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Kamikawa: Adventures in the Center of Hokkaido

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Kamikawa: Adventures in the Center of Hokkaido

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Kamikawa is a large municipality in the middle of Hokkaido, with the city of Asahikawa at its centre.

While it is easily overlooked for more remote regions on Hokkaido, Kamikawa has a lot to offer to the outdoor enthusiast who’d like to explore mountains, rivers and get to know the local Ainu culture.

It’s also home to the Daisetsuzan National Park, the largest National Park in Japan, which is home to many bears and it’s surrounding Hotsprings are inviting to hikers and skiers alike.

Daisetsuzan National Park.

Sapporo

Our journey to Kamikawa starts in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido which is easily reached from abroad. Japan is known for its fast and efficient trains, so it’s the logical choice to continue to Asahikawa.

It’s a short and enjoyable trip, and from Asahikawa we continue via Bus to the wonderful Fratello Di Mikuni Restaurant, which sits atop a hill and has wonderful views towards Daisetsuzan. This Restaurant not only delights with the magnificent views you have towards the mountains, but also the delicious meals the Chefs conjure up on your plate! We had the most amazing six course meal which will make your mouth water. 🤤

Different dishes at the Fratello Di Mikuni Restaurant.
Different dishes at the Fratello Di Mikuni Restaurant.

Photography Museum of Koetsu Ichinei

After our delicious dinner we take a stroll through the nearby Daisetsu Mori-no Garden, which was delightful with its autumn vibes. I could have spend a lot more time here, it was so pretty, though we went on to the inspiring photography Museum of Koetsu Ichinei who is also the author of the “Mountains in Hokkaido” book.

Ichinei-San has spent his lifetime photographing in the Daisetsuzan National Park, and the collection of his images will make you want to go right away and visit this National Park in all the seasons.

Sounkyo Visitor Centre

After this inspiring visit, in which Ichinei-San has told us about his love for the mountains, we made a visit to the Sounkyo Visitor Centre down the road, where we learned more about the National Park which we will visit the next day.

Nature photos at the Photography Museum of Koetsu Ichinei.
Nature photos at the Photography Museum of Koetsu Ichinei.
Ichinei San, the photographer of the nature photos at the Photography Museum of Koetsu Ichinei.
Ichinei San, the photographer of the nature photos at the Photography Museum of Koetsu Ichinei.

Hotel Taisetsu – Kaiseki dinner

Hotel Taisetsu is our home for the night, on the doorstep of the National Park and not far away from the Mt. Kurodake Ropeway.

The local deer welcome us and after moving our belongings into our traditional and spacious rooms we head to the Onsen, which is located at the top floor and overlooks the mountains. Sitting in the steaming hot spring water while it is a bit chilly outside and overlooking the nature is an amazing experience, and so relaxing – you should try it! 

No visit to a Onsen Hotel like the Taisetsu is complete without an amazing Kaiseki dinner – a ten course meal which includes delicious Sashimi, a second dish with a seasonal theme, Takiawase, Shiizakana, seasonal pickled vegetables and of course a delicious dessert!

After this tasty experience we enjoyed an Ainu Culture performance including the beautiful sounding mouth-harp. Some of my friends went now to the Onsen, which often is open till midnight – a perfect way to end a beautiful day.

Delicious ten course Kaiseki dinner at the Taisetsu hotel in Hokkaido, Japan.
Delicious ten course Kaiseki dinner at the Taisetsu hotel in Hokkaido, Japan.

A Visit to Daisetsuzan National Park

Daisetsuzan (大雪山) stands as Hokkaido’s most extensive national park, safeguarding a vast expanse of nearly untouched wilderness surpassing the size of certain smaller Japanese prefectures.

This sanctuary is a haven for hiking enthusiasts, nature lovers, as well as an abode for deer and brown bears. It proudly holds the distinction of being the first location in Japan to embrace the vibrant hues of autumn leafs and the pristine beauty of snowfall each year.

