Venturing Out Across the Drift Ice of Hokkaido, Land of the Ainu
Hokkaido Japan is well known for its natural beauty and untouched areas teeming with wildlife, as well as great skiing and Indigenous Ainu culture. Enjoy this ideal taste of Hokkaido in this carefully curated itinerary.
- 2Diving Below Shiretoko Ice
- 3Kawayu Onsen
- 4Akan Ainu Kotan
- 5Hikari no Mori
- 7Tanaka Sake Brewery Kikkogura
Arriving at the winter wonderland of Hokkaido
Your journey starts off as you arrive at Memanbetsu Airport in Ōzora, Hokkaido, Japan. Get your first glimpse of Hokkaido’s rugged coast and picturesque snow-covered landscapes as you approach the runway. Japan’s wild northernmost island and home of abundant natural resources, Hokkaido, boasts of hundreds of brown bears and thousands of Stellar’s Eagles. Perhaps you’ll spot one as you transfer to the exquisite Kitakobushi Shiretoko Hotel & Resort. Upon arrival, have a relaxing soak in the world class onsen and a lovely dinner of fresh sashimi or perfectly prepared Wagyu beef paired with an elegant wine.
Adventure on drift ice
Awake to the rugged beauty of the Shiretoko Peninsula, the wild coast of Hokkaido made up of empty beaches and tall cliffs. Enjoy a relaxing morning with Japanese fare such as hot miso soup or a western breakfast, a cup of green tea or coffee and pastries in the award-winning bakery. After breakfast, spend the rest of the morning taking a leisurely soak in the onsen. After a bento- or izakaya-style lunch, get ready to head out into the Hokkaido winter. Your expert guide will take you on a 2 km hike on ice formations blown to the shore from rivers in Russia, winding through drift-ice formations upwards of 3 meters in height. Don a dry suit for warmth and float weightlessly in the frigid waters..
Arrive back at the hotel and warm your toes in the foot onsen, or if you haven’t had enough of the cold, check out the Shiretoko Drift Ice Festival. As the day comes to a close, swap stories over a multi-course kaiseki dinner and warm local sake.
The majesty of nature and onsens
Leave the hotel and return to the great Hokkaido outdoors. Go snowshoeing in Shiretoko National Park to view the marvelous frozen Furepe waterfall, or, if you are an experienced drysuit diver, drive to the east side of the peninsula for a morning of drift ice diving.
In the afternoon, transfer to Kawayu Onsen, driving through farm and forest. En route, you’ll see Mt. Iwo, an active volcano that was once mined for Sulphur, but today is a protected area and home to thriving plant life.
Tonight, you will stay at the quaint ryokan style Kinkiyu hotel. Enjoy the strong mineral onsen in the hotel before indulging in an elegant kaiseki dinner. In the evening, you will experience the moving Ainu Contemporary Performance Show, connecting modern sounds with the ancient rhythms of Hokkaido’s original culture.
Getting to know indigenous Hokkaido culture
After a restful night’s sleep, partake in a simple and tasty Japanese breakfast and prepare to depart for another day of cultural adventure. This morning you will be learning about local Teshikaga pottery and learning how to make a tea mug from Hokkaido clay under the direction of local artisans. After this, head to a neighborhood kitchen to try the local flavor by making your own buckwheat pancake and egg lunch (or a satisfying vegan alternative) with farm-fresh ingredients!
After lunch, you will take a relaxing drive to the Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga resort hotel. Upon arrival, head out to take a walk around the local Ainu village on the shore of Lake Akan, where you will see local crafts and traditional Ainu artifacts. Lake Akan is situated in Akan National Park and is known for its rare green ball-shaped marimo algae and easy walking trails through sulfur springs and mud pots. Keep an eye out for the red-crowned (or tancho) cranes, seen as a symbol of prosperity in Japan.
Wind down with a savory and bountiful buffet dinner, and nightcaps by firelight in the relaxing Apaso Lounge.
Today’s adventure options include a guided fat bike tour through the Akan forest or trekking in Hikari no Mori, a private estate owned by the Maeda Ippoen Foundation dedicated to preserving the forest of Akan, guided by expert local guides from Siri Adventure Base. For lunch, feel free to search for a local noodle shop or izakaya.
In the afternoon, spend your free time unwinding at the luxurious onsen, or head out to play on the frozen lake. Enjoy an authentic dinner of Hokkaido-style ramen at the hotel’s dedicated ramen bar, or try one of the many local restaurants within walking distance of your lodging. While you are out, you can also attend a traditional Ainu dance performance.
Crane dances and a night on the town
Bid farewell to the hotel and head to the Akan International Crane Center. Make sure to see the winter nesting grounds of the Japanese crane, fabled to live for 1,000 years, on your way to the train station. Once at the station, board the limited express for the 4-hour train ride to Sapporo Station. Onboard, relax and unwind in your premium seat with food and drink while chatting and networking with fellow travelers.
Once you arrive at Sapporo Station, you’ll head to Sapporo Park Hotel, just a 20-minute drive away. Dinner will be at a local izakaya in Susukino, Sapporo’s bustling entertainment district. In contrast to the vast natural landscape of Hokkaido, Sapporo’s urban atmosphere offers a rich taste of Japanese culture, known for its exciting nightlife, street food vendors, and world-famous namesake beer.
Back with modern civilization
Wrap up your tour of Hokkaido by exploring the cities of Sapporo and Otaru, starting with a tour of Sapporo’s Takaragawa Sake Brewery, including sake tasting! After whetting your whistle with freshly-brewed sake, head to Otaru-Fukuzushi for a lunch sushi-making experience, followed by a walk around the quaint port city of Otaru and a visit to the local Shinto shrine. The Sapporo Beer Museum and beer garden restaurant is the perfect finale for your week in Hokkaido. Finish the evening with generous mugs of locally brewed Sapporo beer and lamb barbecue.
It’s time to say sayonara to Japan’s winter wonderland as you travel for an hour and a half to the Shin-Chitose Airport, where you will board your plane back home.
If you love to ski, consider staying longer in Hokkaido and trying some of the best powder skiing in the world. Try one of the local ski hills within the Sapporo city limits, or travel to nearby Niseko Resort, Furano, or Kiroro, all boasting miles of powder runs.