Runs on the JR Nemuro Line along the Sorachi-gawa from Takikawa, Akabira holds the original forms of old mining remnants behind the modern train station.
Utashinai, Japan’s smallest city by population (3000!), grew into a 46,000-person with nine coal mines in the 1950s. Today this tranquil city has some cultural places along the valley.
The route between Sunagawa and Akabira via Utashinai is an attractive alternative route from Sapporo to Furano.
01 COAL MINE HERITAGE
Old Sumitomo Akabira Coal Mine
旧住友赤平炭鉱 / 485 Akabira / 9.30am-5pm Wed-Sun / Guided tour 10am & 1.30pm Wed-Sun / www.facebook.com/zuriyama
The historic symbol of Akabira, this coal mine facility was constructed in 1968 and has a 43.8m-high pithead (立坑櫓: tateko-yagura), bathhouse, office, cutting machines and elevators to the underground (depth 650m) used until its demise in 1995.
Today Akabira Coal Mine Guidance Facility (赤平市炭鉱遺産ガイダンス施設) does guided tours (¥800) with a former miner. Join the guided tour starting at 1.30pm. It is about 800m southeast of Akabira Station.
02 COAL MINE HERITAGE & SCENIC VIEW
ズリ山階段 / 693-1 Akabira / 24hrs Spring-Autumn / FREE
Just behind JR Akabira Station, the Old Hokutan Akama Coal Mine (旧北炭赤間炭鉱: closed in 1973) formed the 130m-high big artificial mountain Zuri-yama. From the old storage house, you can climb up the 777 stairs to the summit viewpoint look down upon the whole city. At least allow 30 to 45 minutes for the return climb.
03 LOCAL HISTORY
Utashinai City Museum Yume-tsumugi
歌志内市郷土館ゆめつむぎ / 10am-5pm / Closed Mon, 30 Dec-4 Jan / ¥200 / yumetsumugi.ec-net.jp
This museum, located at the site of former Utashinai train station, tells of the city’s mining history. Displays cover coal mining machines, livingware and an imitation mining tunnel. Get off a Sunagawa-Akabira bus at Utashinai-shigai (歌志内市街).
04 HISTORICAL GALLERY
大正館 / TEL 0125-42-2276 / Basically appointment only
Right opposite the city museum, the 1920 red brick warehouse is now a private collection gallery Taisho-kan owned by Honjo Yoshio, a friendly artist. It houses an amazing number of classic clocks, lamps, cameras and signboards donated by local citizens.
The gallery is open only the Golden Week (late April to early May), but if you meet him by chance at the entrance or contact by phone, you will be able to enter here.
悲別ロマン座 / 1-5 Kamiuta / 10am-5pm May-Oct / roman-za.com
This colliery-era triangular-roof building was originally a theater for Kamiuta coal miner from 1953 to 1971. In 1984 this abandoned place became the location site of Japanese TV drama “Yesterday, in Kanashibetsu” (昨日、悲別で) produced by Kuramoto So. Today the Roman-za transformed into a cafe that serves curry and coffee. It is about 1km east of the Yume-tsumugi and a Sunagawa-Akabira bus stops at Kami-Utashinai (上歌志内).
神威岳 / 467m
The pleasant grassy mountain of Kamoi-dake (467m) offers a scenic view of Naka-Sorachi Region from the top. You might be overlooking the sea of clouds in the morning. Allow three hours for the return climb from Kashin (歌神) stop on the bus route between Sunagawa and Utashinai. Best way to reach the summit by car on a narrow road.
Akabira & Utashinai Map
↓ 5min walk
Sunagawa Medical Center (砂川市立病院)
↓ Chuo Bus for Akabira-Showa (赤平昭和) to Utashinai-shigai (歌志内市街: 40min) at the Yume-tsumugi
03 Utashinai City Museum Yume-tsumugi
↓ Chuo Bus for Akabira-Showa (赤平昭和) to Sumitomo-Sakae-machi (住友栄町: 10min)
Sumitomo-Sakae-machi bus stop
↓ 10min walk
01 Old Sumitomo Akabira Coal Mine
↓ 10min walk
02 Zuri-yama Stairs
↓ 10min walk (via the underground walkway)
Akabira Station & Observation Deck
Getting There & Around
FOR UTASHINAI: Sunagawa (砂川) on the JR Hakodate Line (and Route 12) is a transfer point for Utashinai. Hourly buses to Akabira-Showa (赤平昭和) via Kamisunagawa (上砂川) and Utashinai-shigai (歌志内市街) depart from Sunagawa Medical Center (砂川市立病院: called shiritsu byoin), a 5-minute walk northwest of JR Sunagawa Station across Route 12.
FOR AKABIRA: The 6-storey, castle-style JR Akabira Station (赤平駅) has a rooftop observation deck (May-Oct / FREE). From JR Akabira Station, you can catch a local train for Furano or Takikawa on the JR Nemuro Line. There are also non-reserved highway buses (高速ふらの号) for Furano and Sapporo in front of JR Akabira Station.