Jozankei Nature Park in Winter (Day 1)

Haidee’s sister Kylee was in Tokyo on business. Friday last week was a public holiday. Which is all to say the prerequisites for a quick long-weekend jaunt up to Sapporo were lined up for Kylee.

Haidee and I decided to make it count for her.

The mission was to try to showcase Sapporo’s awesome winter. One strategy we came up with was to book a night in a yurt at the awesome Jozankei Nature Park. We had heard rumors that winter was an epic time to visit Jozankei Nature Park, so we made the plunge. The risk paid off well, with the help of an amazing spring snowfall while we were there.

Getting to Jozankei Nature Park is fairly straight forward. Take the Nanboku Subway Line all the way to the final station, Makomanai Subway Station. From there, catch a bus to Hoheikyo Onsen (hot springs). If you time it right, you can catch a free bus all the way to Hoheikyo Onsen. The free bus leaves Makomanai Subway Station at 10am each day, and takes 45 minutes ( The bus leaves about 100m down the road from the station (42.990827,141.356258).

Upon arriving at Hoheikyo Onsen (42.949387,141.155803), it is then a 20 minute walk to the very end of a quiet road, where Jozankei Nature Park is situated in the forest (42.931813,141.152215).

Jozankei Nature Park costs 170yen for entry for day visitors. This time, we opted to stay overnight in one of their awesome yurts (or, ‘tent-house’ as they call them). These amazing 7-person yurts cost only 3,900yen a night, and this includes very basic foam mats, wool blankets, and a kerosene stove which does a great job at warming the space up. We were staying in the Okuma yurt (all the yurts have names) (42.931198,141.150554).

That said, there is only a small layer of stretched canvas between the interior and walls of snow.


So a warm sleeping bag is recommended.

On this first day, a couple of our other friends Alex and Abby joined us for the day. We hired snowshoes (100 yen) for the day and explored some of the forest surrounding the park.

There was a good fresh layer of snow, helped along by a solid dumping while we wandered. The nature park has a marked snowshoe route, which takes about 30 minutes to walk around, starting from behind the admin building (42.932115,141.152874).

The snow continued, even as we stopped to dig a trench-couch and have an impromptu birthday cake party for Alex. What better way to spend your birthday?


Alex and Abby headed off half way through the day to catch a 3:30pm bus from Hoheikyo Onsen back to Makomanai Station. After a quick break, Haidee, Kylee and I headed back out into the forest in search of powder snow.

It was easy to find (42.929405,141.156087).

Venturing even further up the gully (42.925843,141.151485), we soon became wary of avalanche danger. We erred on the side of caution and turned around back to the park.

During the winter months, the park kitchen is open for guests to use. We cooked up pasta and vege soup for dinner.

After dinner we ventured out into the night for a spot of night snowshoeing. The crisp clear night was perfect for it.

All the while I was struck by how perfect a location this was for getting a taste for the great outdoors in winter in Hokkaido. With the nature park village only a few minutes walk away, people can safely experience this environment in relative comfort.

We headed back to the yurt after an hour of wandering, and were in our sleeping bags by about 9pm, falling asleep to the sound of the occasional icicle dropping off the side of the yurt.









Snowshoeing near Hoheikyo Onsen (Jozankei, Hokkaido)

Sometimes we forget how majestic the nature is here in Sapporo, so close to home. Within a 40 minute drive, a prepared individual can enjoy some impressive hills, made all the more beautiful by the annual winter snows.

So I organized a short snowshoe trip for the local Hokkaido International Outdoor Club. We have a Facebook group with 80 registered members, around 20 or so of which are active. Six of us ventured out a few weekends ago to explore a perfect spot for snowshoeing: the area surrounding Hoheikyo Onsen (hot springs). The idea was simple. Meet at the hot springs, go for a showshoe hike along the Hiyamizu-sawa track (heading towards Sapporo-dake), return to the hot springs, have Indian curry (there is an Indian curry restaurant at the hot springs), have a soak in the hot springs, go home.

