BEYOND Sapporo

(Hokkaido part IIIb)

September 2019

I have collected most of my trips outside Sapporo and its suburbia into three chapters:

1. Jozankei Onsen

2. Otaru, and

3. Route 229 and the "Shakotan Blue."

This page contains the third chapter (Route229). For the first two chapters, follow this link "Hokkaido part IIIa."

3. Route 229 and the "Shakotan Blue"

Shakotan Peninsula and Route229.

Shakotan Peninsula and Route229.

National road Route 229 (国道229号) runs from Yoichi (余市町) to Esashi. From Yoichi, it runs northwestward and around the Shakotan Peninsula (積丹半島). On the east side of the peninsula, the route is called the nickname 'Seta-Kamui Line.' On the west side, it is called the nickname 'Kabuto Line .'As I was based in Sapporo, I managed to drive only the Eastern part of the road from Yoichi to Cape Kamui, and this is what I describe here. Besides, the three major tourist attractions in the Shakotan Peninsula are located here: Cape Kamui (神威岬), Cape Ogorn (黄金岬) and Shimamui Coast (島武意海岸).

Typical

Typical "Shakotan blue".

In 1962, 17 people were killed or lost in a debris flow near Toyohama Tunnel. In 1996, 20 people were killed in the Toyohama Tunnel collapse (between Yoichi and Furubira). The breathtakingly beautiful coastline has its own risks. Since then, the road has been widely renovated, and today for a local route, Highway 229 is a relatively wide road, safe and easy to drive all the way. However, since the route uses many new tunnels, views are limited; that is an unavoidable trade-off.

This is supposed to be the best route to admire the Sea of Japan blue color, called "Shakotan Blue" (シャコタンブルー) which is much brighter than in other places. 

Typical Shakotan Peninsula coast.

Typical Shakotan Peninsula coast.

Yoichi town

Yoichi town (余市町) is located just 20 km west of Otaru. It is built at the estuary of the river that bears the same name. It is known to Japanese people as the birthplace of Mamoru "Mark" Mohri, the first Japanese astronaut, and the home of the Yoichi distillery owned by Nikka Whisky Distilling.

The Hokkaido coast on the Sea of Japan was well known as a good fishing ground for herring. Yoichi is one of the cities that flourished due to herring fishing from early in the 19th century until the 1950s.

Yoichi town. Route229 is marked with blue color.

Yoichi town. Route229 is marked with blue color.

Yoichi Town.

Yoichi Town.

Tourists usually cross through the town on their way to Shakotan Peninsula without stopping. There are though several attractions worth visiting, like the Yochi Fisheries Museum (よいち水産博物館), Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery (余市蒸溜所 / ニッカウヰスキー) and Space Dome (余市宇宙記念館), etc. Among all attractions, in my opinion, two places must be visited in the town (time permitting): a) the Old Shimoyoichi Unjouya at the foothills of a small hill by the port, and b) the Old Fukuhara Gyoba on Route 229 itself, at the western end of the town. 

The harbor of Yoichi town.

The harbor of Yoichi town.

Shimoyoichi Unjouya

The Shimoyoichi Unjouya (旧下ヨイチ運上家), aka "Old lower Yoichi good luck house," was built in 1853 by Choya Takeya Hayashi Chozamon, a contract merchant of the Yoichi area is one of the 85 Unjouyas (trading houses), which were built on the Hokkaido coast by the Matsumae clan. Matsumae was a Japanese clan that was granted the area around Matsumae, Hokkaido as a march fief in 1590 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and charged with defending it from the Ainu 'barbarians'.

Shimoyoichi Unjouya facade.

Shimoyoichi Unjouya facade.

The ticket office opposite Shimoyoichi Unjouya.

The ticket office opposite Shimoyoichi Unjouya.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya. Dummies represent everyday life activities.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya. Dummies represent everyday life activities.

Ιn return for defending the area, the merchants were entrusted with commercial rights to trade with Ainu people and open fishing grounds to catch herring in the area. The old wooden house (Shimoyoichi Unjouya) played an important role as though it was a branch office of the Matsumae clan. It was used as lodging for officials and travelers and as a place to deal with official documents and keep watch over foreign ships. 

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya. Dummies represent everyday life activities.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya. Dummies represent everyday life activities.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya. Dummies represent everyday life activities.

Inside Shimoyoichi Unjouya. Dummies represent everyday life activities.

This large building (40x16 meters) has a stone roof with gables supported by thick pillars and beams in its interior. The lattice windows and paper sliding doors are designed according to the local fishermen's architecture.

The house is open to the public as a museum displaying old furniture, instruments, and other objects of the days it was operated as a trading house. Several rooms function as representations (with the help of dummies) of everyday life activities—admission fee: 300yen.

The backside and backyard of Shimoyoichi Unjouya.

