Hokkaido is probably not the most developed area in Japan, but for many people, that is the main attractiveness. As consequences, the island of Hokkaido is always colder than Japan’s other main islands, and its natural beauty is considered the most intact. Many people love going to Hokkaido as an escapade from hotter and more humid weather, as well as crowded urban jungles. People usually come to Hokkaido in between June and September, where the snow is great to play ski, snowboarding and such. However, if you really look for serious snow, you must come to Abashiri, a city in the eastern Hokkaido coast.
The Drifting Ice of Okhotsk Sea
Okhotsk Sea is the only part of Japan where you can actually ryuhyo, or Abashiri drifting ice. The drifting ice is clearly visible during winter, and usually starts to disappear near spring, around the late of March. The view is spectacular; plates of drifting ice on grey sea under cloudy sky give impression that you are in North Polar, not in Japan. You can use a sightseeing boat to see the drifting ice in the middle of the sea, where the view is more spectacular.
Aurora Sightseeing Boats is the most famous boating company that provides boats to see drifting ice, and so popular it can run its boats five times a day during peak season. Each trip lasts an hour and passenger must pay 3,300 Yen per entry. However, since this tour is so popular, you must order the ticket in advance, usually by online.
Is boating not your cup of tea? Try seeing the drifting ice from Ryuhyo Norokko Train that has retro feeling, or from one of many sightseeing facilities available on the seaside roads. You can use binocular and look at beautiful sea while warming your feet with available feet warmer (very popular in Japan).
Abashiri Prison and Other Tourism Delights
If you want something more educational, visit Abashiri Prison Museum, which once housed around 1,000 prisoners. The prison was built in unique five sided building, and became famous after director Ishii Teruo featured the building in his popular yakuza movies in the sixties. You can take a guided tour around the prison to see display case and prison interior, getting explanations about how prisoners did daily routine. The ticket is around 1,040 Yen, but you can get discount if you order online ticket. You can get unique lunch experience by eating ‘Prison Set’ menu, which is the same menu the prisoners once ate. The menu consists of barley rice, fried mackerel, daikon or Japanese vegetables, noodle salad and miso soup.
However, the prison menu is not the only culinary delights here. You can also enjoy Abashiri Zangi Rice Bowl, which is basically a bowl of rice mixed with seaweed, chicken or salmon from Okhotsk Sea, wasabi and Japanese vegetables. The most famous version is served in a unique cinema themed restaurant near the train station. Another delight is chan yaki, a grilled dish made from Okhotsk salmon, sliced into fillet and eaten with Japanese vegetables.
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