Abashiri Travel Guide
While it may appear to be an unremarkable fishing port at first glance, Abashiri is a popular travel destination for domestic tourists for the oddest of reasons: its frigid winters. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, when you consider the bulk of the Japanese population lives on the much milder islands to the south and west.
Come check out our Abashiri travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Abashiri, Japan.
There are many museums to tour while in the Abashiri area, but if you are tight on time, make the Abashiri Prison Museum your first stop. The only institution of its kind in all of Japan, it will shed light on how prisoners were incarcerated and rehabilitated in past generations.
Built in the late 19th century, it was initially the place where the country sent its most dangerous criminals, as well as its most troublesome political prisoners. This building became a museum after a modernization drive in the 1980s saw its population moved into ones more in keeping with the times.
Here, you will learn about the daily lives of prisoners in prior generations, which included building roads in what was once an island without this sort of infrastructure. Additionally, you’ll get to see their cells, the dolls they made as part of their work duties, and how they were punished for disobedience.
While there are English captions, we recommend making use of the tour guide on staff, as they will provide the context needed to make your visit a deeply educational one.
The island of Hokkaido was once a wilderness, sparsely populated by only indigenous people who lived in harmony with this tough land and its climate. Learn about the Ainu during your visit to Abashiri, as well as their cousins who made a living in the high latitudes at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples.
This attraction will make an impression on you right from the get-go, as you’ll be greeted by a Woolly Mammoth statue soon after entering the museum. While small, it contains info on how the Northern indigenous groups of Japan, Eurasia, and North America managed to not just survive, but thrive in a seemingly inhospitable land.
In its exhibits, you’ll find traditional clothing, weapons, tools used to hunt and fish, and implements used in religious and spiritual ceremonies.
Being one of the most northerly communities in all of Japan makes Abashiri a sought-after destination, especially in the dead of winter. When the temperature sinks to -20 degrees Celsius and below, the Sea of Okhotsk begins to freeze, creating floes of drift ice.
This process and other matters related to this ocean during the winter months are covered by the Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum. You’ll want to bundle up before heading inside, though, as the interior temperature is kept at -15 degrees to create an immersive experience for museum attendees.
Within, you’ll get to touch real drift ice, see animals native to the Abashiri Coast (both in aquariums and as taxidermied models), and watch a documentary on life here during the winter, among other things.
On top of all this, you’ll get taught a cool trick, as they will give you a damp towel to spin around in the cold room (spoiler alert: it turns stiff as a rock), and on the roof, you can sample food made from products native to the region as you look out over the coast.
Want to learn more about the past lives of local indigenous peoples? Stop by the Moyoro Kaizuka-kan Museum if you have time. Partially built over the ruins of a former settlement, you’ll get to check a shell mound that was once a cemetery for residents aeons ago.
Love lighthouses and sea views? Make sure that Cape Notoro is included on your itinerary during your visit to Abashiri. Consisting of a massive area of parkland behind a lighthouse situated on a bluff 21 metres above the sea, it is a blissful place to spend an hour or so in the summer, and one of the best spots for austere views of the pack ice in winter.
Visiting Hokkaido in the fall? Make sure you make time for Lake Notoro while sightseeing around the Abashiri area. A saltwater lagoon separated from the Sea of Okhotsk by a sandbar, it is famous for its abundance of coral grass.
While unremarkable in summer, the arrival of autumn is heralded by the turning of this plant from green to a dark crimson red, making it a remarkable sight for nature lovers and photographers alike.
Those who love the outdoors will want to spend an afternoon canoeing the waters of Lake Abashiri. As you do, keep an eye open for ducks, grey herons, and white-tailed eagles, among other avian species.
Finally, take a long drive along the Abashiri Coast if time and cost permits. Its many beaches, bays, and cliffs make for scenic vistas that nature lovers will enjoy. In winter, join the Japanese on an icebreaker cruise, which will take you out into the frigid midst of the pack ice which locks up the coast for months at a time.