Two of us decided to cycle from Sapporo to the meeting spot. The distance is around  25km. For some reason I thought it would take us an hour and a half. It took us almost three. The going is slow in winter…

Cycling from Sapporo to Jozankei in the winter (Hokkaido, Japan)The other four, traveling by car, arrived on time at the official meeting time. On the bikes, we were a solid 45 minutes late. No time to dilly-dally, on with the snowshoes.

Top Tip: Showshoes can be hired for only 800yen for an entire weekend from the Nakajima Park Fitness Center (中島公園体育センター). The 800yen is for one 24-hour period, but since the center is not open on the weekends, Friday pick-up and Monday drop-off is considered ‘one 24 our period’.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)We started hiking from the start of the Hiyamizu-sawa track, which climbs all the way to the top of Sapporo-dake. We would only hike part of the way, have lunch, and head back.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)

The track follows a small stream, only sometimes visible under large mushrooms of snow. The snow was fairly well packed down on the track; this is a popular spot for outdoor types.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)

Once we veered off the track onto a forest road, the snow was fresh; without snowshoes this would be hard going.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)

Rick, the most experienced outdoors-person in the group, had previously scouted out a nice place for lunch on his topographical maps. This required a hike up a small rise in the landscape through deep powder. His keen eye for interesting contour lines was spot on: lunch was at the top of an amazing clearing, overlooking the hills in the distance.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)Wrapped up against the cold, we lasted about 30 minutes soaking up the view and warm cups of soup.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)


We carried on after lunch with full bellies and keen to get back down for a soak in the hot springs.

Showshoeing Hiyamizu-sawa track (Sapporo-dake route, Hokkaido, Japan)We arrived back at the hot springs at around 4pm. First a soak, then food. Hoheikyo onsen is a natural hotspring, well known for its outdoor baths. In winter this place is magical.

The bike home was amazing, as it always is from Jozankei. It is more or less all downhill to Sapporo. This was the first time I had done the return trip at night, in a blizzard. At least the blizzard was at our backs for the most part. Screaming down a dark rural road with only bicycle headlights to illuminate great chunks of ice was exhilarating. At least I had a decent dynamo-powered headlight (the amazing Busch and Mueller Lumotec IQ Cyo). Michael only had a head torch…

All in all a long, rewarding day outside.

Snowshoe members (from the Hokkaido International Outdoor Club)



Mid-winter cycling on Ishikari Beach

In summer, Ishikari beach to the north of Sapporo, Japan, is a soft sun-tanners paradise. In -10 deg C mid-winter, it freezes solid. Which means one thing: cycling perfection. Upon Alex’s invitation, I went for a bike ride there today. Alex rides a fatbike. That means his tires are huge; made to float over soft stuff like sand. And snow.

The only issue is access to the beach. This consisted of about 15 minutes of tough pushing through deep snow. The hope of clear, wave-washed beach further down kept us going.

After some hefty pushing, however, a glorious sight greeted us. Little to no snow on the beach. And even better, the sand was frozen solid like concrete. With my skinnier 29×2.25 tires, this was a relief!

It was a beautiful day for it. Sun, clear visibility, and around -5 degrees C.

Alex was on 4.8-inch tires. I was on 2.25-inch. Quite the difference in terms of float: The wider the tires, the less they sink into soft stuff. But when everything’s frozen (and so long as there wasn’t too much snow), my bike handled it OK.

It was amazing to see wild foxes, and even more amazing to see Hokkaido sea eagles. Massive majestic creatures.

We cycled all the way from Ishikari Port to the end of the beach at the north end, where Ishikari River meets the sea. The further we got north, the more ice we saw. And a fascinating phenomenon: small slithers of ice washing up on the beach like pebbles.

It was a hard slog back the way we had come; the afternoon sun had softened the beach a little. Or was it just my tired legs?

All in all, it was an amazing morning/afternoon out. Thanks for the idea Alex!

And yes, that is a guy using a kite-surfing kite on the beach, on the snow. Looks like great fun.

Japan Far North: Days 12 & 13 (Mashita to Hamanasu to Sapporo)

Our last two days on the road on this 2013 summer vacation cycling trip were a bit of a blur. The highway connecting Sapporo to Rumoi along the coast is a whirlwind of tunnels interspersed with little nuggets of coast.

