Kaminokuni (上ノ国町) is said that Hokkaido’s first Japanese settlement dates back to 1189. Takeda Nobuhiro, the first lord of the Matsumae clan, ruled here as a trading post in the 15th and 16th centuries. Those days the Amano-gawa (天の川: translating to the Milky Way), flowing through the town, was the border river between Ainu and Japanese. Kaminokuni is worth stepping off the bus between Esashi and Matsumae.
Kaminokuni’s few Medieval Age buildings and heritages are scattered along Route 228. A discounted combination ticket (共通券: kyotsu-ken: ¥400) is available for the Old Sasanami House and the Katsuyama Castle Ruins Guidance Facility. Both are closed in winter.
Katsuyama Castle Ruins
(勝山館跡) Originally constructed around 1470 by Takeda Nobuhiro, Katsuyama-date was Hokkaido’s represented medieval castle halfway up Io-zan (夷王山: 159m). Interestingly both Japanese and Ainu lived here until the late 16th-century. There are no historic buildings today, but it provides dramatic views of the town.
The Katsuyama Castle Guidance Facility (勝山館跡ガイダンス施設: 10am-4pm 4th Sat of Apr-2nd Sun of Nov; Closed Mon; ¥200) displays finds from local castles and reconstructed models.
Old Sasanami House
(旧笹波家住宅) Hokkaido’s oldest house existing built in the early 19th-century, the Sasanami family was a fishermen’s boss of Kaminokuni. The adjoining 1848 storehouse has historical exhibits.
(上国寺) Jokoku-ji, established in 1443, is Hokkaido’s oldest temple building constructed in 1757. If you want to see inside, ask for staff.
(上ノ國八幡宮) Established in 1473 by Takeda Nobuhiro, it has one of Hokkaido’s oldest shrine buildings constructed in 1699 inside the sheltering hall (unfortunately it is not open to the public).
Central Kaminokuni has two main bus stops:
Kaminokuni (上ノ国) On Route 228 near Jokoku-ji. It is connected with Esashi Terminal (11min) and Haraguchi Gyoko-mae (40min).
Odome (大留) There are six buses daily link with JR Kikonai Station (70min) and Esashi Nakauta-cho (23min). About 2km east of Jokoku-ji.