The backside and backyard of Shimoyoichi Unjouya.

Shimoyoichi Unjouya and its little shrine at the backyard.

Shimoyoichi Unjouya and its little shrine at the backyard.

The Old Fukuhara Gyoba

The Old Fukuhara Gyoba complex (旧余市福原漁場) is a fascinating site located in Hamanaka-cho, the west-ward of Yoichi town (on the Route 229 itself).

After the Meiji era, Yoichi had been in the Herring rush, so that there were a lot of fisherman’s houses called ‘Banya’ along the shore and also many facilities for making fishing products such as herring oil, dried fish, and fertilizers, and also to store herring. These places are called Gyoba, and their owner called Oyakata or Ooyake(大宅). Oyakata and his employees lived in the Gyoba together.

When herring fishing was flourishing on the coast of Yoichi, there were many Gyobas in the area. Today, only the Old Fukuhara Gyoba (aka the Former Yoichi Fukuhara Fishery) has survived intact. Oyakata Fukuhara had hired more than 40 fishermen gathering from other areas of Hokkaido and Tohoku, Honshu. 

The buildings of Old Fukuhara Gyoba are arranged around a big open space (garden).

The buildings of Old Fukuhara Gyoba are arranged around a big open space (garden).

The Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings.

The Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings.

Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings. The Omoya (left) and the stone building (right).

Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings. The Omoya (left) and the stone building (right).

Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings.

Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings.

The complex comprises six discrete buildings. Three big buildings: the Omoya, the storehouse for documents, and the stone-built warehouse; and 3 smaller buildings: the fish drying racks, the grocery storehouse, and the net storehouse.

The Omoya is the main building of the Gyoba and was built before 1917. The building was used as a living space for both the owner and his employees. The owner had his sleeping room and reception room on the ground floor, while the employees' sleeping quarters were upstairs. The building also has a kitchen, a dining area, and a lavatory. 

Inside Omoya building.
Inside Omoya building.

Inside Omoya building.

Inside the Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings. Storehouse for documents (left), and Omoya (right).

Inside the Old Fukuhara Gyoba buildings. Storehouse for documents (left), and Omoya (right).

The Storehouse for documents built around 1877 to store the documents related to the management of the Gyoba and the owner’s valuables, including expensive clothes, furniture, and tableware. This three-story building is the most impressive of the complex and features typical "safety" windows at its facade. 

The third big building of the complex, the stone-built warehouse, was built before 1901 to store and process the boats' herrings. It is attached at the back of Storehouse for documents and is the longest building of the complex.

Inside the stone-built warehouse.

Inside the stone-built warehouse.

The impresive Storehouse for documents building.

The impresive Storehouse for documents building.

Today the place functions as a fascinating and well-curated museum. Please take the time to visit, as it will give you a real feeling of what life in Hokkaido's herring industry was like from the end of the Edo (1800s) period to the early Showa era(1900s).

Free car parking onsite. Admission fee: 300yen. 

Meoto Iwa

The ticket office of the Former Yoichi Fukuhara Fishery.

The ticket office of the Former Yoichi Fukuhara Fishery.

Candle rock and Ebisu-Daikoku rocks on the map. At this point, Route 229 goes mostly in tunnels, so be careful not to miss the rocks.

After Yoichi, Route 229 continues for some kilometers inland. When the road becomes coastal again, there is a small harbor (Detaribira Fishing Port 余市漁港) where one can enjoy two famous rocks in shallow waters, about 10 meters from the shore. Ebisu rock (えびす岩) is the thinner of the two and is shaped like a cone, thinner at the base and bigger on the top. Daikokuiwa rock (と大黒岩) is slightly larger and has a more stable shape. On top of Daikokuiwa rock, there is red torii (Shinto shrine gate). 

Candle rock and Ebisu-Daikoku rocks on the map. At this point, Route 229 goes mostly in tunnels, so be careful not to miss the rocks.

The two rocks consist of black andesite and white rhyolite pumice tuff found on the surrounding cliffs. The two rocks are also known as Meoto Iwa because they resemble the famous Meoto Iwa (the Married Couple Rocks), the two rocky stacks in the sea off Futami, Mie, Japan, which are joined by a shimenawa (a heavy rope of rice straw) and are considered sacred by worshippers at the neighboring Futami Okitama Shrine. 

Candle Rock

Back to Route229, enter into a 1-km long tunnel and exit at Shimadomarigyo Fishing Port (余市漁港) from where one has the best view of the famous Candle Rock or Takaga (ローソク岩). 

Candle rock rises at the height of more than 45 meters on the sea about 500 meters off the coast. The rock is made of lava cooled in the water, and due to its brittle nature, the candlestick has been collapsed several times so far. It took its current appearance after the large collapse due to the Shakotan Peninsula Offshore Earthquake of August 2, 1940. Because of its unusual shape, there are several legends among the local fishermen and the Ainu people. 

