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Beyond the ice horizon: Scenic nature and utasebune boats in Notsuke Peninsula

Beyond the ice horizon: Scenic nature and utasebune boats in Notsuke Peninsula

Located on the east coast of Hokkaido (道東 Dōtō), the Notsuke Peninsula (野付半島 Notsuke-hantō) is a unique environment that is home to all kinds of wild animals and birds. In the winter, an extraordinary phenomenon known as the “Ice Horizon” can be seen here, while in summer and autumn, fresh hokkai shimaebi shrimps are caught using the area’s traditional utasebune fishing boats.  


Gleaming ice fields: Vast and untouched land

(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


Notsuke Peninsula, the largest sand peninsula in Japan, is 26 kilometers long, yet only 50 meters wide at its narrowest point. 


(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


Although the Notsuke Bay (野付湾 Notsuke-wan) is directly connected to the sea, its inland position means that in the depths of winter, the entire water’s surface freezes over, creating a flat white plain that stretches out as far as the eye can see. 


(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


As the Notsuke Peninsula is a sandspit with no other land features in sight, the bright blue sky and the pure white of the snow-covered ice meet directly at the horizon, creating an ethereal world of blue and white. 


(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


The sight alone is incredible, but walking out onto the frozen surface of the ice is something else! For an unforgettable visit, hire a local guide between January and March and head off via snowshoes or snowmobile to explore this expansive landscape. While surrounded by the icy panorama, be sure to take advantage of the unique natural backdrop for some creative photographic endeavors.


Gleaming waters: Fishing for shimaebi

The Notsuke Peninsula's utasebune fishing boats were selected as Hokkaido Heritage in 2004. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


If you are visiting the Notsuke Peninsula during summer and autumn, keep your eyes peeled for the unique traditional fishing boats which are used by fishermen to catch the Hokkai Shimaebi Shrimp (北海シマエビ).


The Eelgrass (a type of seaweed) which grows naturally off the coast of East Hokkaido and in the waters of the Notsuke inlet and the Notsuke Bay is the perfect habitat and feeding ground for the native Hokkai Shimaebi.


In order to protect the natural habitat of the ocean and prevent the exhaustion of the Hokkai Shimaebi, regular surveys are carried out—the data of which is then used to decide upon the amount of shrimp which can be sustainably fished that year, meaning that opportunities to taste this rare delicacy are quite scarce. Fishing for Hokkai Shimaebi can only be carried out twice per-year, in the early summer (mid-June to mid-July) and autumn (mid-October to mid-November).


The Notsuke Peninsula's utasebune fishing boats were selected as Hokkaido Heritage in 2004. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


The boats used for fishing Hokkai Shimaebi are called utasebune (打瀬船). These traditional boats, the use of which dates back over 100 years to the latter half 1800s, are an important part of Hokkaido’s cultural heritage. Using triangular shaped jib sails, the boats are propelled entirely by wind power. With no propeller, the boat’s design prevents damage to the Eelgrass which inhabits the shallow waters of the Notsuke Bay, which is less than 5m deep in some areas.


Fishermen work independently on the small Utasebune, which can only carry one passenger at a time. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


These boats are very small, meaning that only one fisherman can board each boat at one time. From deciding which area to fish that day, to how to raise the boat’s sails to take best advantage of the weather conditions, as well as deciding which of the smaller shrimp should be thrown back into the ocean, the fisherman must make many important decisions alone.


Hokkai Shimaebi shrimps have a distinct, sweet flavour. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


The shrimp which inhabit the east coast of Hokkaido are free-range, living entirely off of the seaweed which grows naturally in the area. The shrimps' pure and uncontaminated food source are what give the Hokkai Shimaebi their unique, sweet taste.


During the fishing season many photographers visit the area, hoping to capture the picturesque view of these beautiful boats floating serenely upon the water’s surface.


(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization) 


In short, regardless of season, Notsuke Peninsula offers breathtaking sceneries and unique experiences that are unfounded elsewhere. Just don’t forget your cameras!


Notsuke Peninsula (野付半島)
Address: Notsuke, Betsukai, Notsuke-gun, Hokkaido 086-1645
Nearest station: Attoko Station (厚床駅)
Access: 1-hour drive from the station


This article is written in collaboration with Hokkaido Tourism Organization.
Header image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization.


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