Japan’s northernmost city of Wakkanai (稚内) is an important turning point for all tourists. In summer Wakkanai is crowded with group tourists, railway enthusiasts, hiker, bikers and cyclists. They spend a couple of time in the town and its surroundings before traveling onward. This nationally-famous city has ferry connections to Rishiri-to, Rebun-to and Sakhalin (only in summer) islands.
01 TRAIN STATION
Wakkanai Station ‘KITAColor’
稚内駅 / 3-6 Chuo / www.kitacolor.com
The modern JR Wakkanai Station (tickets 6.20am-5.50pm), Wakkanai Station bus terminal (tickets 5.40am-6pm & 9.30pm-11pm) and Michi-no-eki (roadside station) are in one building of KITA Color (キタカラ).
The cinema complex T-Joy Wakkanai is situated on the 2nd floor of JR Wakkanai Station. All films are ¥500 discount after 8pm (late show). It is a good place to kill time after dinner or before getting on the night bus.
02 HISTORIC BUILDING
North Breakwater Dome
北防波堤ドーム / Kita-Bohatei Domu / 1-1-1-2 Kaiun / 24hrs
This 427m-long and 13.6m-height half-arched breakwater, designed by Tsuchiya Minoru (26-year-old at that time), is an enduring symbol of the city near JR Wakkanai Station. Kita-Bohatei Dome has 70 cylindrical columns and was built in 1936 as Wakkanai-Sanbashi (稚内桟橋) Pier Station. From here the railway ferries connected to Odomari on Karafuto (currently Korsakov on Sakhalin) until 1945. Today the breakwater promenade is good for a stroll.
03 HISTORIC BUILDING
Old Seto House
旧瀬戸邸 /4-8-27 Chuo / 10am-6pm mid Apr-Oct / ¥200
Once a local fisheres master’s home built in 1952, the simple but luxurious Japanese-style house evokes family life in the Showa period.
04 SHOPPING & LOCAL HISTORY
Wakkanai Fukuko Market
稚内副港市場 / 1-6-28 Minato / 9.30am-9.30pm / FREE / www.wakkanai-fukukou.com
The Fukuko Ichiba (secondary port market) tourist complex houses a food alley and souvenir shops. In the Wakkanai Karafuto Museum (稚内市樺太記念館: 10am-5pm / Closed Mon Nov-Mar / FREE) exhibits maps and photos of old Karafuto (Sakhalin). This complex is a good place to hang out in the town center. It is about a 10-minute walk south of JR Wakkanai Station along Route 40.
05 SCENIC PARK
稚内公園 / Wakkanai Koen / 24hrs / Closed Dec-mid Apr / FREE
Rising up the footpath from Hokumon Jinja (北門神社), you will reach this hillside park overlooking the town and bay. In the north position of the park has a wealth of memorial monuments; the Hyosetsu-no-Mon (氷雪の門) and the Monument to Nine Maidens (九人の乙女の碑) dedicated to war victims of Karafuto-islanders. Other memorial includes the Antarctic Research Expedition Karafuto Dogs Training (南極観測樺太犬訓練記念碑) erected in 1960. The park is closed in winter (December to mid April).
06 LOCAL HISTORY & SCENIC VIEWPOINT
Wakkanai Centennial Memorial Tower
稚内開基百年記念塔・北方記念館 / Wakkanai Park / 9am-5pm Apr-May & Oct, 9am-9pm Jun & Sep, 8am-9pm Jul & Aug / Closed Mon Apr-May & Oct / ¥400 (¥200 after 6pm)
Built in 1978 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Wakkanai, the 80m-tall tower stands on a hill has displays on the history of the city and Karafuto. The observation deck offers breaking views over the city surrounding the ocean – even as far as Rishiri, Rebun and Sakhalin islands on a clear day.
Wakkanai Hagukumi-no-sato Trails
わっかない育みの里 / 24hrs / Closed in winter
From the opposite side of Wakkanai Centennial Memorial Tower, a 2km-long scenic footpath leads to the Wakkanai Onsen Dome or Ryukai-ji temple overlooking Rishiri-to.
Wakkanai Onsen Dome
稚内温泉童夢 / 4-1487 Fujimi / 10am-10pm / Closed 1st Mon of month / ¥600 / onsen-domu.com
Japan’s northernmost onsen, the Dome boasts indoor and open-air baths overlooking the ocean. Take bus 30 from JR Wakkanai Station (18min) via Noshappu (7min).
09 SCENIC CAPE
ノシャップ岬 / 2 Noshappu / 24hrs
Noshappu-misaki, the western cape of the Soya Bay, is the city’s best sunset location. You will see Rishiri and Rebun islands on a clear day. The Japan’s second tallest lighthouse (47.2m) situated on its edge. Around the lighthouse, there are seafood restaurants.
From JR Wakkanai Station, frequent bus 1 and 30 runs to Noshappu (ノシャップ: 14min / ¥220), some 300m south of the cape. The seafront footpath runs for 5.5km; it is a pretty 70-minute stroll.
10 AQUARIUM & SCIENCE MUSEUM
Noshappu Cold Current Aquarium Fishes & Wakkanai Science Museum for Youth (Wakkarium)
ノシャップ寒流水族館 · 稚内市青少年科学館 / Kanryu Suizokukan & Seishonen Kagakukan / 2-2-17 Noshappu / 9am-5pm 29 Apr-31 Oct, 10am-4pm Nov & Feb-Mar / Closed 1-28 Apr, Dec & Jan / ¥500
Known as the Wakkarium, these two separately attractions are in the same site on Noshappu-misaki. Fishes and sea animals of the cold current waters are in the cold current aquarium. The main focus of the science museum is Japanese Antarctica Research Expedition (JARE), including model ships, ice, sleds and living room.
TRAIN: JR Soya Line end up at Japan’s northernmost station of Wakkanai, a ticket window is open from 6.20am to 5.50pm.
A few limited express trains run from Sapporo (1 daily / 5hrs) and Asahikawa (3 daily / 3.5hrs) on the JR Soya Line. There are also local trains from Asahikawa (5.5hrs) require a change at Nayoro (4hrs). Keep in mind that daytime local trains are crowded during the summer.
BUS: Intercity buses (incl night service with female-only seats) run between Sapporo Odori Bus Center and Wakkanai (6 daily / 6hrs) follows the Ororon Line. Some buses go directly to Wakkanai ferry terminal.
Local bus runs to Hamatonbetsu via Soya-misaki on the Okhotsk Line.