Shiretoko: a world natural heritage site with spectacular views and wildlife
Shiretoko is a magnificent natural area that has been designated as a world natural heritage site thanks to its cliff-lined coast, verdant primeval forests, clear streams and endless natural wildlife. There are many activities to enjoy here, such as trekking on the wild bird-populated shores of the five lakes of Shiretoko, boat cruises from which you can see waterfalls that are over a hundred meter high as well as brown bears, and much more.
Recently, there has been a boom in personal experience activities where guides take people deep into natural places that ordinarily are difficult to access. For example, sea kayak tours offer a taste of adventure as traversing steep cliffs in two-person boats to reach strangely shaped rocks that cannot be accessed by larger boats. On nature tours, you can walk through primeval forests for a day with a specialist guide, observe waterfalls from viewing platforms, and enter holes used by bears in winter for hibernation. You will also get a more personal experience of nature by seeing the footprints of Hokkaido deer, the nesting holes of black woodpeckers and scratch marks from brown bears, all of which go unnoticed by amateurs. Running through the forest by car at night on tours searching for red foxes and Hokkaido deer, and you will be able to leave the vehicle and take in the starry sky away from artificial lights. The popular winter Drift Ice Cruise now features new activities that entice tourists to try something unfamiliar, such as walking on drift ice and diving in the water under drift ice, both of which are proving to be very popular.
Utoro, the base location for these activities, is a famous hot spring area where you can enjoy the great feeling of taking a long soak in a hot spring after a day full of nature experiences. By taking the Shiretoko-odan Road across to the other side of the peninsula from Utoro, you can watch whales including sperm whales.
Shiretoko-hanto peninsula is part of the eastern Hokkaido area known as Doutou. In addition to the Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh, which is a wetland designated in the Ramsar Convention, Doutou features countless other natural spots such as Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo and Lake Akan.
Shiretoko National Park Nature Center
This base for Shiretoko’s nature conservation activities and PR is run by a public foundation. The Center provides information on seasonal highlights, appearance of bears, and so on. The Center is also linked to shops and restaurants.
Address: 531 Iwaubetsu Onnebetsumura, Shari-cho, Shari-gun, Hokkaido
Access: From Shiretoko-Shari Station on the JR Senmo Honsen Line, get off at Shiretoko National Park Nature Center on the Shari Bus Shiretoko Line and take a 1-minute walk
Various nature tour organizations
Shiretoko Naturalist’s Association
Shiretoko Nature Office
Shiretoko Optional Tours SOT!
Furano and Biei: an area carpeted with lavender fields and endless green hills, perfect for simple enjoyment of nature
Situated close to the middle of Hokkaido, Furano and Biei are popular destinations blessed with beautiful scenery of flowers and green hills. The town of Biei is dotted with flowers and hills, and features the “Hills of Seasonal Colors (Shikisai-no-oka)” with flowers such as sage, dahlia and stock set against a backdrop of tall mountains. One of the many highlights here is the beautifully clear water, which is captured in the “Blue Pond” desktop wallpaper found on MacBook Pro computers. The area can be explored by car, but cycling is a better way to immerse oneself in the stunning natural environment of this part of Hokkaido.
We recommend checking out the “Road of Patchwork”, from which you can see the endless varying tones of colors in the surrounding fields planted with potatoes, corn, wheat and other crops. Every hill precedes a new scene to take in, and the feeling of cycling along gentle slopes with the breeze is a truly refreshing experience.
In July, the lavender fields of the Furano area come into full bloom. Farm Tomita is particularly famous in this regard, offering Japan’s oldest lavender fields, views of flower beds such as the “Irodori Field” where flowers are planted in rows of primary colors, including purple, red, white and pink, as well as theme park-like experiences such as the smells of lavender from around the world, observation of perfume blending work, and lavender ice cream. This is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs such as lavender fragrance soothing soaps, candles and eye pillows.
The Biei and Furano area also provide highly topical farm stays, where visitors can sleep at ranches linked to pensions and enjoy experiences such as milking, caring for calves and producing dairy products. Here, you will be able to experience being at one with nature as you feel the warmth of animals, smell the earth, and gaze at clouds floating here in there in the vast blue sky.
Address: 15 Kisen-kita, Nakafurano, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido
Access: 7-minute walk from Lavender Batake Station (only some train stop here during summertime) on the JR Furano Line, or a 25-minute walk from Naka-Furano Station
Hakodate: a town with romantic streets, nature and a wealth of appealing foods
The port city of Hakodate, located in the southern part of Hokkaido, is our top tip for those who want an excursion combining enjoyment of beautiful streets and gourmet experiences with the great outdoors. The city has many romantic streets lined with churches and western-style houses, an atmospheric harbor area of shops and restaurants based in remodeled red-brick warehouses, and a beautiful night view from Mount Hakodate that rivals the views of Hong Kong and Naples. Along with its many charms, this popular sightseeing area is also a food paradise with fresh Hokkaido-produced marine, agricultural and livestock products.
The range of delicious foods on offer in the Hakodate area includes ice cream made from fresh milk, reasonably-priced kaisendon (rice topped with seafood) with generous helpings of freshly caught scallops, salted salmon roe, sea urchins and crab from Hakodate Market (one of the three major markets in Hokkaido), and all kinds of other foods served at restaurants throughout the city and prepared mainly with fresh ingredients sourced locally within Hokkaido.
O-numa is just 20 minutes away from Hakodate by train and has been designated as one of the New Three Views of Japan, along with Miho no Matsubara (in Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture) and Yabakei (in Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture). With Komagatake as the backdrop to your adventure, you can set about touring various courses between three islands on the lake, searching for wild birds while taking in the typically Japanese scenery of lakes and marshes, taking a pleasure cruise around O-numa and Konuma, racing across the lake on a motorboat, relaxing on a gently ambling canoe, and taking part in activities such as horse trekking and horse riding lessons at local ranches.
Address: 95-23 Komagatake, Mori-cho, Kayabe-gun, Hokkaido
Pick up available from Onumakoen Station or Komagatake Station on the JR Hakodate Line
Asahiyama Zoo: where visitors can come face to face with massive polar bears and feel the warmth of animals
Arctic polar bears dive underwater when their feeders throw fish into a large glass-sided pool. Here at Asahiyama Zoo, in Hokkaido’s second-largest city of Asahikawa, visitors can see the tremendous strength of these animals at close range as their 400kg-plus, 2m long frames race towards the glass.
This zoo attracts many tourists from overseas, and the secret to its popularity lies in the “behavior displays” where animals’ natural appearances and actions can be seen with vivid clarity. Orangutans, with their long arms and grips that are around 10 times stronger than the grip of a human hand, freely walk through the air while holding on to ropes at 17m above ground. Elsewhere, the penguins that can be seen toddling around on land exhibit great speed as they swim through underwater glass-sided tunnels.
Other must-see attractions include “Chewing Time”, when animals are fed as visitors watch on, including the sight of lions grabbing food provided by staff from the entrances to their cages in the Wild Animals Building. The zoo also provides views of animals from unusual angles, including opportunities of face-to-face encounters with seals as they suddenly appear in cylindrical water tanks. Children and adults alike will be excited as they see familiar animals in new environments that are very close to their natural habitats.
Address: Kuranuma, Higashi-Asahikawa-cho, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido
Access: 40 minutes by bus from Asahikawa Station on the JR Hakodate Main Line, Soya Main Line and Furano Line