Going farther north than Wakkanai (稚内) and Cape Soya (宗谷岬) would be quite difficult as they are the northernmost points of Japan. What’s after? Russia. But Wakkanai is not just the northernmost city of Japan, it is also the northernmost city you can access by train, and the only one I have seen where signs are translated both in English and Russian.
Wakkanai is located at the border between the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. Given that it is a fisher town, the first thing you can do is to visit the port to see fishing boats and maybe some military ones as the city is also a military base. Wakkanai was actually far enough in the north to be safe from the American missiles during the World War II. If you are heading north to check this area out, here are some spots to see and things to do.
A five-minute walk away from Wakkanai Station (稚内駅), this huge dome has been built to protect the port from strong winds and rough waves! It is not for nothing that Wakkanai is called the “Wind Town.” But here is a secret: originally, this structure was used as a submarine repair facility during the World War II! Today, however, nothing remains to testify of this use.
Once you’re here, you can also enjoy a walk on the rampart, and at night, the dome is illuminated.
Situated 30 minutes by walk from Wakkanai Station, or 10 minutes by bus, Cape Noshappu is the place of the tallest lighthouse in Hokkaido and the second tallest in Japan. Close by is a park with a dolphin monument called Esandomari Fishing Harbor, a well-known place to watch the sunset. On a clear day, you also may be able to see Rishiri Island (利尻島) from here.
A two-minute walk from Esandomari Fishing Harbor is a building that comprises an aquarium and a science museum. The Noshappu Aquarium shows different fish living in cold water, which is very interesting and completely different from the usual colorful fish that we see in regular aquariums. However, it is very small, and so are the pools, which can be a bit sad. But they have some sea angels and I did enjoy looking at the seals in their frozen pool. They looked as if they were swimming in mojito! Plus, they have a seal show during summertime.
The museum part, even if not translated into English, is very funny. They have several displays on topics such as space and ecology, a polar expedition with sled dogs, a room with a lot of fossils, and the best part, science experiments! They are mostly made for kids, but not forbidden to adults who wants some educational fun.
Admission to both of these places costs 500 yen per adult.
Rishiri and Rebun are two uninhabited islands that you can access by boat from Wakkanai. There are tour buses available to have a look around and a few tourist attractions. I haven’t been there so I cannot say a lot except that they look absolutely gorgeous!
Want to go even farther north than Wakkanai? 30 kilometers east of the town is Cape Soya, the northern point of Japan where you can see plenty of monuments: the Monument of the Northernmost Point, a music monument, a statue of Rinzo Mamiya (間宮林蔵), two peace bells, and also a former Navy watchtower and lighthouse.
From the cape, you will also be able to see the island of Sakhalin i.e. Russia. And if you want to walk, the hills behind are there for you! There’s also the Cape Soya Wind Farm with its 57 wind turbines.
Please note, however, that it might be hard to go to Cape Soya by public transport as the train stops in Wakkanai. There are some local buses but they don’t run often, so I think taking a car would be the best way to go there.
For more things to do in and around Wakkanai, check this article.
Well, by train! But be aware, there is no Shinkansen going up there, so you will have to use the local trains. There is a limited express that goes straight from Sapporo to Wakkanai. Travel time takes a minimum of five hours and costs between 8,000 yen and 11,000 yen.
By car, it’s about five to seven hours of driving. The road along the coast is very pretty and very close to the sea! There is another road going through the mountains, but travel time will take longer.
If taking the train or driving a car seems too long for you, Wakkanai has an airport. However, flights can be very expensive.
Here is a table to summarize everything:
|Mode of Transport||Travel Time||Estimated Price in Yen|
|train||minimum 5 hours||8,000 to 11,000|
|car||around 7 hours||gas cost|
|plane||between 2 to 3 hours||around 26,000|
If you want a break and need a place to sit and relax, the train station is the right place to go! More than a train station, it is a real event center as there is a restaurant and a cinema. Upstairs, you will find a big space with tables, free Wi-Fi, and a kids’ room with many things to play with. Feel free to go!
I have been to Wakkanai and Cape Soya during winter. It was a windy day and there was ice everywhere on the ground. I can say I experienced the “Windy Town!” Despite the weather, I really enjoyed this place and I cannot say anything else other than Wakkanai is a great city to spend a day in and Cape Soya is a great place to stop on the road!