Our Top 5 Recommended Winter Activities in Eastern Hokkaido!
by HTIT team
#1) Visit Kushiro to see the majestic Red-Crowned Japanese Cranes!
If you’re interested in birdwatching, there’s no better place to visit than Eastern Hokkaido!
The elegant red-crowned Japanese Cranes have been an iconic symbol throughout Japanese history, representing longevity and good luck. These beautiful creatures are known for having monogamous romantic relationships, which is why they often appear on wedding décor, such as formal wedding Kimonos! In ancient times, the red-crowned cranes also appeared in many folk tales and were a reoccurring theme in Japanese art, such as woodblock prints, ink wash paintings and decorated fusuma (sliding doors in traditional Japanese rooms). When visiting Kushiro, make sure to stop by at one of the crane sanctuaries. Although still an endangered species, thanks to these establishments the cranes that were once on the verge of extinction due to overhunting, are now slowly beginning to increase in population. Watching these majestic birds come in for landing with their massive wing span and graceful movement is quite a sight! They’ll have you birdwatching for hours! As the cranes are known for their lifelong romantic partnerships, with a little luck and good timing, you may even be able to observe their courtship process, which consists of a “love dance.” The cranes can be seen posing, bowing and leaping high into the air. Enjoy!
#2) Take a walk on Drift Ice over the frozen Sea of Okhotsk!
This is definitely one of the most thrilling and unique activities to experience in Hokkaido! In late January, massive blocks of ice start to appear off Hokkaido’s Northeastern coast, including the Shiretoko Peninsula. The ice drifts across the Sea of Okhotsk from northeast Russia, and makes its way to Hokkaido, creating a surreal environment for you to explore! What better way to experience the Ryuhyo (Drift Ice), than to literally go out and walk on it! The “Shiretoko Drift Ice Walk” allows participants to wear special dry suits and actually venture out onto the ice floes. You’ll be surprised at how comfortable you are in your dry suit! Have fun like a kid again, carefully watching your foot placement and jumping from one ice floe to the other! There may even be some swimming involved depending on the timing of your trip and how much solid ice there is. Take note that the window is short and the best time to experience the “Ice Walk” is from early February to late March. Don’t miss this unique opportunity!
#3) Experience nature offshore! Including the magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle!
Shiretoko is well-known as one of the most breathtaking places in Japan, registered as a World Heritage Site, thanks to the well-preserved nature and abundance of wildlife. Winter is a special season as the sea off the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula becomes covered with drift ice attracting birds and animals from all over the world! This is your chance to see Sea Eagles and Steller’s Sea Eagles flocking in a picturesque world of ice. Steller’s Sea Eagles live in coastal areas in northeastern Asia and mainly prey on fish and water birds. They can weigh anywhere from 5 to 9 kilograms! These beautiful birds own the sky and glide with grace. Come and experience the scene for yourself aboard the “Evergreen” tour boat for a comfortable Drift Ice Cruise, and be amazed at the powerful presence of these truly magnificent birds.
#4) Serene winter canoeing surrounded by frost covered trees!
If you’re looking for an inspiring outdoor activity, winter canoeing in Kushiro is for you! Bundle up in outdoor winter gear and set off downstream the Kushiro wetlands for a life-changing adventure. Private tours are available, which means you get to experience the quiet, calm environment to the fullest! You’ll be surprised at how quiet it can get in the wild and how clear the sound of birds fills the air. One of the spectacular characteristics in Kushiro’s wilderness is the dreamy frost covered trees. When the temperature drops below -10C the trees and bushes become covered in hoarfrost looking truly magnificent against the pure blue skies. Kushiro is also well-known for its fog and on cold mornings the Kushiro River comes alive with swirling fog creating a fairy-tail like atmosphere. We can’t recommend this activity highly enough!
#5) Sea Urchin Shucking in Eastern Hokkaido!
Hokkaido is a seafood paradise and a very special place for seafood lovers. Do you like Uni (Sea Urchin)? Shakotan and Eastern Hokkaido are both famous areas known for offering the most delicious sea urchin in all of Hokkaido. Take note that the season for sea urchin is different depending on the area. For example, the best time for sea urchin in Shakotan is in June, whereas Eastern Hokkaido is in winter. Have you ever tried shucking sea urchin? Meet with your local guide and get an inside tour on how sea urchin makes its way from cultivation to the table. You’ll also get to try shucking your own sea urchin and prepare your own savory “Uni Don” sea urchin bowl! Talk about an ultimate seafood experience! To all the sea food lovers out there, this is definitely one of the best winter activities to do in Hokkaido as it doesn’t get any fresher than this!