Hokkaido’s second largest city of Asahikawa (literary means ‘sunrise river’) lies on the Kamikawa Basin. The city is straddles the clear rivers and laid out in a grid pattern, with its varied attractions, bustling izakaya, ramen spots, craft studios and home to Kamikawa Ainu. The main attractions are rather spread out, so you will need to use a rental bike or bus.
BOOK YOUR STAY ONLINE
Sleeping in Asahikawa
Asahikawa has a number of business hotels, mostly on the north from the train station, from where you can travel to nearby Daisetsuzan National Park and Furano. Rate increase during the winter festival and high-seasons.
PLAN YOUR OWN TOUR
Asahikawa at a Glance
START: Asahikawa Station
FINISH: Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Museum
DISTANCE: 12km (+4km from the Ainu Museum to Asahikawa Station)
DURATION: 6 hours (+30 minutes)
BEST TIME: May to October except Monday
Asahikawa Station is a good transport hub in the city. Asahikawa Tourism & Local Products Information Center (9am-7pm, from 8.30am Jun-Sep / www.atca.jp) inside the train station east side, has brochures, maps and English-speaking staff. The souvenir shop sells local sake, sweets and crafts. Until 5pm, you can leave your luggage (¥700 per day) and rent bikes (May-Oct / from ¥500 per day).
NEXT: Kitasaito Garden is just southeast of JR Asahikawa Station along Chubetsu-gawa (忠別川).
北彩都ガーデン / 24hrs (Garden Center 9am-6pm, to 5pm Nov-Apr / Closed Mon / Wi-Fi) / FREE / www.asahikawa-park.or.jp/kitasaito
Asahikawa’s 12-hectare pleasant riverside garden along Chubetsu-gawa runs from the train station south gate to Asahikawa Science Museum. The Garden Center offers free rental snowshoes, tubes and cross-country skis in winter.
NEXT: From Kitasaito Garden, head 500m west on the riverside promenade along the train station, then turn left onto Showa-dori (昭和通) across the Crystal-bashi (near the Aeon shopping mall) for 600m to Asahikawa Museum.
Asahikawa City Museum
旭川市博物館 / 3-7 Kagura / 9am-5pm / Closed 2nd & 4th Mon of month / ¥300 / www.city.asahikawa.hokkaido.jp
This museum has excellent Ainu culture and historical displays, which includes colorful accessories, hunting tools and traditional cloths. The basement floor is the natural history display. It is a great place to visit before explore Asahikawa.
NEXT: From the Taisetsu Arena opposite the museum, head 450m southeast on Route 237, then turn right at the Honda car dealership (there is a signboard for the literature museum) for 360m.
Foreign Tree Specimen Forest
外国樹種見本林 / Gaikoku Jushu Mihonrin / 7-8 Kagura/ 24hrs
Asahikawa’s lovely forest besides Biei-gawa, with more than 50 species of trees from Europe and North America, makes good for a relaxing wander.
At the entrance of the forest, the Literature Museum (三浦綾子記念館 / 9am-5pm / Closed Mon Oct-May / ¥700) has displays on the work and life of Miura Ayako (1922-1999), whose novels Freezing Point and Shiokari Pass have been translated into English.
NEXT: Go back to the Honda car dealership and turn right on Route 237 for 1km, then turn left onto Taisetsu-dori (大雪通) at the corner of Eneos gas station for 500m.
PARK & SHRINE
神楽岡公園 / Kaguraoka Koen / 24hrs / FREE
Laid out in 1889 in an attempted to emulate the grand planning ideas of Kamikawa Rikyu (上川離宮) imperial villa, Kaguraoka (literary means ‘Hill of the Dancing God’) Park is a leafy place for picnic and camping (Jul-Aug) sits beside Chubetsu-gawa. One of Northern Hokkaido’s most famous shrines, Kamikawa JInja (上川神社) sits on the west side. Cherry trees become a pink in early May.
NEXT: From Kamikawa Jinja, heading north on Taisetsu-dori across Kagura-bashi bridge. You will find the science museum on the left.
Asahikawa Science Museum Sci-Pal
旭川市科学館サイパル / 1-3 Miyamae; 9.30am-5pm / Closed Mon & last weekday of month / Exhibition adult ¥400, child FREE (Exhibition & Planetarium: adult ¥500 / child FREE) / www.city.asahikawa.hokkaido.jp/science
This modern family-friendly science museum has interactive exhibits, including planets, ice and snow. There is also a planetarium.
1-3 Miyamae / 9am-10pm / Closed 2nd & 4th Mon of month / FREE
Next to the science center, you will find the two red brick old railway factories (built in 1899), the legacy of Asahikawa’s transport hub. It has tiny exhibitions about railway history of the town.
NEXT: From the Power shopping malls opposite the CoCoDe, head 150m north on Shinseibashi-dori (新成橋通) to the Eneos gas station, then turn right onto Miyashita-dori (宮下通) for 150m.
Takasago Sake Brewery
高砂酒造 / 17 Miyashita-dori / 9am-5.30pm / FREE / www.takasagoshuzo.com
This century-old classical brewery makes sake and they offer tastings amid sakagura (Japanese storehouse) from 1909. Guided brewery tours are available (10am and 3pm), you need to make reservation on the website by three days before.
Note: don’t drink sake here if you are cycling.
NEXT: Head 750m west on Miyashita-dori to the Kuraimu.
LUNCH: HISTORIC BUILDINGS & GALLERIES
Kuraimu & Taisetsu Ji-Beer-kan
蔵囲夢 · 大雪地ビール館 / 11 Miyashita-dori / 10am-6pm May-Oct, 11am-5pm Nov-Mar / Closed Mon / FREE
Constructed from 1900 to 1913 as Kamikawa Soko (上川倉庫) red brick warehouses now houses a design gallery rented by local artists, chairs gallery and interior shop.