The best way to explore this haven is on foot, which is what we did the next morning. Before you’re allowed into the National Park you have to sit through a 5 minute education session about the bears in the National Park and how to behave if you should encounter one. It’s informative and made in a fun way, and after this we hit the trail.

Education session before hiking at Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan.
Education session before hiking at Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan.

The beauty of Daisetsuzan National Park has to be experienced – from hiking past steaming Fumaroles to tiny streams in which you see Oshorokoma trout swim, it’s something which you should see for yourself.

Add in the beauty of the onsetting autumn colors, the gorgeous lakes which you pass on your hike and the far-reaching views across the National Park and beyond, and I believe you are already checking out flights to Hokkaido – you can scroll to the bottom of the article for that, to see the best deals for that, as well as Hotels and restaurant recommendations!

Fumaroles to tiny streams at the Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan.
©Hendrik-Morkel
Fumaroles to tiny streams at the Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan.
©Hendrik-Morkel
Hiking in the Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan.
Hiking in the Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido, Japan.
Start of the Kogen-Onsen Numa Mengari Hiking Trail.
©Hendrik-Morkel
Start of the Kogen-Onsen Numa Mengari Hiking Trail.

Asahikawa Design Center

After our hike we had a fantastic lunch at a local restaurant, before riding with the Bus back to Asahikawa and a visit to the Asahikawa Design Center.

Asahikawa is a UN Design Capital, just like Helsinki and a handful of other cities across the globe, and in the Asahikawa Design Center you can learn more about the wood and furniture industry of the island.

Going through the interesting exhibition we were led to the wood-working area of the Design Centre, where we could choose from a variety of items which we could now craft ourselves! This was a lot of fun and it was difficult to choose what to make – in the end I picked a beautiful piece of wood which would become a small tray for my partner.

At the Asahikawa Design Centre.
At the Asahikawa Design Centre.

In Asahikawa we stayed in the Art Hotel. There’s many fantastic Hotels in this town of almost 340.000 inhabitants, though the breakfast room at the top floor of the Art Hotel, with gorgeous views over the city and towards the mountains, makes it a solid choice.

As for Restaurants, in a city of this size you can find anything that suits your tastes – from traditional Japanese cuisine over Ramen to more Western cuisine. This evening in Asahikawa we went to eat at the Oysteria Canyon Base on the main street, which offers very tasty Italian food! There were also fantastic Vegan options, and the deserts were so delicious that we had seconds. 😋

Cycling to Higashikawa

The next morning the sun was high up in the sky and beckoned us to join it on a cycling adventure. We rode out to the Daisetsuzan Gensui Park, which is a beautiful Park not too far away from the Asahidake Ropeway.

It’s a wonderful place with a lovely stream which you can hike along up to the source. There’s also a parking lot where locals come to pick up the water from taps, as it is supposed to have healing qualities. It’s definitely very tasty and we all filled up our water bottles!

The source at the Daisetsuzan Gensui Park.
©Hendrik-Morkel
The source at the Daisetsuzan Gensui Park.

It was now time for a very nice cycle trip to Higashikawa, along the shore of the Chubetsu Lake and across the dam. We rode on normal streets this first part, but traffic was little and the cycling was easy and fun, with great views.

At the dam we enjoyed the views back towards the mountains, especially Asahidake which was the closest and looked majestic in the warm autumn day.

The next part was arguably the most enjoyable: On a cycle road with the Chubetsu river on our left and golden rice paddies on our right. It was absolutely fantastic and something to definitely do when you visit!

Cycling to Higashikawa!
©Hendrik-Morkel
Cycling to Higashikawa!

To top things off we even visited a local rice farmer, and heard how his rice has won several competitions in Japan!

Hokkaido’s rice is very highly regarded across Japan, even if rice cultivation has only started here in the last century when new technologies became available to grow rice this far north in such short summers.

Farmer of the golden rice.
©Hendrik-Morkel
Farmer of the golden rice.

We continued into this beautiful town which is well know across the island as the “Town of Photography” – there are many talented photographers living here, and in the town center you can see hundreds of old, beautiful film cameras.

