EASTERN HOKKAIDO

Natural marvels of snow and ice

Eastern Hokkaido is a huge area that spreads from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the Pacific Ocean in the south and includes the cities of Abashiri, Obihiro, Kushiro, and Nemuro. Snow travelers to the region can visit some spectacular natural sights including Shiretoko Peninsula, Kushiro Marsh, Lake Akan with its rare marimo algae balls, and the ultra-clear Lake Mashu. Like many areas in Hokkaido, local produce is tasty and extremely fresh, so be sure to try some — especially the seafood in Kushiro, one of Japan’s leading fishing ports.

Highlights

  • Sightseeing, skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports at Lake Akan
  • The opportunity to see rare red-crowned cranes
  • The enchanting winter scenery of Lake Mashu
  • A taste of Kushiro’s famous katte-don seafood rice bowl
  • Drift ice on the Sea of Okhotsk coast

The beauty and winter sports of Lake Akan

Lake Akan is about an hour from Kushiro, the largest city in eastern Hokkaido. The spectacular beauty of Lake Akan and the opportunity for winter sports make the area a popular snow destination.

Akan Lakeside National Ski Area is a small, local resort with great snow quality and picturesque scenery overlooking Lake Akan. With beginner-friendly slopes and a snow-fun area for non-skiers, it’s a recommended resort for first-time skiers and snowboarders. On the lake itself, you can go ice skating on a natural rink or try your hand at ice fishing.

The beauty and winter sports of Lake Akan
The beauty and winter sports of Lake Akan

Kushiro’s red-crowned cranes and delicious seafood

Kushiro is the largest city in eastern Hokkaido and a great base to explore the wider region. Kushiro Marsh, a Ramsar Convention-registered wetland, is one of the world’s best places to view the rare red-crested crane. Nature-lovers flock to the area to see the cranes’ signature unison dance on the snowy wetlands.

Kushiro’s red-crowned cranes and delicious seafood

Kushiro is located on the Pacific Ocean meaning it hauls in one of the biggest seafood catches in Hokkaido. The cold waters in winter make the catches particularly tasty. Kushiro’s signature dish is katte-don — katte roughly means “help yourself, as you like.” Head to Washo Market to try the rice bowl delicacy. Buy a bowl filled with white rice and load the top with whatever seafood catches your eye from around the market.

Take in the sparkling blue of Lake Mashu

Lake Mashu is a deep caldera lake best known for its remarkably clear, blue waters. Its 20 kilometer circumference is ringed with dramatic, sheer cliff faces. When covered with pure white snow, they create a striking contrast with the lake’s sapphire hue.

Just to the north, Kaminoko Pond is fed with underground runoff from Lake Mashu and takes on the same brilliant blue color. If you are interested in exploring the area around the pond on two feet, join one of the snowshoe tours that take place in February.

Drift ice on the Okhotsk Coast

About 150 kilometers due north of Kushiro is the Sea of Okhotsk, famous for its winter drift ice. The ice floes form when chunks of ice from the Amur River, on the border of Russia and China, drift into the sea and then continue to grow as they float toward Japan. Drift ice begins to appear in late January. The best way to experience drift ice is on an icebreaker cruise — the Aurora from Abashiri or the Garinko 2 from Monbetsu.

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