Lots of tunnels along the coast towards Hamamasu, Hokkaido, JapanWaterfall near Hamamasu, Hokkaido, JapanRoadside stalls lured us in with their delicious wares such as freshly steamed sweetcorn and watermelon.

More watermelon snacks (Ishikari City, Japan)We made the dash from Hamanasu to Sapporo in one day, despite planning on splitting it up into two days. A tiring 80km into a headwind later, we finally arrived back home after a fantastic two weeks and 600km cycle-exploring the far north of Japan – Rishiri and Rebun Islands, Wakkanai and surrounds.

Lots of tunnels along the coast towards Hamamasu, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan Far North: Day 11 (Tomamae to Mashike)

A sleepy, rainy start to the day.

A sleepy Rob in the morning (near Tomamae, Hokkaido, Japan)Lunch well and truly made up for it though. I had mentioned yesterday the great lunches we were indulging in on this trip. This is what I was talking about. An awesome filling lunch for US$9 equivalent. Anyone who thinks traveling in Japan is expensive has either never left Tokyo, or has never traveled by bicycle in this country.

A great lunch for US$9 near Rumoi, Hokkaido, Japan The big surprise today was the amazing historical town of Mashike. We never expected it at all. We would have missed it altogether had we not taken the coastal route into town. But this place is amazing. Some of the earliest Hokkaido recent history (around 180 years) on the island.

Historic buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, Japan

Historic buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, JapanThese photos are from the former Merchant House Maruichi Honma – a dry goods store build in 1882. The building charges an entry fee, but it is well worth it.

Historic buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, JapanHistoric buildings in Mashike, Hokkaido, JapanWe ended up staying at the Mashike Auto-Camp Grounds, one of the priciest campgrounds of the trip, which was mostly worth the money (1,000yen each). The bright red suspension bridge over a small river to get to the campground was a nice touch.

Suspension bridge in Mashike Town, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan Far North: Day 10 (Shosanbetsu to Tomamae)

We knew we only had 40km to cycle today, so we took it easy in the morning. A short walk down the cliff to the seashore revealed a Shinto torii (shrine gateway). Just up the beach from the gate was an impossibly small shrine.

Tori at Shokanbetsu Misakidai Park (Shokanbetsu, Japan)Another scorcher of a day awaited us as we packed up the tent and headed out on our bikes. This is why we love Hokkaido: Wide open spaces, massive sky…

Haboro Town, JapanLike most days on this trip, today we also had lunch at a local restaurant. We’ve found for around 800yen (US$8) we can get a very filling lunch, consisting of rice, some sort of tasty dish, and plenty of vegetables. Having lunch in this way allows us to relax for an hour or so in the hottest part of the day before venturing out again.

Post-lunch activities for me consisted of getting a haircut. I had been playing with the idea of getting a #0 buzzcut for a while. I usually cut my own hair using clippers, at a #1 length. Believe it or not, the jump from #1 to #0 is scary. You’re pretty much just leaving stumps. So I found the most old-school looking barber in town, and asked him to buzz away.

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, JapanThe barber was 81 years old. He’s been doing this since he was 16. He was born in Manchuria, during the Japanese occupation of that area of China. The man was a pro.

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, Japan

The treatment was full and without mercy. He only trimmed my eyebrows a little bit, saying “I don’t understand these young guys these days shaving their eyebrows to a whisp.”

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, JapanFor an 81 year old, he had very steady hands.

Getting a haricut the oldschool way by an 81 year old barber in Haboro Town, Hokkaido, JapanAfter getting all spruced up, we carried on the rest of the way to Tomamae, our stop for the night. Yuhi-gaoka (Sunset Hill) Campground lived up to its name.

Tomamae Yuhi-gaoka Autocamp Ground (Tomamae, Hokkaido, Japan)

Japan Far North: Day 9 (Horonobe Town to Shosanbetsu)

At last, a full day of sunshine. And some encouraging words of wisdom from the side of a supermarket.

Mural in Horonobe, Hokkaido, JapanOn a hot day like today, a watermelon shared between two was the perfect snack.

Fresh watermelon - a nice treat along the way near Teshio, Hokkaido, JapanAs we were now traveling along the west coast of Hokkaido, on the main route connecting Sapporo (Hokkaido’s main city) and the north, traffic was getting more frequent. To this end, we jumped off the main road to side roads, enjoying the peace and quiet of lush farmlands.

