Rishiri Island – Enjoy The Unspoiled Nature in Hokkaido
Rishiri is a small island off the north-west coast of Hokkaido made up of a single volcano called Rishiri-san (利尻山) which towers some 1719m over the surrounding sea. The 60km island offers unspoiled natural environments, abundance of wild flowers, and their quiet fishing communities. If you have been to Hokkaido for a few times and wish to explore the islands around it, why not spend a weekend at this quiet island and enjoy lovely sea and mountain views while indulging on premium uni and kelp?
Visit Lake Otatomari
Lake Otatomari is the largest lake on Rishiri Island and you are probably familiar with it if you are a big fan of the famous Shiroi Koibito (“white lovers”) biscuits because the beautiful picture on the packaging is taken right here in Rishiri.
At Numaura Observatory, you get to see Mount Rishirifuji and Otatomari Pond at the same time. This place is also called Shiroi Koibito Hill. Guess what, if you propose here, you can get a certificate. Just have to register at the Tourism Information Desk at the Oshidomari Ferry Terminal.
Do some shopping at the souvenir shop
Near the entrance of the Otatomari Pond, there is a souvenir shop where you can get fresh seafood or some local snacks. During our visit, the uni season was ending and we manage to savour the last few piece of uni sushi. SO CREAMY! Each piece is 600 yen (about S$8).
Feed the seals at Cape Sen-houshi
Because Rishiri is such a small town, you can get from one place to another easily via car. We manage to catch the sunset at Sen-houshi area, located at the southern part of Rishiri Island. You get to feed the cute seals by purchasing the small fishes from the shop.
Eat Sea Urchin
The island is famous for sea urchin (uni). There are two types of sea urchin – the red one (deep orange colour that’s creamy and rich) and the white one (more bright yellow and lighter in taste).
Sea urchins eat konbu kelp. This is why the Rishiri is a major harvesting area because of their well known konbu kelp crop. Fertile konbu kelp grounds definitely have a large stock of sea urchin. And the premium konbu is best to make into dashi stock.
Do you know, Rishiri produced 205 tonnes of kelp and 47 tonnes of uni last year. Farmers typically work from April to September and they earn about US$200,000 (S$280,000) a year. Oh my, I think I am coming here to work as a farmer already.
Take a walk around Himenuma Pond
Cycling and hiking are the two of the main activities on Rishiri. You can take a 1km trail around Himenuma Pond, a man made pond at the foot of Mount Rishiri. The views of the mountain reflecting in the pond are charming. Take a walk in the forest to enjoy the tranquility.
Where to stay?
Minshuku, ryokan and hotels can be found in Rishiri. We stayed in Marine Hotel where we can enjoy hot-spring baths and a dining room that serves Japanese breakfasts and dinners. It is about 15 minutes from Rishiri Airport via hotel’s free shuttle.
Horsehair crab is one of Hokkaido’s most well known seafood products. At Rishiri Marine Hotel, we had a scrumptious dinner with so many dishes prepared on the table, including the horsehair crabs prepared by boiling live in salt water.
Take a ferry to other islands
Oshidomari is Rishiri’s largest town and transport hub. If you wish to travel to other nearby islands such as Wakkanai and Rebun, take a ferry from Oshidomari Port. Ferries operate twice daily between Rishiri Island and Wakkanai, and the trip takes 1 hour 40 minutes. Prices start at 1,090 yen (S$14.60), with the option of Western or tatami seats.
While you are at the ferry terminal, don’t forget to go to the cafe on the 2nd floor to try their Unimeshi Bowl with luxurious serving of sea urchin and salmon roe! The soup stock made with Rishiri kelp combined with rich sea urchin. Alternatively, the seafood ramen and uni pasta are good options as well.
Scoot (www.flyscoot.com) started a direct flight from Singapore to Sapporo, with a roughly one-hour stopover in Taipei. The flight operates three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and takes about 10 hours. Airfares vary with the season, but regular return all-in economy tickets start at $418, excluding baggage and meals.
From Sapporo’s Okadama airport, Japan Airlines and Hokkaido Air System operate flights direct to Rishiri Island. Visit www.jal.co.jp for fares and travel dates. There are city buses going around major tourist spots from May to end-October. Alternatively, you can rent cars at the airport or bicycles at the Oshidomari Ferry Terminal.
Call the Rishiri Fuji Tourism Association (Tel: 0163-82-1114 or 0163-82-2201) to make bookings for tour buses or tourist taxis. It also helps travellers make hotel bookings (Tel: 0163-82-1837).