How to Enjoy Hokkaido’s Drift Ice
by Megumi Takeda
Many people visit Eastern Hokkaido in February to enjoy the arrival of drift ice. Hokkaido is the southernmost place where drift ice can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere. Drift ice reaches the coast of Hokkaido every year from February to early March. There are many ways to enjoy drift ice such as taking a cruise, horseback riding by the ocean or drift ice walking. Every year, drift ice also brings wildlife such as seals and eagles from the north, which makes Eastern Hokkaido an excellent location for nature watching.
Just the view of the ocean full of drift ice is an impressive spectacle on its own, but it is also very interesting to think about the background of this massive amount of ice. Can you imagine that the drift ice of the Okhotsk Sea forms 1,000 kilometers away in the Amur River on the border between China and Russia? The ice is frozen seawater that is diluted by the water of Amur River and that then drifts all the way to Eastern Hokkaido.
“Drift ice walking” is one of the most popular winter activities of the season in Hokkaido. You will literally walk on the drift ice wearing dry suits, shoes and gloves (You will stay dry and warm inside the suit even if you fall in the water. You can also jump into the water and float with the drift ice if you like). If this sounds too challenging, there are also easier ways to enjoy drift ice, like joining a drift ice cruise. Drift ice is very thick and sometimes seals are laying down on the ice, so you can take a good look at them from the boat!
Drift ice has also had an impact on the local geography. By the city of Abashiri there is a large lake called Lake Abashiri. About 12,000 years ago, drift ice continuously brought sand to the shore, so long that it became a sandbar. This way Lake Abashiri was formed as an inland sea lake. In winter Lake Abashiri freezes completely and both locals and tourists enjoy smelt ice fishing. Local fishermen keep up the tradition way to fish smelt fish. After you catch fish, you can deep fry them on the spot and eat them as “Tempura”!
Drift ice does not attract only tourists but also various wild animals. The drift ice contains Brine which is a high-concentration solution of salt in water. Since brine is heavy, it sinks in deep ocean and it mixes the minerals in ocean. Therefore, Okhotsk Ocean becomes very mineral rich ocean every spring, and this is something that many animals appreciate. You can enjoy various seafood such as Hairy crab, sea urchin, sea scallop, salmon and kelp (Nori) etc. in Eastern Hokkaido.
In addition to drift ice, there is another mineral source in this area. Kushiro river and Kushiro wetland. Minerals come from plants are delivered to the Pacific Ocean via Kushiro river. You can enjoy canoeing and the view of wetland. Sometimes Deer and Japanese “Tancho” red crowned cranes will come to say Hello to you.
There are local airports in Eastern Hokkaido (such as Memambetsu and Kushiro airport), so You can easily get here, and you can learn Eco system and experience the circle of nature!