In a part of the Kuraimu complex, Taisetsu Ji-Beer-Kan (11.30am-10pm / www.ji-beer.com) makes its craft beer with Northern Hokkaido malt and fresh water from Daisetsuzan. It has a comprehensive menu of meat-based dishes, set meals, ramen, snacks and dessertes.
Note: don’t drink beer here if you are cycling.
NEXT: Continue on Miyashita-dori to the Aeon shopping mall for 600m, turning right onto Showa-dori (Route 40) to Tokiwa Park for 1.2km passes through the Sanroku-gai (さんろく街 / 3jo-dori 6-chome) nightlife district. If you spend a night in Asahikawa, come back again here for eating and drinking.
PARK & ART MUSEUM
常磐公園 / Tokiwa Koen / 24hrs / FREE
Asahikawa’s oldest oasis of green, established in 1916, is a great place to have a picnic or hire a rowboat on the pond. There are 10 sculptures and 19 stone monuments on the grounds. Cherry trees bloom around the pond in early May.
Located on the west side of Tokiwa Park, Hokkaido Asahikawa Museum of Art (北海道立旭川美術館 / 9.30am-5pm / Closed Mon, 29 Dec-3 Jan / Admission ¥260) has a collection of paintings and wood crafts created by local artists.
Asahikawa’s iconic symbol across Ishikari-gawa, at the north side of Tokiwa Park, Asahi-bashi is the city’s most beautiful bridge opened in 1932. The bridge was the first link between the city center and the military base, it was hung with the Order of the Rising Sun before WWII. Best to take photos from a riverbed for sunset.
NEXT: Across the Asahi-bashi and heading north on Route 40 for 1.3km.
北鎮記念館 / Shunko-cho / 9am-5pm Apr-Oct, 9.30am-4pm Nov-Mar / Closed Mon / FREE
Asahikawa was known as Hokkaido’s main military-based town before WWII. This red brick museum exhibits on the history of local tonden-hei (farmer soldiers), the old Imperial Japanese Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force, including swords and guns.
Opposite the museum, the 1902 Hokkaido Gokoku Jinja (北海道護国神社 / Hanasaki-cho 1-2282-2 / 24hrs / FREE / www.hokkaido-gokoku.org) shrine dedicated to mourn the war victims. The precinct has Hokkaido’s only Taikan-style building of Heisei-kan (平成館) constructed in 1935.
NEXT: Continue on Route 40 for 1.2km and turn left at the Nissan car dealership, from where it is 1.5km northwest to Shunko-en (春公園) park facing the two museums.
ART & LOCAL HISTORY
Asahikawa Museum of Sculpture
中原悌二郎記念旭川彫刻美術館 / 5-7 Shunko-cho / 9am-5pm Tue-Sun / ¥300
Originally built in 1902 as a social club for military officers, the beautifully proportioned white European-style wooden building is now a sculpture museum. It showcases the work of Nakahara Teijiro (1888-1921), Japan’s top sculpture of the Taisho period.
A discount combined ticket (¥450) is available for the Museum of Sculpture and beside the Inoue Yasushi Memorial Museum (井上靖記念館) that chronicles the life and works of Asahikawa-born famous writer Inoue Yasushi (1907-1991) whose several novels have been translated into English.
NEXT: Return to the Lawson for 500m and turn right onto Chikabumi-Higashi-Takasu Line street for 2.5km to the Ainu Museum.
FINISH: AINU CULTURE
Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Museum
川村カ子トアイヌ記念館 / 1 Hokumon-cho / 9am-5pm, to 6pm Jul & Aug / ¥500 / k-aynu-mh.jp
Founded in 1916 as Japan’s first Ainu culture museum, it houses a one-room displays of about 500 artefacts and documents collected by the region’s Ainu chief Kawamura Kaneto (1893-1977) who was a railroad engineer. All exhibits have English placards and there is also a thatched dwelling called chise.
CONTINUE: Heading southwest on Chikabumi-Higashi-Takasu Line street, then turn left onto Arashiyama-dori (嵐山通) to JR Asahikawa Station for 4km.
DETOUR: WILDLIFE WATCHING
旭川市旭山動物園 / Kuranuma, Higashi-Asahikawa / 9.30am-5.15pm 29 Apr-15 Oct, 9.30am-4.30pm 16 Oct-3 Nov, 10.30am-3.30pm 11 Nov-early Apr / Closed 30 Dec-1 Jan & off-seasons / ¥1000
About 10km east of the city center (Tokiwa Roundabout) on Kamui-Asahiyama-dori (神居旭山通), Japan’s northernmost zoo features wildlife of Hokkaido, cold areas and Africa. Here you can watch animals such as both brown and polar bears, foxes, eagles, monkeys, tigers, wolves, deers, seals and penguins. Penguins walk on the snow are 11am and 2.30pm in winter. The Zoo has several eateries for lunch.
If you visit the zoo, don’t miss the neighborhood Miura Garden (三浦庭園 / 9am-5pm 20 Apr-15 Oct / ¥150 for zoo visitors) created by Mr Miura. It features a picturesque pond chocked with about 2000 lotus flowers (late Jun-early Aug). An entrance from the zoo is near the wolves forest.
From Asahikawa Station stop 6, take bus 41, 42 (seasonal) or 47 (twice hourly from 7:40 to 15:10 / 40min / ¥450). If you visit here by car, stop at Higashi-mon (east gate of the zoo) free car park.