The Tokachi area is known as one of Japan’s agricultural hubs, with dairy farming, in particular, playing a significant role in the regional economy. If you want to get to know the true culture of this land, we can recommend two approaches: learning about the unique connection the locals have with horses as well as the history of winemaking (you heard right!) in the area. You can learn about the former at the Obihiro Racecourse. Active since Hokkaido’s frontier days, it showcases the unique Japanese horse racing style “Ban’ei”, which focuses not only on the horses’ speed but also on power. The races attract fans from all over Japan. If wine is more your thing, we recommend a stop at Ikeda Wine Castle, the birthplace of Tokachi Wine, one of the oldest wineries in Japan and one which has been able to garner global acclaim. To get a taste of all the local delicacies, a visit to Farm Restaurant Nojima-San-chi is due. Be sure to taste the Butadon (pork rice bowl)! Follow this article to dive deep into the local culture of Tokachi and Obihiro – and reward yourself with delicious regional specialties to boot!
At the Obihiro Racecourse, you will be able to witness a style of horse-racing completely unique to the region. Named “Ban’ei”, it features draft horses pulling heavy sleds up sand ramps, urged on by jockeys balancing on sleds. Its origin is said to come from the region’s heritage as an agricultural hub (which continues to this day): during the frontier period, horses were used to pull farming machinery and sleds of wood. Because it is competition not only for speed but also power, the horses are heavier than your average racehorse, weighing up to 1 ton. The course is a straight of 200 meters, with two obstacles (such as slopes) set along the way, demanding acute technical ability from the horses. If you pay the admission fee, you can enjoy the race even without having to place a bet.
W9, S13, Obihiro, Hokkaido
Ikeda Wine Castle
While Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures were traditionally known as Japan’s foremost winemaking regions, the changing climate has led to a slew of wineries opening in Hokkaido in recent years. One winery that has a relatively long history is the Ikeda Winery that produces Tokachi Wine, which has its origins in the 1950s. It was initially established to help the struggling town’s finances in the post-war period. It found immediate success internationally, being recognized with a Bronze Award at the International Wine Convention in 1964, and has enjoyed critical acclaim ever since. At the Ikeda Wine Castle, you can buy the wine directly, preferably after sampling it at the in-house restaurant. The facility itself is unique as well, as it is styled after a European Castle from the Middle Ages.
83-4 Kiyomi, Ikeda, Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido
If you want to get a taste for the local delicacies of the Obihiro/Tokachi area, head over to FOOD BABY, a farm-to-table style restaurant. If you are in the mood for a good slab of meat, one dish you have to try is the Matsubashigyu (beef from Matsubashi) steak from Sarabetsu Village. The cut is perfectly balanced between the sweet, fatty marbles and the tenderness of the lean parts. Another favorite is the boiled Tokachi Potatoes topped with butter. The casual atmosphere means the restaurant is a great visit if you are in a group or with the family in tow and we recommend sharing several dishes with the table.
2F, 20-1, S9, W2, Obihiro, Hokkaido
Butadon No Tonta
Locals consider butadon, or rice topped with pork, their soul food. While there are several famous spots serving the dish in the area, we recommend Butadon No Tonta for their meticulous attention to detail in preparing every bowl. The meat is carefully hand-cut one by one, with only the softest parts making their way on the plate. The icing on the cake is the home-made sweet and spicy sauce. If you want to bring the taste home, you can also buy their meat and sauce at the souvenir corner of Obihiro Station.
E17, S10, Obihiro, Hokkaido
The Itadakimasu Company offers tours allowing you to experience actual farm work, including helping with the harvest. The tours range from enjoying BBQ with the ingredients you collected yourself or learning about the history of agriculture in the area during the frontier times through seeing and touching the actual tools used at the time. One recommended itinerary revolves around plowing, an agricultural technique where horses are used to plowing farmland. Through a hands-on experience, you can understand an important aspect of the Tokachi area’s agricultural history.
Farm Restaurant Nojima-San-chi
Run by the farmer of the same name, the Farm Restaurant Nojima-San-chi serves up homestyle cooking with ingredients harvested from the farm. Once you step into the interior, the décor and atmosphere will make you think that you are casually dining at the Nojima’s family table. Their most famous dish is the ginger pork steak. Starting with the meat, the side dishes including cabbage, potatoes and carrots are all farm-fresh and not to be missed. The fact that you can gaze upon the vast farmland from the restaurant’s window only adds to the authenticity. Don’t forget to pick up some fresh produce for back home, sold on-site.
199-4 Shinsei, Nakasatsunai, Kasai-gun, Hokkaido
Genghis Khan Shirakaba Main Store Restaurant
Throughout Hokkaido, you will find stores serving up the ubiquitous Genghis Khan, a grilled mutton dish served with vegetables on a hot plate. If you want to taste the dish in Obihiro, head to Genghis Khan Shirabaka Main Store Restaurant, an absolute establishment in operation from 1957. The Genghis Khan here is served old-school, featuring only onions and meat. This is topped with the house sauce, made from apples harvested in neighboring Aomori Prefecture. The welcoming atmosphere makes the spot perfect for a fun night with family or friends.
W2 Kiyokawa-cho, Obihiro, Hokkaido