Time for the next in the series of Top 10 Awesome Experiences in Japan. Previously, we were stunned and amazed by the beauty of autumnal Aomori. Now, we travel even further north, to the uppermost edge of Hokkaido, during the most frigid weeks of winter, in order to witness an ocean more chunky than usual…
Hokkaido’s Sea Ice
Unlike lonely, distant-from-all-Aomori, Hokkaido has many attractions to tempt the tourists. In summer, there are endless fields of wildflowers. In winter, piles of powder snow for skiers and boarders to fall happily into. There is crab, fresh scallops and strawberries coated in white chocolate. The snow festival in Sapporo itself brings in over 2 million visitor every year.
But what about further north? Though the crowds are less, and the winds colder, in late February, visitors who take the time to come to Utoro, a small settlement on the Shiretoko Peninsula, can witness what is certain to become an increasingly rare phenomena.
Sea ice, floating in from Russia, along with hungry flocks of Steller’s Sea Eagles, is hypnotically beautiful on its own, and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
Along with the sea eagles, Clione limacin, or Sea Angels, swim under the ice. While technically, these delicate, pink sea creatures live in Hokkaido year round, there is just something more… exciting about searching for them in the icy sea. The bulky dry suits may not be flattering, even ridiculous looking, but more than canceled out by the awesome of surviving swimming in the frozen ocean.
For those still unwilling to try the full immersion experience, there are ice-breaker boat tours, and short, wildlife hikes that take trips up to the sweet, lookout spots.
Those with good timing can enjoy the snow festival at Abeshiri, the town nearby to Utoro, held on the surface of a frozen lake, and fish through holes in the ice, or scoot down the ice-cube slide. These are all side-shows to the main event however: the quiet, undulating vista of Hokkaido’s frozen sea.