It’s been almost a year since I came back from Japan and I still haven’t finished my story about this trip: what a shame, I know!… but at least now we are plunging back to the winter season: let’s say that I almost did it in purpose!
Let’s continue our journey where we stopped, in Sapporo. After these few days of ice and snowy shows, we are heading to the Northeast of the Hokkaido island toward Abashiri (located on the map here).
How to go to Abashiri
We took the early morning train from Sapporo to Abashiri: note that only two trains per day head to this destination. You wouldn’t miss your train!
The trip takes 5:30 hours to get to Abashiri station: then we took another train and a shuttle bus to our hotel.
In the second train we actually missed our stop because, good to know, small Japanese trains only open the front doors at the station.
So you need to get ready in advance to walk toward the first cars of the train to be ready at the next station. We looked so smart waiting behind a door that can’t be opened! Hoping our mistake will be useful and you will avoid waiting in a snowy ghost station.
An icebreaker ship on the Okhotsk sea
The main attraction of Abashiri in winter is the icebreaker tour (open from 9:00 to 3:30pm in average). You should easily find a bus that will take you to the “Aurora terminal”.
From January 20th to April 3rd approximately, the ices from Siberia heads down to the Okhotsk sea along the sea currents, creating a kind of sea ice floes moving toward the north of Japan.
This phenomenon can be seen in Abashiri but the weather can be capricious, so make sure to check the forecast before the tour: blocks can come as multiples (as seen on the pictures) or can be more discreet.
We got extremely lucky that day to be able to admire huge pieces of floating ice on this intense blue water with on top of it beautiful sky and sun. Looking at the pictures it’s clear that we couldn’t have expected any better.
The experience totally convinced us, I wouldn’t have never imagined to see this while being in Japan! You can still check out the icebreaker tour on my highlighted Instagram Story called “Abashiri”.
The Abashiri prison museum
The boat tour takes about one hour, so we had still quite some time left and had the crazy idea to visit the Abashiri prison museum.
You won’t bring back from this place the happiest pictures from your trip but this visit was actually very interesting so it was not a waste of time at all.
The prison was built about 100 years ago. It was moved to another place and it now only remains a museum, which is enough to get a feeling of the rough life conditions the prisoners have had.
The visit follows a map starting from the tribunal to the working areas (the jail was producing its own miso and soy sauce) as well as the imprisonments areas more or less extremes that send shivers down your spine.
The museum is decorated with dummies looking quite realistic, which is impressive (and creepy but Japanese seem to like it) and it’s possible to try a meal the prisoner ate at the restaurant of the museum (grilled fish and miso soup, almost a dream).
The souvenir shop is not forgotten neither (who want handcuffs key-holders?). For those who might be interested: some might find this a bit disturbing: it is… but as for me, I didn’t regret it at all.
Abashiri Tsuruga resort
Our opinion about this hotel is quite mixed: we chose it for its location close from the places we wanted to visit. First we were pretty impressed by the Japanese cottage style but at the end we were disappointed by the food (rare enough to be pointed at in Japan) served on a buffet, quantitative but not really qualitative.
It’s also the kind of hotel where tourists (like us too!) go in mass: looking at the size of the hotel, we could have expected this but it’s good to know if you want to book it. It’s more like a huge resort rather than a calm tiny ryokan.
This being said, the advantage is the organization, with a lot of staff, one spa with onsen bathes (very relaxing anyway). We even spent a few very nice evenings in an empty living-room with a fireplace and marshmallows (to roast!).
We also experienced a hot foot-bath in a small cabin outside in the snow in front of the hotel: we only stayed 2-min but we did it!!
On this pictures I was wearing a traditional yukata from the area (unlike my socks!). And good thing for our luggage, we had a spacious room.
The view from our room
Miso ramen in Abashiri
The restaurant I found is located right next to the Aurora terminal. It’s hard to give you a precise address but try to show this name 麺屋 海嵐 to someone and they might be able to find the place (if it still exists, we never know).
We enjoyed very delicious miso ramen with and without stock, perfectly seasoned and so comforting after this sea trip.
Miso ramen with or without stock at 麺屋 海嵐 restaurant
I hope you liked the visit in Abashiri and it will help you to plan your winter trip in Japan. Coming soon, another destination even more snowy and wild, Shiretoko! (English translation by Quiterie)