Cape Ogon

Continue west on Route 229 to Cape Ogon (黄金岬) at Bikuni (美国港) fishing harbor. Bikuni flourished by herrings, and a lookout for the herrings was built on the cape, and the Cape Ogon was named after the herrings' shoals glowed gold in the sunset. Ogon means "Gold color" in Japanese, as from here one can enjoy one of the best sunsets in Hokkaido.

Bikuni and Cape Ogon on the map. Route 229 is marked by blue color. The yellow path shows a recommended walk in the town.

Bikuni and Cape Ogon on the map. Route 229 is marked by blue color. The yellow path shows a recommended walk in the town.

Ogon-Misaki Observation Deck (黄金岬展望台) is built at about 30 m above sea level, and from here the view of Bikuni Port, Mt. Shakotandake (積丹岳), Takara Island (宝島), Gome Island (ゴメ島) and the ranging capes of the Shakotan Peninsula is spectacular. 

Bikuni harbor.

Bikuni harbor.

Bikuni harbor.

Bikuni harbor.

The highlight of Bikuni is the “Yamashime Banya” Café, located between Route229 and the port. This is the former Yamashime Fukui Residence, built by Fukui Shigejiro towards the end of the Meiji Period. This is an old banya (fishermen’s hut), like the many we see in the area, transformed into a traditional café, which also houses the Nishin Denshu-kan (herring culture museum). 

Yamashime Banya facade.

Yamashime Banya facade.

Yamashime Banya side face.

Yamashime Banya side face.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

The role of the Yamashime Banya changed along with the decline of the herring fishing industry, and from 1949 it became a Japanese-style inn and a boarding house. From the 1970s, it was not used at all and was donated to Shakotan Town. In 2011, the Town Assembly approved the sale of the Yamashime Banya. Still, the people of the area persuaded the Town Assembly to scrap its plans to sell the Banya and transform the building into a place where people can gather together, enjoy traditional food and enjoy delicious drip coffee. The café opened in 2016. 

Traditional ice-cream at Inside Yamashime Bany cafe.

Traditional ice-cream at Inside Yamashime Bany cafe.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

The aroma of coffee drifts around the building, with its shiny black floors, thick beams, and the countless memories it has accumulated. Take off your shoes and wander around the two-story wooden house. Then sit down and enjoy some of the best drip coffee and traditional desserts or enjoy herring broth, masu salmon, and sea urchin rice-balls. If you are lucky, you will enjoy one of the several music concerts held here or attend a workshop on making sweet flower-shaped dumplings used as offerings at graves.

The visit to “Yamashime Banya” Café is one of those memorable moments you will always recall with much nostalgia. 

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Inside Yamashime Banya.

Shimamui Coast

From here, Route229 leaves the coast and goes inland, bypassing Shimamui Peninsula. At about 10km from Bikuni, leave back Route229 by turning right on provincial Route 913, which goes to Irika fishing port and Shimamui Coast (島武意海岸). Shimamui means "rocky inlet" in the Ainu language.

Shimamui coast on the map. The blue line shows the detour of Route913. The yellow line show the main trails and the star at the right of the map shows the Cape Shakode Lighthouse. The pink trail shows the steps going from the Shakotan Observation deck down to the Shimamui beach

Shimamui coast on the map. The blue line shows the detour of Route913. The yellow line show the main trails and the star at the right of the map shows the Cape Shakode Lighthouse. The pink trail shows the steps going from the Shakotan Observation deck down to the Shimamui beach

Shimamui coast reserve map-sign.

Shimamui coast reserve map-sign.

The trail that continues after the lighthouse further east.

The trail that continues after the lighthouse further east.

Me at Shimamui coast.

Me at Shimamui coast.

Leave your car at the large parking lot (free of charge) and follow the signs towards the Shakotan Observation Deck, which, strangely enough, is accessed through a dark foot-tunnel ("Shima Takei Coast Tunnel"). The observation deck stands at about 60m above sea level, and the views are stunning. From the deck, a steep stairway takes you down to the shore in about 20 minutes. It is tiring descending, but the beauty of the area really compensates the visitor. This is one of Japan’s 100 Most Beautiful Beaches (they say!) and the only spot where visitors can be on the water’s edge below sheer cliffs. 

Taken pictures at Shakotan Observation Deck.

Taken pictures at Shakotan Observation Deck.

The dark Shima Takei Coast Tunnel.

The dark Shima Takei Coast Tunnel.

The entrance of Shima Takei Coast Tunnel.

The entrance of Shima Takei Coast Tunnel.

