History, Culture and Food Highlights in Eastern Hokkaido

The prefecture’s unique history and culture, augmented by culinary highlights, are on showcase in this deep dive through Eastern Hokkaido.


WordsMaximilien Rehm

Kushiro, the major city in Eastern Hokkaido, is quite difficult to describe in a few words. Through amalgamation with surrounding villages, the city has gradually come to encompass a vast area of land, which includes the original city center, the famous marshlands as well as the picturesque Lake Akan. Serviced by its own airport, the interesting mix between charming fishing town and vast nature has made Kushiro and its surroundings a rising star in the eyes of many Japanese and foreign visitors in recent years. Indeed, adjacent Tokachi features both history and cultural highlights to round out your trip to the region.

The quaint sights of Lake Akan in Spring

To being exploring the area, one good way to start is by heading inland from the airport and starting off at Lake Akan. From Kushiro airport, there are numerous shuttle buses connection travelers to the lake, or you can simply rent a car. Lake Akan is a fascinating place, none the less because it is known as one of the few areas where the culture of Hokkaido’s indigenous people, the Ainu, is still alive. More than 100 Ainu live in the area, many of which are sharing their culture through the various museums and small craft shops that make up the Lake Akan Ainu Kotan (kotan literally means settlement in the Ainu language), located on the southern bank of the lake. Here, you can find a collection of traditional rituals and daily necessities, the works of masters who once played an active part in this area, and the crafts of the creators of the Lake Akan Ainu who live in the present. Aside from the hands-on experiences offered at the kotan, simply taking a walk along the lake will give you some clues as to why they consider the region a spiritual land.

Culinary delights and frontier history in northern Tokachi

After having thoroughly enjoyed the nature and cultural offerings at Lake Akan, we head down to Kamishihoro Town, a town located in the northern part of Tokachi. While not technically part of Kushiro, it is nevertheless easily accessible for a nice culinary excursion if you are visiting the region. Here, you can’t go wrong having lunch at Tobachi, a teppanyaki restaurant that is actually run by a bee farm. The hamburger steak made from local beef is an absolute highlight, as are the numerous offerings utilizing the farm’s homemade honey. Everything on the menu is made from only the freshest local ingredients, so we can guarantee that you will not leave disappointed. As an added bonus, grab some honey as a souvenir on your way out! 

Close by is the Taushubetsu River Bridge, which stands as a true artifact to the region’s past and thus makes for an interesting post-lunch stopover. Initially constructed in 1937 to provide passage for trains transporting wood for the war effort, the concrete arch bridge was eventually decommissioned and today only fragments of the original structure remain. However, seeing what is left of its majestic architecture surrounded by the serene nature of the region still attracts many history afficionados and photographers to this spot. Indeed, as nature takes it toll on the architecture, it is unclear how long the remains of the bridge will survive, meaning that it bodes well to visit before this site is lost forever. 

If you are looking for a souvenir from the area, or are just keen for a sweet snack, head to the renowned “Sweet Pia Garden” sweets factory from Hokkaido’s mainstray confectionary company “RYUUGETSU”. Here, you can not only learn all about the process of how these sweets are made, but also enjoy some cakes and Hokkaido soft serve on-site at the adjunct Café. Another highlight is the magnificent garden, which features a multitude of flowers for a colorful viewing pleasure in the warmer months. 

Overall, this excursion from Kushiro’s Lake Akan down to northern Tokachi gives you a comprehensive introduction to some of the lesser known sights of Hokkaido, all the while staying true to what makes the prefecture unique. Featuring a deep dive into the region’s Ainu culture, a visit to a true landmark of Hokkaido’s frontier history, as well as delicious local cuisine and sweets, Eastern Hokkaido has it all. 

More information about Hokkaido can be found on the Good Day Hokkaido website.

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