Dogsledding, fields of alpine flowers, glaciers, Siberian cuisine and fresh crab. This is Japan North at the 45th parallel.
Welcome to the northernmost point in Japan. So far north that locals can see Russia on a clear day. Spread over more than 800 square km, Wakkanai and its neighbouring islands are home to some of the most spectacular alpine scenery anywhere.
This remote region was home to the Indigenous Japanese Ainu for centuriesbefore the first Japanese settled the area in 1685. Since then, it has been an active trade port, a WWII submarine base—and today, it is a popular location for tourists from Russia’s Far East to visit, eat and shop. While located at the farthest reaches of Japan, Wakkanai’s climate is quite mild, and it will remind many Canadians of home with its cold, snowy winters and warm summers. Despite its faraway location, Wakkanai and its neighbouring islands are well served by trains, planes, ferries, tour buses and public transit.
At the northernmost tip of Japan’snorthernmost city sits Cape Sōya, a scenic,windy coastal park. The ocean views from this cape are some of the most epic in Japan, and visitors enjoy looking across the water to Russia’s Sakhalin Island, located just 43 km from the shore. Not far from the cape sit the Sōya Hills, rolling steppes heavily populated by cows—which produce Mirupisu, a popular local drink made from milk and lactic acid. The region’s unique landscape was formed by glaciers about 10,000 years ago, and travellers flock to watch the hills erupt in owers everysummer. Being a northern destination, the region is also popular for its winter activities—from dogsledding (Japan’s best mushers compete at the Japan Cup National Dogsled Championship, held here annually in February), to warming up in a hot spring bath (or onsen). Bathers sit in fragrant pools overlooking spectacular coastline views of the crowning mountain rising from one of the nearby islands.
Just a few kilometres from Wakkanai sit two islands: Rishiri-tō and Rebun-tō. One of the top holiday destinations in Hokkaido, Rishiri-tō is a part of theRishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park, and home to Mt. Rishiri, a dormant volcano that bears a striking resemblance to Mt. Fuji. Hiking and cycling are some of the top activities on the island, and throngs of tourists descend on the island’s wetlands, gardens and forests when alpine flowers, brilliant orange daylilies and violet keyflowers bloom in June and July. Himenuma, a man-made pond that sits at the foot of the dormant volcano, is a popular destination providing adventurers with a tranquil setting to watch wildlife. Nearby sits the Senboushi-Misaki Coast on the southerntip of Rishiri-tō, where unique rock formations were created by lava flow. Like Rishiri-tō, Rebun-tō is known for itslandscape. Jaw-dropping Cape Sukai, at the northwestern end of the squid-shaped island, inspires visitors with rocky vistas and vast oceanscapes.
Not surprising given the location, the region is famous for its seafood—freshly caught crab, sea urchin, squid, salmon and scallops make for delectable ramen, savoury rice bowls and scrumptious sushi dishes. But the abundance of Siberian cuisine often surprises travellers—with restaurant windows steaming from bowls of borscht and hearty plates piled high with pelmeni (meat dumplings) and tushenaya kapusta (braised cabbage).
From serene rolling hills and rocky coastlines to unexpected cuisine and floral landscapes, Wakkanai and herneighbours, Rishiri-tō and Rebun-tō, invite visitors to experience the best of northern Japan while enjoying a taste of Far East Russia on the side.