5 Experiences You Don’t Want to Miss in Hokkaido
【Lake Mashu－the clearest lake in Japan 】
Called the “mysterious lake,” Lake Mashu is the clearest lake in Japan and the second clearest in the world. It has been selected as a Hokkaido Heritage Site for its exceptional beauty. What is more, the view of the lake changes dramatically depending on your location and the day.
The most prominent part of the lake premises is the first observation deck. During the day, the blue skies are reflected on the water, with lush green mountains between the heavens and the lake. When such a view stretches before you, it’s easy to forget all your worries. At night, the bright blue of daytime becomes a dazzling expanse of stars. The night sky around Lake Mashu, far from the city, resembles a planetarium in its clarity. The third observation deck, which is 670 meters above ground, gives you an unparalleled worldview. Here, from June to September, you can see the sea of clouds above the Mashu-Kussharo Calderas early in the morning – if you’re lucky, both calderas will be engulfed in clouds. (Note that the third observatory is closed from late October to early April due to snowfall.)
First Observation Deck: Approximately 25 minutes from JR Senmo Line Mashu Station by Akan Bus (for Kawayu Onsen). Third Observation Deck is approximately 40 minutes on foot from First Observation Deck. There is no public bus to reach there, so please use a tour shuttle bus or private transportation.
【Fruit and Vegetable Picking at Tani Farm】
Tani Farm is around 30 minutes away from Hakodate by car. In this wide area of farmland you can enjoy picking all kinds of fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes, blueberries, melon, grapes, plums and sweetcorn. The most popular fruits on the farm are strawberries, which can be picked in June, as well as cherries which can be picked from early to mid-July! Equipped with a play area, Tani Farm is a great place to take the kids. Those who are interested can also try out Hokkaido’s unique roast lamb dish “jingisukan.”
Complete your fun, family-friendly day out with a trip to the neighboring Hachironuma Park where you can enjoy the wonders of nature all year round, from cherry blossoms in the spring to waterlilies in the summer, not to mention the stunning bright red leaves of autumn! Whatever the season, Hachironuma Park is the perfect spot for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the great outdoors－pick fruit, eat and relax, and enjoy the slow-paced Hokkaido lifestyle.
■Tani Farm Operation Period: Early June to late October
■Hachironuma Park Operation Period: Mid-April to early November 8:30-17:00
■Access: 40 minutes by car from Hakodate. 10 minutes by car from Hokuto Station on the Shinkansen line.
【”Nagamare-go” ―Train that Runs Through Southern Hokkaido】
Following the establishment of the Hokkaido Shinkansen line, the South Hokkaido Railway Company took control of passenger operations from Kikonai to Goryokaku on JR Hokkaido’s Esashi Line. Of the trains which serve this line, the most popular is the colorfully decorated passenger engine, the “Nagamare-go”, which allows passengers to fully experience the sights and local produce of Hokkaido’s southern region!
“Nagamare”, meaning “slowly” and “at a relaxed pace”, is a phrase close to the hearts of many residents of southern Hokkaido. The “Nagamare-go” train makes a stop at JR Hakodate Station. The train runs alongside the coast between Kamiiso and Kikonai Station, allowing for stunning views of the Tsuruga Straits and Mount. Hakodate. Particularly on summer evenings, lights used to lure squid may be seen to glow mysteriously in the sea. As the “Nagamare-go” train operates as a regular service between Hakodate and Kikonai, it is possible to board this train without booking in advance. The special sightseeing train “Nagamare Kaikyo-go” which operates along the same line is equipped with tables and chairs with headrests so that passengers can enjoy a meal during their journey.
Once you reach Kikonai Station, the last stop on the line, it is possible to change onto the Shinkansen. We highly recommend that you check out Kikonai’s roadside rest area “Misogi-no-sato Kikonai”, where you can taste local produce such as the popular “paku paku” salt bread, or a salt ice cream!
■South Hokkaido Railway Nagamare-go Period of Operation: Year-round
■Area of Operation: Hakodate-Kikonai (approx. journey time 1 hour)
■Spot introduction： https://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/what-to-do/south-hokkaido-railway
【Kushiro Shitusgen Norokko Train】
The Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko train is one of Hokkaido’s most popular sightseeing activities. Running along the Kushiro Wetlands as if passing slowly in time, the view from the train is one that cannot be experienced by other forms of transportation. If you spot some wildlife, the conductor might even stop to let you have a closer look!
The Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko train has one free-seat car and three reserved-seat cars. Two of the reserved-seat cars have large windows from which travelers can enjoy a panoramic view of the landscape. The free-seating car can get quite full, depending on the day.
But there’s more than a beautiful view to the Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko train. Travelers can indulge in filling bento boxes and delicious desserts served right there on the train, so you can enjoy local food while taking in the scenery! The train only runs from spring through fall, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly.
■Station range： Between Kushiro and Toro Stations (about 40-50 mins).
One-way fare: Adults, ¥640 for free seats, ¥1,170 for reserved seats; Children (12 years and younger), half-price. All observation cars require seat reservations
※Travelers can buy tickets at major JR stations, JR travel centers, and travel agencies nationwide up to one month in advance.
■Spot introduction： https://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/what-to-do/kushiro-shitsugen-norokko-train
【Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park－Experience Hokkaido’s Ainu culture】
Japan’s most northerly national museum which introduces Ainu culture opens on the bank of Shiraoi’s Lake Poroto!
“Irankarapte” means “hello” or “welcome” in the Ainu language, and it is a greeting which you will hear many times if you pay a visit to the newly opened Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park.
At the museum you can learn about the culture of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, through six themed exhibits, “Language”, “World”, “Lifestyle”, “History”, “Work” and “Cultural Exchange”, which tell the story of Hokkaido from the Ainu’s own perspective.
To experience in person the traditional culture of the Ainu people we highly recommend that you take a walk around the National Ainu Park, where you can explore the inside of a “chise”, the traditional housing of the Ainu, as well as take part in hands-on learning experiences including playing traditional Ainu instruments such as the mukkuri (a mouth harp) or the tonkori (a stringed instrument), and preparing traditional Ainu foods. Performances of Traditional Ainu Dance, which has been designated as Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage which can be seen in the site’s Cultural Hall, are also not to be missed!
If you get hungry, check out the site’s restaurants and food court located close to the park’s entrance gate, or the café and sweet shop located in the Gateway Square. Whether looking for a full meal or just a light snack, in the park’s various eateries you will be able to try meals which have been prepared using traditional Ainu cooking methods. Be sure to take some time to relax and enjoy some of this great tasting cuisine, which you will not find anywhere else!
Mondays (closed on the next business day when Monday is a holiday). Closed from December 29 to January 3 for New Year’s holidays.
1,200円 Adult 1,200 yen
600円 High School Student 600 yen
Middle School Student and Below Free
Car: Approximately 1 hour from Sapporo, 40 minutes from New Chitose Airport
Train: Approximately 1 hour from JR Sapporo Station by Suzuran Special Express train. Disembark at Shiraoi Station, from which it is a 5 minute walk to the museum.
■Spot introduction： https://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/what-to-do/upopoy-national-ainu-museum-and-park