Whether you’re traveling to Japan for the very first time or you’ve been here on multiple occasions, you might be looking for somewhere new and fresh to add to the travel itinerary – and Northern Hokkaido is the perfect place. Easily accessible from Tokyo, the region has a wealth of offerings to pique the interest of just about any visitor to Japan. Wondering why you should head to this part of the country? Here are four good reasons why Northern Hokkaido is worth your time.
1. Unique experiences you can’t get elsewhere in Japan
This region of Japan has some attractions that you simply can’t get in other parts of the country. One of the most interesting in the winter months is witnessing the drift ice phenomenon first hand. Looking more like a scene you’d expect from Antarctica than Japan, you can see these thick sheets of ice up close on the Garinko-go (ガリンコ号) Icebreaker Ship. A trip on the icebreaker will set you back 3,000 yen for adults (1,500 yen for children, free for infants) and there are several departures daily in January through March when the ice is present. Bookings in advance are required, which you can do in English on their website.
2. Fresher-than-fresh eats
If you’re a foodie, and in particular a seafood aficionado, Northern Hokkaido is going to appeal to your taste buds! The crab in Monbetsu (紋別), for instance, is said to be the best in all of Japan. If you’d like to enjoy some for yourself, a great spot to head to is Mombetsu Ryoshi Shokudo (紋別漁師食堂). This place is part restaurant, part cooking school – and you’re able to prepare your own crab if you’re game! There are staff on hand who will help you out (it is a little daunting for a newbie!) but once you’re done, you’ll have a feast fit for royalty!
3. Breathtaking and remote nature
Getting away from it all and truly unwinding from the stress of city life is one of the best parts of a vacation. Northern Hokkaido can have you feeling a complete world away, and if you’re a nature lover the Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島) is a spot to add to the itinerary. In the summer months, the area is covered with all manner of beautiful wildflowers, and in the colder seasons you’ll experience a true winter wonderland. Keep your eyes peeled – when I was there I saw plenty of deer and some amazing birdlife!
4. Spots that aren’t crowded with tourists
The tourism market in this part of Hokkaido is still developing – most visitors to this prefecture tend to hit up the more well-known spots like Sapporo (札幌) or Hakodate (函館). The fact that the Northern Hokkaido area is less known makes for a special travel experience, and provides many unique interactions with the locals that run businesses.
One particular place I loved was a sake bar called Bar Ikioi (勢). I got a personal lesson in sake from the bar owner, Kaoru Sasaki, who knows a thing or two about brews that come from all over the country. I tasted several sake varieties at the bar here, including a variety brewed right in Hokkaido. Sasaki-san told me that for many years Hokkaido sake wasn’t well regarded, since the quality of rice produced in the region wasn’t as high as some other parts of Japan. That’s all changed in recent years, and Hokkaido sake breweries are becoming more and more revered. If it’s any indication, the Hokkaido sake variety was my favorite of the ones I tried that evening!
- ANA flies to Okhotsk Monbetsu Airport daily from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The flight time is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- Flights are also available via ANA to Nakashibetsu Airport from Tokyo, which is closer to the Shiretoko Peninsula region.
- Be aware that Hokkaido is Japan’s largest prefecture, and that driving distances can be quite significant. Map things out before you head from A to B!
Garingo II Ice Breaker
- Address: 1 Kaiyokoen, Monbetsu, Hokkaido Prefecture 094-0031
- Website: http://www.garinko.com/
Mombetsu Ryoshi Shokudo
- Address: 40-55 Shinsei, Monbetsu, Hokkaido, 094-0001
- Website: http://mombetsu-ryoshi.jp/
- Address: 6-1-25, Honcho, Monbetsu, Hokkaido 094-0004
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ikioi20140405/