japan gets extremely cold – it was around -15 degrees Celsius on the day I visited. That might be a perfectly enjoyable temperature if you’re an earless seal, but for us mere humans it can feel exceptionally chilly!
- The Okhotsk Tokkari Center is located at 2 Kaiyokoen, Mombetsu, Hokkaido 094-0031, which is under 10 minutes by car from the Okhotsk Mombetsu Airport.
- Several car rental companies operate out of the airport, including Nippon Rent-a-Car. Counters for car rentals are located just outside the arrivals gate.
- The Okhotsk Tokkari Center is open 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
- They do close if the weather is particularly bad – for instance, strong winds, high waves, or heavy snow – so bear that in mind if you’re planning a special trip.
- Adult admission to the Okhotsk Tokkari Center is 200 yen.
- Children are 100 yen.
- Okhotsk Tokkari Center official website (in Japanese)