The forested town of Engaru (遠軽) on the JR Sekihoku Line functions as a useful transport hub for access to Monbetsu by bus. You might find yourself in the town while waiting for transport connections. Otherwise, take a dip in the tranquil onsen or visit the flower gardens.
01 ROCK & SCENIC VIEWPOINT
がんぼう岩 / 1 Nishi-machi / 24hrs
If you are waiting for a train or bus, it is an ideal time to a 15-minute climb the huge rock of Ganbo-iwa (78m) with good views over the town and its environs. This Pirikanoka (ピリカノカ: beautiful form) was an old battlefield of Ainu and called Inkar-us-i, the town name of Engaru comes from here. Get there on foot from the south side of the Town Museum.
02 FLOWER GARDEN
Taiyo-no-Oka Engaru Park
太陽の丘えんがる公園 / 9am-5pm 29 Apr-31 Oct / Cosmos Festival ¥300 / cosmos-love.com
From September to mid October, Engaru Park is covered in around 10 million of cosmos. It is also famous for its phlox which peaks in late May. This park is possible to get there by taxi or on foot from Ganbo-iwa.
03 LOCAL HISTORY
Engaru Town Museum
遠軽町郷土館 / Engaru-cho Kyodokan / 1-2-5 Nishi-machi / 9am-5pm / Closed Mon / ¥150
Located at the foot of Ganbo-iwa, this small museum displays permanent exhibits on the local history, including artefacts and railway (including old JR Nayoro Line for Monbetsu).
04 ART MUSEUM
Museum of Worldwide Wooden Toys Chacha World
ちゃちゃワールド / 143 Ikutahara / 9.30am-6pm Apr-Oct, 10am-5pm Nov-Mar / Adult ¥600, child ¥300 / Wi-Fi / cha2world.com
This delightful museum has about 10,000 cheerful and playable wooden toys around the world. Fujishiro Seiji’s Kosai Rikuri, the world largest shadow picture (measuring 9m by 18m) is also installed with his 30 works (photography is not allowed). You can purchase a variety of wooden toys, local crafts and dolls on your own in the shop.
The Chacha World is about 700m west of JR Ikutahara Station. A discounted combination ticket (adult ¥1000, child ¥500) is available for the Chacha World and day use entry at the onsen hotel North King.
05 ONSEN & SLEEPING
Ikutahara Onsen Hotel North King
生田原温泉ホテルノースキング / Tel 0158-45-2336 / 874-1 Ikutahara / Day bathing 10am-10pm (¥500) / www.northking.jp
Immediately to the left as you exit JR Ikutahara Station, the North King is a convenient and pleasant onsen for railway travelers. 28 rooms are clean and affordable rates. There is also a restaurant (11am-2pm & 5-9pm).
06 STEAM LOCOMOTIVE
Forest Railroad SL ‘Amemiya 21’
森林鉄道蒸気機関2車雨宮21号 / Ikoi-no-mori / 10am-4.30pm (departs every 30min except 12.30pm) weekend of late Apr-late Oct, Golden Week, mid Jul-mid Aug / ¥500 / www.engaru-kankou.jp/ikoi.htm
An old steam locomotive for a forest railroad, the Amemiya 21 date from 1928 chug the short distance in the forest park Ikoi-no-mori. It does run on weekends from late April to late October, and daily during Golden Week and summer (mid Jul-mid Aug).
From JR Maruseppu Station, there are three buses (7.15am, 12.05pm and 4pm) daily to the Maure Sanso (20min), stopping at the Ikoi-no-mori (15min) forest park.
Reserving station Engaru is on the JR Sekihoku Line. There are a few daily limited express trains from Sapporo (3.5hrs), Asahikawa (2hrs) and Abashiri (1hr 45min). Most limited express trains and all rapid trains stop at Shirataki, Maruseppu and Ikutahara. One daily rapid train (特別快速: tokubetsu kaisoku) connects Asahikawa and Engaru (2hrs).