Big wide open spaces near Enbetsu, Hokkaido, JapanHighlight of the day was the hopelessly beautiful Shosanbetsu Campground. Perched atop cliffs next to the coast, this campground was idyllic. The lighthouse within the campground grounds was the icing on the cake.

Shosanbetsu-mori Misakidai Campground in Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido, JapanSituated right behind the campground was the Misaki Takadai Observatory. Coincidentally we happened to be staying on an open night; campground visitors were allowed to climb the stairs in the planetarium for free and take a look at stars and the moon through their impressive telescope.

Looking at the night sky with a telescope at Shosanbetsu-mori Misakidai Campground in Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido really is full of surprises…

Shosanbetsu-mori Misakidai Campground in Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan Far North: Day 8 (Sarufutsu Town to Horonobe)

Mercifully, it was not raining when we woke in the morning. It was still windy though, coming from the south…the direction we wanted to travel. We generally started off in a sour-ish mood this morning; there was the headwind, the store close to the campground had a woefully scant selection of food items, and we were not sure where (or if) we could get lunch between here and our destination of Horonobe Town, 70km away.

And then, there was the scenery. Or lack thereof.

Long tough headwind roads near Sarufutsu, Hokkaido, JapanBy the prevalence of wind-powered turbines, it was evident wind is not a rare phenomenon here.

Lots of wind power plants in northern Hokkaido, JapanI would really like to get back here in mid-winter. All along the road new snow-drift barriers were being erected. Easier to stop snow drifts getting onto the road than to clear them off…

Public road works, adding blizzard guards along the roads for winter (near Sarufutsu, Hokkaido, Japan)Easily the highlight of the day, which ended up being a long 87km, almost 20km further than we had anticipated (due to a closed road), was a massive reindeer farm just out of Horonobe. Apparently they are farmed for their meat.

Reindeer farm near Horonobe, Hokkaido, JapanHoronobe town was an interesting place. The town itself seemed almost deserted. We headed downtown, and got an amazing meal – much more than both of us could eat – for what seemed like pennies. It almost felt like Turkimenistan felt; lots of wealth but not many people…a strange place indeed.

The campground – the Horonobe Furusato no Mori Campground – was nice enough. Free to camp, with very basic long-drop toilets, but a covered outdoor kitchen area. A short 5 minute walk had us at the local public baths. Once again a treat on this trip was the proximity of public baths or hot springs to the campsites.

Horonobe Furusato no Mori Campground (Horonobe Town, Hokkaido, Japan)

Japan Far North: Day 7 (Wakkanai to Sarufutsu Town, Hokkaido)

We went for luxury last night. A hotel room. Slept like a dream. Just as well we did, because as soon as we had cycled the 20km from Wakkanai to Cape Soya (the northern-most tip of Japan) with a howling tailwind…

Cape Soya, Hokkaido, Japan - Japan's northern-most pointthe weather turned sour. The next three hours were spent head down squinting into a horizontal-rain storm, wind so strong as to threaten to blow us off our bicycles. Somehow Haidee kept stoically positive throughout.

Wet but still smiling, near Cape Soya, Hokkaido, JapanWe were passed numerous times by pelotons of university cycle touring club members, hurtling down the country. Some groups aimed to cycle at least 150km a day, by their own beaming admissions.

Saw lots of groups of university cycling club members battling it out for 150km days (near Cape Soya, Hokkaido, Japan)On our radar was the Hamaonishibetsu campground. We were hoping for a nice tree-lined sheltered campground to pitch our tent. We got nothing of the sort. The campground was free, but so were the elements. With thunder rolling in the distance, we had no choice but to pitch the tent and hope for the best.

Sarufutsu Park Campground in Sarufutsu Town, Japan - not recommended...very exposedThe campground did have a couple of redeeming features however: A massive outdoor covered stage (we cooked dinner on our stove there as the rain pelted down) and an onsen (thermal spring) only 2 minutes walk away. We had a soak in the hot baths and then hung around watching TV in the communal lounge till closing time (10pm). It was still raining when we dashed to our tent.