Hokkaido is off the beaten path of the rest of Japan, which means that if you go off Hokkaido’s beaten path, you’ll really be out in the sticks.
Now, there are many ways to do this, from the outlying islands of Rishiri and Rebun off the northern tip of Hokkaido, to the collection of lakes between Asahikawa and Kushiro. However, I’m thinking of one place in particular: The Shiretoko Peninsula, the easternmost place in Hokkaido (and in Japan).
In today’s post, I’ll explore the question of whether Shiretoko is worth a visit, and also talk you through some of my favorite things to do there.
How to Reach the Shiretoko Peninsula
Before deciding if you think that Shiretoko is worth visiting, you need to understand what getting there entails. The most direct way is to fly from Sapporo or Tokyo to Memanbetsu Airport. Keep in mind, however, that this airport is over an hour from the town of Shari (generally regarded as the beginning of the Shiretoko Peninsula) and even farther from Utoro, the main tourist town. You can also reach these places by (relatively slow) train.
Once you get to Shiretoko, there’s then the issue of getting around. If you come at any time of the year besides winter, renting a car is the best way to go about this. In winter time, however, this isn’t advisable due to unpredictable snow and ice; you’ll usually need either to hire a driver or to go on some kind of organized tour of the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Things to Do on the Shiretoko Peninsula
Take a pleasure boat
One of the best ways to see the Shiretoko Peninsula, ironically, is just offshore from it. In summertime, these aptly-named “pleasure boats” go all the way to the tip of the peninsula, offering views of the lush hillsides and waterfalls on display. In winter, meanwhile, you can ride an “ice breaker” through the glacial ice drifting in the sea.
(Or a hike, if you can)
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll probably find the Shiretoko Peninsula worth a visit. Well, at least if you come during late spring, summer or early autumn, i.e. the half of the year when the trails aren’t covered in snow. I especially love coming in late October, when gorgeous leave add color to spots like the Shiretoko Five Lakes marsh.
Go on a road trip
Just as hiking can be difficult if not impossible in winter, so too can driving. The good news that is that whether you prefer the green of summer or the reds and oranges of fall, the Shiretoko Peninsula is a great place for a road trip—in other words, it’s great for the discovery of getting lost—at all times of the year when roads are passable.
Discover local cuisine
Food is another thing that makes the Shiretoko Peninsula worth visiting. I’m personally a big fan of eating the deer whose presence on its roads makes it more dangerous than it should be. However, you can also enjoy all kinds of seafood, most notably fresh crab caught in the icy waters just to the north.
Explore Shiretoko’s periphery
The Shiretoko Peninsula is my favorite place to go off the beaten path in eastern Hokkaido, but it’s not the only one. One recommendation I’d make? Driving southward from Abashiri toward Kushiro and stopping at the trio of volcanic lakes—Akan, Kussharo and Mashu—that sparkle like jewels in Hokkaido’s wild interior.
When Is the Best Time to Visit the Shiretoko Peninsula?
The Shiretoko Peninsula is generally most famous during the summertime, when its plentiful hiking trails are at their most accessible and in the winter, when there is an opportunity to take a boat through the “drift ice” just off-shore. However, I recently visited in autumn, and I can tell you that this very colorful time of year is highly, highly enjoyable, potentially more than the summer or winter.
At the end of the day, whether you find Shiretoko worth visiting will depend at least in part upon when you are able to visit. Most Shiretoko things to do are highly seasonal, and while some of those can be modified to suit other months, the time of year you come will directly determine the sort of experience you have. Come in many seasons if you can!
Other FAQ About Visiting the Shiretoko Peninsula
What is Shiretoko known for?
The Shiretoko Peninsula is known for having some of the wildest natural beauty in Hokkaido, and in Japan more broadly. In particular, the “pleasure boat” services offered in summer or winter are famous, although the summer ones were briefly more infamous than famous after a deadly incident in April 2022.
How do I get to Shiretoko Peninsula?
The fastest way to reach the Shiretoko Peninsula is to fly from Sapporo or Tokyo to Memanbetsu, and travel onto the Shiretoko Peninsula by rental car or combination of train and bus. You can also make the journey from Sapporo or Asahikawa entirely by land transport, although this is much slower going.
When should I visit Shiretoko?
If you want to see “drift ice” in the Sea of Okhotsk, you need to come during February or March. If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy Shiretoko’s famous hiking, come in July, August or early September. The autumn between early October and early November is colorful and cool, while there are some cherry blossoms to enjoy in spring.
The Bottom Line
Is Shiretoko worth a visit? Certainly, if you have a week or more in Hokkaido and have already visited the island’s main destinations, I’d say getting off the beaten path and headed to Shiretoko is worth the time and effort. On the other hand, you need to understand that just as many experiences in Hokkaido more broadly deviate from what you find in the rest of Japan, so too is the Shiretoko Peninsula remote, even by local standards. Want personalized help putting your Hokkaido adventure together? Consider commissioning a custom Japan itinerary, and let me sweat the details.