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Do-riving in Central and Eastern Hokkaido: Highlights from a self-drive itinerary

Do-riving in Central and Eastern Hokkaido: Highlights from a self-drive itinerary

Although I have been living in Japan for quite awhile now, every time I come across photos online of people riding their motorbike or having a self-drive in Hokkaido (北海道), I feel a sense of envy. It was also my dream to drive (or be driven) leisurely along the roads of Hokkaido, enjoying the countryside view, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. I am sure many of you must have seen pictures of the roads in Hokkaido. Just like Singapore, roads are straight and wide in Hokkaido—quite unlike in Tokyo, where most of the roads were so curvy. Driving in Hokkaido can also be very exciting because you not only need to look out for cars and pedestrians, but you also need to watch out for bears, deers, and boars dashing out of nowhere. 



Our route for our 5 days 4 nights self-drive trip. (Image credit: Wanping / © 2021 Google)


Hokkaido is divided into 4 regions: Southern (道南 Dōnan), Central (道央 Dō-Ō), Northern (道北 Dōhoku) and Eastern (道東 Dōtō). This time, my partner and I took a drive around the Central and Eastern regions of Hokkaido. We boarded a domestic flight from Haneda Airport to New Chitose Airport (新千歳空港 Shin-Chitose Kūkō), the international and domestic airport of Hokkaido. Note that we wanted to start our drive from Sapporo City (札幌市 Sapporo-shi) which is why we flew into New Chitose Airport. You can alternatively opt to start your self-drive trip from any domestic airport in Hokkaido. It would be difficult to write about the entire self-drive trip in detail, so I will be picking up the highlights of the trip and sharing them here in this article. 


Sankaku Ichiba

Crab galore at Sankaku Shijyo. Left: Crab miso soup that costs less than $5 (left), and a steamed hairy crab (right). (Image credit: Wanping)


We took the earliest flight out of Haneda Airport (羽田空港 Haneda Kūkō) and arrived at Sapporo at about 7:30am. Right after that, we went to pick up our rental car and set off on our journey. All of us were very hungry as we didn’t manage to have breakfast, so we drove straight to Otaru (小樽). There is a local fish market called Sankaku Market (三角市場 Sankaku ichiba) that islocated right next to Otaru Station (小樽駅 Otaru-eki), so it’s also accessible if you travel by train. There are eat-in restaurants where you can select the seafood you want, and they will cook it for you on the spot. The crabs were so fresh that they tasted so great even though they were only steamed. I recommend everyone to try this hairy crab when you come to Japan! The meat is sweet and it’s a variety that you cannot get in Singapore. 


Otaru is a port, so it is a great opportunity to have fresh seafood. On a separate trip, I distinctly remember having very delicious sushi from a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. 


Sankaku Ichiba (三角市場)
Address: 3-10-16 Inaho, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0032
Nearest Station: Otaru Station (小樽駅)
Access: 3-minute walk from station
Opening hours: 6am–5pm (Dine-in is from 7am–5pm)
Admission free: Free
Tel: +81-134-23-2446


Farm Tomita

From left to right: Fresh lavender at Farm Tomita, seasonal flowers in full bloom, my happy self seeing that the flowers were still colourful. (Image credit: Wanping)


Next up, we drove up to Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛) where they are famous for their flowers. We visited Farm Tomita (ファーム富田), most famous for its lavender in summer. I was initially very worried that all of the colourful flowers would be gone by autumn, so I was so relieved to see them still in bloom. Late September and early October may be a good idea to visit Hokkaido as you can enjoy seasonal flowers and autumn foliage. As we were beginners in self-driving at Hokkaido, we didn’t realise at that time that we could drive to Biei and Furano via Yubari (夕張). We would encourage people to drive through Yubari next time, and if the famous Yubari melons are in season, please do try them. There are many all-you-can-eat melon buffets when the melons are readily available. They would definitely be the cheapest and freshest Yubari melons you can ever get!


Farm Tomita (ファーム富田)
Address: 15-go Kisen Kita, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido 071-0704
Nearest station (Summer): Lavender Farm Station (ラベンダー畑駅)
Access (Summer): 7-minute walk from station
Nearest station: Nakafurano Station (中富良野駅)
Access: 25-minute walk from station
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
Admission fee: Free
Tel: +81-167-39-3939


Abashiri Prison Museum

At Abashiri Prison Museum. (Image credit: Wanping)


We spent our second night at Lake Saroma (サロマ湖 Saroma-ko), the largest lake in Japan. Lake Saroma is one of the largest producers of fresh scallops, so on our second night, we had a buffet of scallops prepared in many ways. My favourite was and still is the scallops pan-fried with butter and soy sauce. The next morning, we set off to visit Abashiri Prison (網走刑務所 Abashiri Keimusho). This prison opened in1890, and it is the only prison museum in Japan. As you can tell in the photos above, it must have been unbearably cold during winter time in this prison...


Abashiri Prison Museum (博物館 網走監獄)  
Address: 1-1, Aza Yobito, Abashiri, Hokkaido 099-2421
Nearest Station: Abashiri Station (網走駅)
Access: 40-minute walk, 7-minute drive by car or 10-minute bus ride
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
Admission fee: ¥1,100 (Adults), ¥770 (Senior high school/ college student), ¥550 (Elementary / junior high school student / elderly and the disabled)
*Opening hours may vary depending on the season
Tel: +81-152-45-2411


Shiretoko Goko Lakes

At Shiretoko National Park, taken from the sightseeing boat and from the walking platforms. (Image credit: Wanping)


After Abashiri, we drove up to Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園 Shiretoko Kokuritsu Kōen), one of Japan's most beautiful and unspoiled national parks. No roads lead further than about three fourths up the peninsula, and the northern tip can only be viewed from boats or be reached on multi-day trekking tours. It was a very windy day when we took the boat around the northern tip. The weather in Hokkaido is absolutely wonderful, and nature turns out beautifully on cameras—these photos were not edited at all! The National Park is extremely vast, so we only visited Cape Shiretoko (知床岬 Shiretoko-misaki) and the Shiretoko Goko Lakes (知床五湖). At Shiretoko Goko, there is an elevated boardwalk constructed so you can have a leisurely stroll around the park. I would highly recommend people who are interested in nature and photography to visit Shiretoko. 

Shiretoko Goko Lakes (知床五湖)
Address: 186-10 Utoro-Nishi, Shari-cho, Shari-gun, Hokkaido 099-4356
Nearest station: Shiretoko Shari Station (知床斜里駅)
Access: 40km from Shiretoko Shari Station, buses are available
Tel: +81-152-24-3323 


In this memorable self-drive trip to Hokkaido, we ate crabs and ice cream every day. I guess Hokkaido does really live up to its reputation of being a heaven for seafood and dairy products. Planning self-drive trips is a good way to enjoy Japan at your own pace, especially in a place like Hokkaido where the roads are not as crowded and are relatively straight and wide. We would recommend everyone to keep the driving distance to less than 250km per day, or you might end up spending too much time in the car. It is also a good idea to start out early in the mornings, as Japan gets dark early during autumn and winter, and it may be too dangerous to be driving in mountainous areas in low light conditions. All the best in planning your own self-drive tour in Japan! 


Header image credit: Wanping


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