5 Unique Experiences in Hokkaido – HOKKAIDO LOVE!

Look for drift ice on the Ryuhyo Monogatari

A special service which only operates in the winter months, the Ryuhyo Monogatari runs along the coast from JR Abashiri to JR Shiretoko-Shari Station. On the outbound journey from Abashiri the train takes a 10 minute break at Kitahama Station, which features stunning views of the drift ice floating in the Sea of Okhotsk, backed by the snow-covered Shiretoko Mountain range. Be sure to visit Okhotsk to experience this unforgettable winter journey!

■Area of Operation: Abashiri Station~Kitahama Station~Hama-Koshimizu Station~Shiretoko Shari Station

■Train Times:

From Abashiri Station: 945, 12:45

From Shiretoko-Shari: 1130, 1348

*The Ryuhyo Monogatari train consists of two non-reserved carriages. Advanced booking is not necessary. The carriages may become crowded during peak season.

Winter landscapes from SL Fuyu no Shitsugen Train

The best way to take in Kushiro’s rich natural wintry landscape is to ride the SL Fuyu no Shitsugen Train, which is an old-fashioned SL train. Departing from JR Kushiro Station, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery from the comfort of a retro and atmospheric sightseeing train. Take a seat and get warm in its sofa-like chairs and gaze outside the window, where passengers will see the magnificent views of Hokkaido’s mountains and rivers in their winter state. If you’re lucky, you might even spot Japanese cranes! Riding aboard the SL Fuyu no Shitsugen Train might just be the best way to experience Hokkaido’s snow-white winter.

Additional information: Those with a Hokkaido Nature Pass can claim a WILLER Semmo Main Line Free Pass by showing their booking on their smartphones at Kushiro Station. The WILLER pass offers travelers three days of free travel anywhere along the Semmo Main Line.

■Train Schedule:

January 23, 24, 30 and 31; February 5 through 14, 19 through 23, 27 and 28. Please note there are only two departures per day.

■Access: JR Kushiro Station, located about a 29-minute drive from Kushiro Airport.

*Reservation required. Tickets can be booked up to a month in advance from any central JR stations or at the JR Travel Service Center.

■Spot Introduction: https://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/destinations/sl-fuyuno-shitsugen-riding-the-rails-in-rustic-style

Drift ice walking tour

Every winter, the northeast shore of Hokkaido receives some drift ice from the Sea of Okhotsk. In the small town of Shari, located in the Shiretoko Peninsula, travelers can take part in a drift ice walking tour which is only available between February and March.

Before departure, visitors will have to spend some time suiting up in warm clothing and a drysuit and winter basics like tuque, gloves and scarves to prepare for the extremely cold weather. Despite the freezing temperatures, seeing the ice up close and personal and being humbled by its natural beauty is an unparalleled feeling. The drysuit also allows walkers to really enjoy the floating ice just as sea otters and marine mammals would, which means getting in the water. Lucky travelers may even encounter seals, sea eagles and sea angels!

The tour is always led by a professional guide, to ensure all walkers are taken care of and led carefully through the tracks.

See the tour details here: https://www.shinra.or.jp/ryuhyo_walk.html

■Period: From February 1 to March 31

■Tour length: About 1.5 hours

■Fee: Elementary school students and older, ¥6,000

Wakasagi (smelt) fishing on a frozen lake

Lake Abashiri is a well-known location for wakasagi (smelt) fish. From late December to mid-March when the lake freezes in below-zero temperature, ice-fishing becomes one of the most popular activities in the area.

Unlike regular fishing, you will need to set up a tent and drill a hole in the frozen lake first. All tools and tents are available for rent, so bringing your own gear is not necessary. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of snow activities at the lake such as riding a snowmobile, banana boat, and an ice-slide. Bring your family to Lake Abashiri for the ultimate Hokkaido experience!

Ice-fishing arena

■Access: 10 mins by bus from Abashiri Station, 20 mins by bus from Memanbetsu Airport TEL: 0152-48-2289

■Address: Yobito, Abashiri, Hokkaido


Experience Hokkaido’s sightseeing & ice breaker ships

In late January is when the Ryuhyo, or drift ice, arrives on Hokkaido’s northern coast. Joining the arrival are also many adorable sea creatures such as sea eagles, seals and sea angels. The Abashiri Aurora and Garinko-go are two drift ice sightseeing ships that are designed to tour around the Sea of Okhotsk, which is the only place in Japan to see drift ice during winter.

During the hour-long cruise, you can see an up-close view of the ice-covered ocean and even some wild animals with luck. Drift ice is said to arrive around late-January and stay until mid-March, but it’s best to visit around mid-February to early March for higher chances.

*Please note that the view of drift ice is not guaranteed at every tour. On days without ice, regular sightseeing tours are available.

Abashiri Aurora:

Same-day tickets are available if there are reservation openings.

■URL: https://www.ms-aurora.com/abashiri/  https://o-tower.co.jp/

■Reservation: TEL: 0152-43-6000

■Spot Introduction: https://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/destinations/blast-through-drift-ice-on-the-icebreaker-ship-aurora