Outside we enjoyed also a fascinating exhibition about a movie, there’s a Montbell Store on the main road if you want to buy some high-quality outdoor kit, and the Tofu Soft Serve shop next to it is highly recommended – the ice cream is delicious! 

Photo exhibition and good food in Higashikawa!
©Hendrik-Morkel
Photo exhibition and good food in Higashikawa!

Food festival Asahikawa

After our ride we took the bus back to Asahikawa, where we went and explored the Food Festival which was going on.

It is an over one kilometer long collection of hundreds of food stalls on the main street, where you can eat local and international treats. It’s an absolute feast – and it’s also affordable!

When you’re in September in Asahikawa make sure to plan your visit around this Festival, as it allows you to taste so much delicious food that you have a good reason to go on a long hike or bicycle ride the next day!

Evening Mood in Asahikawa.
Evening Mood in Asahikawa.
At the Food Festival in Asahikawa.
©Hendrik-Morkel
At the Food Festival in Asahikawa.

At the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Museum

When you visit Hokkaido you will hear hopefully at one point or another about the indigenous people of the island – the Ainu.

Like many indigenous people they have suffered at the hands of others, from being forbidden to speak their language and practice their traditions. Happily nowadays this is no longer the case, and during our visit to the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Museum we learned a lot about the Ainu and their culture, which is related to nature & the land.

My favourite memory is learning to play the traditional mouth harp, which has a beautiful sound and is actually quite hard to play, even if it looks easy.

Being able to ask the mom and her son about their culture and learn from then was an inspiring experience, and if you’re interested in indigenous cultures then a visit here is a must!

At the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Museum.
©Hendrik-Morkel
At the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Museum.

Practicalities: How to get to Kamikawa, Where to Stay and what to Eat!

First off: Get an eSim from Airalo. It works a treat and allows you to use Google Maps, Translate and everything else for as little as 3$/ GB. I recommend their 5 GB Package if you stay less than two weeks, and then simply top-up your account as needed. Use the Code HENDRI0415 to get 3$!

Flying to Japan is super-easy and you can also fly directly to Asahikawa, which has one of the most-reliable Airports in Japan. You can find the best connections from your home airport via Trip.com.

Pro-Tip: Add in a couple of days in Tokyo on the way home – see our Tokyo Tips here!

You can use Booking.com to find the perfect Hotel for your stay in Asahikawa and book it right away. I can highly recommend the Hotel WBF Grande Asahikawa which has spacious rooms, a fantastic Onsen and a very tasty breakfast buffet.

The AMANEK Asahikawa is the newest Hotel in Asahikawa and is right off the Main Street and a 2 Minutes walk to the railway station.

The Art Hotel Asahikawa is where we stayed on this trip and it has comfortable rooms and the breakfast buffet on the top floor is very nice indeed.

There are many more Hotels in town, so if none of these fit your needs browse through Booking.com to find the right Hotel for you!

Overlooking Kamikawa in Hokkaido, Japan.
Overlooking Kamikawa in Hokkaido, Japan.

There are so many super-tasty Restaurants in Asahikawa that I only list my three favorites:

Ramen Santōka is the Best Ramen Shop in town. I absolutely LOVE their Ramen – they are so tasty that my mouth is watering right now, just thinking about them!

If you want to splurge on Dinner and want a traditional Japanese experience then you have to visit HATAGO. Have a Japanese friend help you make a reservation as it’s very popular, and then make sure to try the Sashimi which were godly.

Finally, Switch Flavor is a Café which offers the most tastiest treats, from Parfaits to cheese cake and more. This place is absolutely gorgeous and ideal for couples who want a romantic Café!

Tasty food from my favourite places in Asahikawa!
Tasty food from my favourite places in Asahikawa!

  • Hendrik Morkel

    Presenter and Videographer – Born in Germany Hendrik moved to Finland over 20 years ago, where he hikes, skis and climbs. He likes sustainable travel and loves to go on by-fair-means adventures around the world, which he documents with his camera and pen.



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