Otaru, Yoichi and Shakotan - all-in-one day trips
Summer is made for road trips – drives into the country under a wide blue sky – and pleasantly empty Hokkaido roads make them all the more enjoyable.
One of the must-do drives from SnowDog is northwest up to the Sea of Japan coast where there’s enough to see and do for at least one day and possibly more.
Start out on Route 66 – the so-called Panorama Line – for its views over the forests and towards the Shakotan. The peninsula’s coastal road is a winding and often windy drive interspersed with places to stop and stretch your legs at a viewpoint. If hunger strikes, look out for village seafood spots where you can get the freshest of seafood. For locals that means one delicacy in particular – uni, or sea urchin. Definitely an acquired taste for foreigners, but the Japanese go crazy for it.
Alternatively, save your energies and appetite for Yoichi, a small town on Shakotan’s northern coast where all-you-can-eat fruit picking sessions have become a hit with visitors, taking care of lunch at the same time. Check the calendar for your favourites from various types of berries, plums, peaches, apples and others.
Yoichi is also famous for wine and whisky so the day’s tastings can extend well beyond the fruit alone - for your vehicle’s passengers at least.
Moving on again, you reach Osoro with its pretty bay where it’s possible, with prior arrangement, to take a kayak out. Foodies though may well pass up this chance in favour of moving on to nearby Otaru earlier.
This town wisely pivoted towards tourism as its traditional fisheries have declined. Today its canal is lined with refurbished warehouses, and craft and curio shops, the whole scene still more charming when lit up in the evening.
Some seafood is still landed here and it has long had a reputation for boat-fresh crab, sushi and sashimi, perhaps chased down by one or more of the town’s own craft beers.
The whole loop makes for a long, long day by the time you arrive back at SnowDog so if you’ve a group, you might prefer to book a driver for the day, also freeing up everyone to enjoy the region’s liquid pleasures. Alternatively, join one of the scheduled departures arranged by operators in Hirafu.