Winter is approaching, and if you are looking to explore the snowy northern areas of Japan, you are at the right place. Okhotsk Sea lies to the north of Hokkaido encircled by Russian territory in the Pacific Ocean. It is considered as the coldest sea in East Asia. In winter, the temperatures go below -20 degrees Celsius which make the sea covered with drift ice. Okhotsk Sea is certainly a paradise for the winter adventurer in you. Many tourists visit the northern coast of Hokkaido to witness some of the coolest festivals and to enjoy the total atmosphere. Here are 5 things that you can do in Hokkaido near the Okhotsk Sea.
Watching drift ice is a must-try activity when you are in Hokkaido during winter. The most happening season would be from January to March. Many visitors flock to places such as Abashiri and Monbetsu to embark cruises that take them around. If you are lucky enough, you can witness animals such as sea lions and seagulls swimming between the ice sheets.
One of the popular sightseeing cruise boats that you can get aboard is the Garinko-go Icebreaker. The boarding point of the ship is located at the Monbetsu Port which can be easily reached by bus. There are many tour companies that can arrange cruises for you in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. It is advised to make reservations in advance due to the amount of popularity these cruises already have among visitors. Reservations can be done in either Japanese or English at the Monbetsu Port.
The fares are reasonable enough to gain a decent cruising experience for you and your family. These cruise ships usually have a drill to break the ice and one can witness this unique ice-crushing on the go.
The Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum of Hokkaido GIZA is located in Monbetsu City, Hokkaido. This museum is a great spot for people who are interested in experiencing the drift ice all year round. The whole museum is set in an atmosphere similar to that of the Okhotsk Sea. One can also witness the formation of drift ice at temperatures set at -20 degrees Celsius.
There is a huge botanical garden and aquarium where different species of flowers native to the sea and different species of frozen animals are put on display. The highlight of this museum is a dome-shaped 360-degree audiovisual theater called “Astrovision” where magnificent views of the Okhotsk Sea, including its flora and fauna, are displayed. Other attractions include the display of Clione, a type of cute sea mollusks nicknamed as “sea angels.”
The Mombetsu Okhotsk Tower is a four-storey drift ice observatory located near the Garinko-go boarding point at the Monbetsu Port. One can get a fantastic and picturesque panoramic view of the Okhotsk Sea from the tower that would certainly make for a memorable experience.
What makes this place even more special is that one can see drift ice from underneath the basement of the tower. In fact, it is the only drift ice observatory in the entire world that can give you this chance.
They also have a shop where you can pick your souvenirs and a cafe. The tower is definitely a must-visit if you are looking to watch the drift ice and capture the beauty of the Okhotsk Sea.
Drift ice festivals are conducted in Hokkaido every February in the coastal towns of Abashiri and Monbetsu. Different skillfully carved structures made of ice attract thousands of visitors from around the world. These structures are lit in colors during the night.
For 2017, the Abashiri Okhotsk Drift Ice Festival will be held from February 10 to 12.
As for the case of the Monbetsu Drift Ice Festival, an official announcement of the dates is yet to be made, but you can check the Mombetsu Tourist Association website (Japanese only) for updates.
During the festivals, the streets of Abashiri and Monbetsu are lined with souvenir shops and food stalls. These festivals are definitely worth visiting at least once in a lifetime. The night views would leave an unforgettable memory in your minds. Also, many tourists visit the Okhotsk area via Sapporo; so might as well check out the Sapporo Snow Festival around the same time.
Okhotsk waters are very rich in unique marine life such as the snow crab, thus Monbetsu City is especially famous for delicacies such as the kani-don, a rice bowl topped with crab. The sea is also famous for whale watching and whale meat (kujira) is available in restaurants across the city of Abashiri.
If looking for a small fishing trip, one can go to a port town called Utoro in the Shiretoko Peninsula of Eastern Hokkaido. Utoro is famous for salmon and trout dishes and an abundance of freshwater fish can be found in this place.
In the frozen lake of Abashiri, one can do smelt ice fishing, a type of fishing through holes in the ice. One needs to drill the ice and use a bait and a hook to catch the smelts.
Some of the things aforementioned such as visiting the Ice Museum, climbing the Okhotsk Tower, and fishing in the sea waters can be performed even in the summer season. The Okhotsk region is also famous for adventurous sports such as skiing, snowkiting, ice climbing, snow kayaking, ice diving, and much more. One can have an adventure camp here and have an adrenaline rush. There are agencies that can arrange these adventure trips for anyone.
These are just some of the things to do in Hokkaido near the Okhotsk Sea. Do pay a visit to the region between the months of December and March to have a perfect winter trip.