Getting There

What was said for Okinawa is true of Hokkaido as well: since Japan’s northernmost island is significantly further away from the major population centers of Japan, you'll have to make some major decisions right up front: primarily, how to get there, both ways. For those with loads of time and not much money, there’s a great option: the Shin-Nihonkai Ferry, which goes from several locations on Honshu (Maizuru, Tsuruga and Niigata on the Japan Sea coast) all the way to several points on Hokkaido (notably Otaru near Sapporo and Tomokomai on the southern coast). The cost is a fraction of the airfare (less than 10,000 plus a bit extra for even a bagged bicycle). However, it takes a whopping two and a half days each way, and the cafeteria food on board is a tad expensive. Up until recently, I would have recommended flying one way and taking this ferry on the way back, just for the experience. However, the option of using frequent flyer miles and the increased availability of discount tickets, plus bicycle-friendlier airline policies (bagged bikes under a certain weight now travel free of charge!) make the two-hour airplane seem like a much, much better way to go than the two-day ferry. For that reason, the route as shown here assumes that you’ve traveled by air and starts from Chitose Airport; if you’ve come by ferry, you can make your way eastward from Otaru through Sapporo and join the route along the way.

As noted in the Story section, bikes travel free of charge but not free of hassle. Airport personnel are instructed to ask whether or not you have patch glue (which you do, if you’re not using exclusively glueless patches). If you’re lucky, you may get a nice airline person who glosses over the question by saying something like “And you don’t have any glue, right? Didn’t think so.” I’m usually not so lucky. Since patch glue is such a necessity, surely a compromise could be worked out: attaching a piece of string to the glue and hanging it inside the seat tube, for example, where even if it suddenly ignited through magical means it couldn’t possibly pose a problem. (I suggest this just in case any bicycle rights groups with plenty of legal funds and time on their hands happen to read this.)

To save you some time in case your only tube of patch glue was confiscated by the airport meanies: there’s a fairly big hardware store near the center of town where you can pick up a new tube (ask at the airport; I’ll try to dredge up the receipt and update this with the name later). I went to three bicycle and motorcycle shops without success before I found this place, so you should probably head straight to the hardware store.


Hokkaido has the full range of accommodations available in the rest of Japan - hotels, ryokan, minshuku, kokumin shukusha, cycling terminals (these seem to be dying out, though) and youth hostels - plus two virtually only-in-Hokkaido options: ”toho-yado“ and “rider houses.” Follow the links for more information; basically, toho-yado are like a cross between youth hostels and minshuku: everyone sleeps in the same room or rooms, but the ambience and food are more like that of a minshuku. Rider houses are ultra-cheap crash pads for motorcyclists, offering a bare-bones place to sleep and a blanket and little else. I have yet to stay in one of the latter; they’re often a bit out of the way and more difficult to arrange (most seem to have no phones, so you’d have to go all the way there just to see if they have space - not really an option for a cyclist). The Touring Mapple guides list both right on the map, in addition to youth hostels, kokumin shukusha and even some minshuku - another advantage of using these guides.

Here are the names and contact numbers for some of the places I’ve stayed in and can recommend:


Business Hotel Yubari (0123-59-7111)

Dinner and breakfast included in price (of around ¥6,800 yen). There’s also a Yubari Forest Youth Hostel (01235-7-2535) but I haven’t stayed there; the YH book gives it a reader’s recommendation of 4 out of 4 stars, which is a good sign.


Furano Youth Hostel (0167-44-4441)

One of the funkier YHs in Japan; highly recommended. Vegetarian meals included free of charge!


Bibaushi Liberty Youth Hostel (0166-95-2141)

Located right near a very tiny in-the-styx railway station. A very nice feel to the place; they keep a book of photos showing all of the couples that have have gotten married after meeting for the first time here...


Nayoro Sanpira Youth Hostel (01654-2-2921)

Nice pension-like building and staff. A bit more wired than most in terms of electrical outlets at every bunk-bed (though they wouldn’t let me use their wireless Internet connection).

Lake Kuccharo

Toshika no Yado (toho-yado) (01634-2-2836)

Nice proprietress; located quite near the lake. Look sharp for the signs (in Japanese)...


Abashiri Ryuho-no-oka Youth Hostel (0152-43-8558)

Nice, friendly YH. Look carefully for the sign! The turnoff is on the left, not very far out of town. If you start to go uphill, you’ve passed it.


Shiretoko-Iwaobetsu Youth Hostel (0152-24-2311)

Bare-bones mountain lodge type place; can get very crowded. Higher-grade meals available for a bit extra. Very informative evening briefing on the next day’s hiking conditions, etc.


The low-cost minshuku I stayed at was Saga (0153-87-2606). Cheap for a reason; don’t expect much except to eat LOTS of crab that night.


These are covered pretty extensively in the story section. One warning bears repeating: no matter how inviting the fresh spring water and streams look, DO NOT drink the unfiltered water. A parasite in the feces of the famous Northern fox can cause you severe problems if you should happen to ingest it. Tap water in hotels and other accommodations should be fine.

A bit of additional information, by area:

Chitose - Yubari

I took Routes 337 to 226 to 462 to, I believe, a bit of 452.

To Furano

Route 452 is one of those Hokkaido roads without ANYTHING, not so much as a vending machine, virtually all the way to the Furano area, so pack your own food and especially liquids.

To Biei

There’s a wifi network at the library in town - the library can give you instructions on how to access it (a simple password is required)

The hotel onsen I visited at the top of Shirogane was in a place called, not surprisingly, the Shirogane Onsen Hotel.

To Lake Kuccharo

From Asahikawa, I headed up on roads a bit to the west (route 88 to 72 to 275), but this was mainly to pass by the manmade Lake Shumarinai (which Route 275 passes directly by). That also gets you almost straight to the youth hostel I stayed at that night; the route down from where you get a view of the lake follows quiet, tiny route 729 that is mostly downhill, sometimes exhiliaratingly so, and it gets you to Furen just down from Nayoro.

At Lake Kuccharo, the bikepath goes north along the lake and a considerable distance beyond; it appears to parallel the highway and goes all the way to Sarufutsu. So it would probably be a great way to come down from the northernmost point at Cape Soya if you chose to go all the way there and then come down to Lake Kuccharo. Even if you stopped at the lake, it would be fun to cycle up at least the length of the lake and back. (I ran out of time and was unable to do that.)

When I was there, there was an open wifi connection in front of the city office at Hamatonbetsu right near the lake (and another one in front of a convenience store on the main highway).

Okhotsk Coast (general)

The onshore winds were not nearly as fierce as I’d expected, but this may be seasonal...

To Abashiri

The main coastal highway (Route 238) goes up quite high in bypassing Monbetsu; it might be better to take the short coastal detour that goes through the city and then rejoins that highway. You’re looking at some climbing either way...

The bikepath (Abashiri Tokoro Jitenshado) is right off the main road (still Route 238). Stay on 238 when you get to the intersection with Route 104 (on the east side of Lake Saroma); turn left on Route 442; shortly you’ll see the sign for the bikepath. There’s a map at .

Found two accessible wifi networks right in front of Abashiri train station...

To Shiretoko/Rausu

Don’t miss the waterfalls; Oshinkoshin no taki is the first and much larger one; Sandantaki is a short distance further on and easier to miss.

Getting Away

The reverse of getting there. Chitose Airport is reachable by train from Sapporo Station, or you can cycle there; the most convenient ferry leaves from picturesque Otaru, which is worth a day or two in its own right. Buy plenty of food in advance unless you want to spend half your budget in the shipboard cafeteria.

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