As Japan is an island stretched from north to south, it has a completely different climate at the same time of season. In the winter time, Okinawa, the south edge, is around 15℃, whereas the north edge, Hokkaido is -15℃. Not only the climate, but also their cultures are quite unique. Okinawa, used to be called the Ryukyu kingdom, flourished for over 450 years from the medieval era as a transit trading spot of Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asian countries. After it came under the control of Japan in the modern era, Okinawa experienced being governed by the United States, and formed its culture. Likewise in Hokkaido, formerly called Ezo, Ainu people structured their own culture, and it melanged in Japan in the modern period. Thus, both Okinawa and Hokkaido have pretty different backgrounds with mainland Japan, and experiencing them in one tour enables you to notice the diversity of Japan.
Trip in Okinawa
Mainland Okinawa is so small that you can go from south to north in a day. This trip is planned for the west coast of Okinawa from south to north. Enjoy the contrast of the emerald green sea to the deep green forest, and furthermore, the contrast to the landscape of Hokkaido, the white fields and pale blue sea. First of all, feel the pleasant wind and culture of Okinawa!
Village of Yachimun
Yachimun means ceramics in the local language, Utina, and the Village of Yachimun is a group of pottery studios located in Yomitan village, mid-south Okinawa. There are currently 19 studios, and they started to move from Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, since Kinjo Jiro (the deceased intangible cultural property of Japan) started the conception of Yachimun Village. They built climbing kilns which efficiently bake potteries, and they are still working. You can buy the Yachimuns in the shops. There are uniquely shaped cups, dishes, and also glass products. Blue color potteries which remind Okinawan sea are popular products of theirs.
Zakimi Castle Ruins
Okinawa has many castle ruins (called gusuku in Utina language) from the Ryukyu period. They show how Okinawa’s architectural techniques in stone buildings were outstanding. Although the size is relatively small, Zakimi castle ruins is said to be one of the best with its elaborate walls and gates. As they made walls few meters thick in order to prevent them from breaking apart on fragile soil, you can climb on it, which is possible only in Zakimi and Nakagusuku castle. Since the castle ruins are located on the top of a hill, 125 meters above the sea level, the view is amazing. You can see the East China Sea, and Shuri castle in Naha. The entrance is free for Zakimi castle ruins.
Kouri island, located in Nakijin village, is an island connected with a long bridge. The view from the bridge, a round shaped island floating on a cobalt blue sea, is nothing other to say than beautiful. Since Kouri has a folklore of “island of love” or “island of god”, couples from the whole country visit the island. Their main purpose is to see the Heart Rock. There are two rocks shaped like hearts close to a beach.
Nakijin Castle Ruins
Nakijin castle ruins are famous for their cherry trees. Normally, around Tokyo, cherry trees bloom in the end of March to April, but with the climate difference, they bloom in the end of January to February in Okinawa. There is a lighting up event in the peak season of cherry trees. Nakijin castle was built to protect the vast forest area of Okinawa called Yambaru in the 14th century. Therefore, it is in the middle of deep forest, and a river is running by. From the top of the castle ruins, you can see the big garden of the castle, and the sea over it.
One of the most popular sightseeing spots in Okinawa is Churaumi Aquarium. Churaumi Aquarium started in 1975 as the venue of the International Ocean Exposition in Okinawa, and after having reconstructions of the building, it became like the present style. The aquarium used to be the biggest in the world at the time. The best section of Churaumi Aquarium is the huge acrylic panel which is 8.2 meters high and 22.5 meters wide. There are various types of fish swimming including the almost 9m big whale shark and manta rays. You can spend hours in front of the panel watching the dynamic sea creatures.
Trip in Hokkaido
The temperature difference from Okinawa will be about 30℃ in winter Hokkaido. This trip focused in Eatern Hokkaido from Memanbetsu and going all around the coast side to Kushiro. Even though it is the same country, the climate, nature, and culture in Hokkaido is completely different from Okinawa. Comparing those two prefectures, you may find another perspective in Hokkaido even if you have visited before. Welcome to the deep white frontier of Japan.
Icebreaking Ship Cruise
Observing drift ice is something you would want to do in life at least once. Cruise tour in Okhotsk with the icebreaking ship “Aurora” will make the dream come true. After arriving at Memanbetsu airport around noon, Abashiri is not a far way to drive. The two-story ship with a spacious deck on top gives a comfortable one-hour trip to Okhotsk. As the ship leaves the port, gradually the drift ice becomes bigger, and you will find wild animals resting on it. You would see sea eagles, cliones, and seals if you are lucky enough. When the sun makes color gradations in the sky, the ice in the sea sparkles more and more. It is nice to see the few-meters-close ice from the bottom deck as well as enjoy the entire harmony of nature from the top deck.
Minami 3, Higashi 4-5-1, Abashiri city, Hokkaido Roadside station (Ryuhyo Highway)
The Notsuke peninsula has not been featured much globally, but it has interesting appeals. It is actually a sandbank shaped like a shrimp, and located in between Shiretoko and Nemuro peninsulas. The inner bay of the peninsula gets frozen in the winter, and dozens of wild Hokkaido deer eat grass around the bay. The peninsula is also known as the second earliest place of sunrise, and its unique shape. If it is a clear morning, you would be able to see a square shaped, or a wine glass shaped sun. It is hard to believe that you are watching the same sun, and a pale blue sea connected to Okinawa’s.
Horse Ride in Winter
Have you ever rode a horse in deep snow? You can try it in Mutsu Pasture in Nakashibetsu. It started as a part of Mutsugoro Animal Kingdom by an animal researcher and writer called Mutsugoro. In the pasture, there are over ten horses living freely. Unlike in other horse riding places, in Mutsu Pasture, you can experience from preparing to tidying up. After having a communication with a horse you ride, the breeder takes you into the snowy fields. It may be a bit scary at the beginning, but since the horses have a kind and mild character, you would feel as if you became one body with the horse. It is an activity that anyone can have fun.
JR Hanasaki Line
The JR Hanasaki line is a single-cart railway connecting Nemuro and Kushiro. It is 135km long, a two and a half hours trip in the easternmost part of Japan. Because it goes from a snowy road to cliffs by the ocean, and in the middle of the Kushiro Wetland, it feels as if you are watching a spectacular film from the train window. You can see wild animals right outside, such as Hokkaido deer, foxes, rabbits, white-tailed sea eagles, and more. The train stops at Hamanaka town where a famous manga writer of “Lupin the 3rd”, Monkey Punch was born. You can find panels of characters in the station. As the train arrives at Kushiro, it means this trip is almost ending.
Japanese Crane Watching
Tsurui town, located in the north of Kushiro, can be accessed with a bus from JR Kushiro station. As the name signifies “crane is there ” in Japanese, the town is famous for wild crane watching. A minute walk from the bus stop Tsurumi Dai, there is a park where the cranes gather. Maybe because cranes are considered as fortune birds in East Asia, it has a sacred atmosphere. The best moment to see the cranes is when they land into the park. It is very dynamic that they fly only a few meters above your head. The white cranes in white field is a landscape that you can enjoy only in the winter time.