Go back to the parking lot and follow the Cape Shakode Lighthouse's signs, a beautiful red and white lighthouse (積丹出岬灯台). The whole Cape is a huge park with a high-coastal trail where one enjoys beautiful views of the Sea of Japan (the dazzling sea called "Shakotan Blue") and the rocky coast. The trail goes as far as the rock formation called “girl’s rock” after the legend of Shirara, an Ainu girl whose love for a man was not a fortune one! 

Shakotan Observation Deck (left) and Shimamui coast (right).

Shakotan Observation Deck (left) and Shimamui coast (right).

Cape Shakode Lighthouse.

Cape Shakode Lighthouse.

One of the area's highlights is the Rinko restaurant (鱗晃), one of the best places to savor local seafood, especially sea urchin eggs, either steamed or raw or as a ramen soup. It is located next to the car parking lot. 

Rinko restaurant. Fresh, raw shrimps (bottom left) and urchin eggs (bottom right).

Rinko restaurant. Fresh, raw shrimps (bottom left) and urchin eggs (bottom right).

Cape Kamui

Back to Route229 and head towards Cape Kamui (神威岬). As I already mentioned above, Cape Kamui is 3rd major tourist attraction of the Shakotan Peninsula.  The other two I have already mentioned: Cape Ogorn (黄金岬) and Shimamui Coast (島武意海岸). 

Cape Kamui on the map. Blue line marks Route229, the yellow line marks the drive to the parking lot, and the orange lines show the walking trails.

Cape Kamui on the map. Blue line marks Route229, the yellow line marks the drive to the parking lot, and the orange lines show the walking trails.

Cape kamui parking lot.

Cape kamui parking lot.

Cape Kamui. The trail to the lighthouse.

Cape Kamui. The trail to the lighthouse.

The Kamui Cape trail.

The Kamui Cape trail.

Kamui is the name of an Ainu god. The distance is around 1.5 km away from a traffic gate along Route229 to the public parking lot in the heart of Kamuimisaki Natural Park. Here, there are public restrooms and the main building, called Kamui-Banya (カムイ番屋), which houses a restaurant (rather a cantine) and a souvenir shop. The parking lot is free of charge. 

Kamui Cape. The trail to the lighthouse.

Kamui Cape. The trail to the lighthouse.

Kamui Rock (left).

Kamui Rock (left). "Shakotan blue" view from Cape Samui (right).

The lighthouse at Kamui Cape.

The lighthouse at Kamui Cape.

From the parking lot, you have to walk about 30 minutes (about 700m) on the rugged dragon-back-like path (called “Small Path of Charenka”) to the very tip of Cape Kamui. The almost 360degrees view is very spectacular. The white 12-meters high lighthouse, which stands here, is considered a place for lovers as the area has its own tragic (alas!) love story legend of the young maiden Charenka and the tragic hero Yoshitsune Minamoto. According to the legend, Yoshitsune fled secretly from Oshu and passing from Hokkaido he stayed with the head of Biratori Town. Charenka, the daughter of the head of Biratori, came to love Yoshitsune strongly. However, Yoshitsune left towards the north. Maiden Charenka followed him till Cape Kamui. From there, she saw the boat of Yoshitsune having already sailed away. She cried aloud towards the boat, but the strong wind drowned out her voice. Charenka, who was in deep sorrow, threw herself from the rocks of Cape Kamui. Some say that Kamui Rock (神威岩) is petrified Charenka. 

Kamui rock.

Kamui rock.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経, 1159-1189) was a nobleman and military commander famous for leading the Minamoto clan against the Taira in numerous battles of the Genpei War (源平合戦, 1180-1185). His prowess in battle, his relationship with his brother, and the circumstances of his death, among other factors, have resulted in him being seen as a sympathetic hero and a frequent subject of Japanese writers of all eras, often with romanticized and exaggerated accounts of his exploits. He has captured the imagination of the Japanese and today remains a quite popular historical figure. Still, most of all inspired many legends and is a hero of several books, films, and manga.

The death of Yoshitsune has been very elusive. According to Ainu's historical accounts, he did not commit seppuku but instead escaped the siege at Koromogawa, fleeing to Hokkaido and assuming the name Okikurumi/Oinakamui. An alternate and discredited theory states that after evading death, Yoshitsune made his way past Hokkaido and sailed to the mainland of Asia, re-surfacing as Genghis Khan.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

Misaki no Yu Onsen

On your way back to Sapporo on Route229, you may want to relax in the hot waters of the Misaki no Yu Onsen (岬の湯しゃこたん). Located on Route229, between Cape Kamui and Shimamui Coast, these hot springs with magnificent views of the Sea of Japan offer revitalizing rest and good food. The prime location overlooking Cape Rushi to the right and Cape Kamui to the left allows visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the area from open-air baths and indoor baths with large windows. 

Unfortunately, when I visited the onsen, it was closed...big disappointment. 

Misaki no Yu Onsen.

Misaki no Yu Onsen.