Developed by railway workers in the 1910s, Otoineppu (音威子府村) is Hokkaido’s smallest village by population but appealing place along the river surrounded by tranquil mountain forest. The woodcraft galleries and a pleasant onsen are dotted on the river bank. You will see the Milky Way on a clear night.
In 1857, the Japanese explorer Matsuura Takeshiro visited Osashima, on the west of Otoineppu, with the Ainu’s chief Aetomo and devised the name ‘Hokkaido’.
From 1922 to 1989, Otoineppu Station was a branch point of the Tenpoku railway line for Wakkanai via Hamatonbetsu. Train buffs will find the collection of period railway tickets, photos, equipment and models at the Tenpoku Line Memorial Museum (天北線記念館) inside the train station.
This village is halfway between Asahikawa and Wakkanai on both the JR Soya Line and Route 40, and buses run for North Okhotsk Region such as Hamatonbetsu and Esashi. It is a good place to break up the long journey, thanks to its nice place to sleep and eat.
Eco Museum Osashima Center
(エコミュージアムおさしまセンター) The Ainu’s prominent sculpture Sunazawa Bikky’s atelier was housed in an old wooden elementary school and now an art gallery near JR Osashima Station. His fantastic wooden carvings and crafts are scattered through the rooms. There is also a lovely cafe.
(天塩川温泉) It is a 10-minute walk from JR Teshiogawa-onsen Station and hidden away at the end of narrow road, this hotel is a tranquil location on the pleasant river bank of Teshio-gawa. Japanese- and Western-style rooms are clean and compact. Day tripper can use an onsen (10am-9pm) and a restaurant (11am-2pm & 5-8pm).
There are five free municipal buses per day (except 1 Jan) between JR Otoineppu Station and Teshiogawa Onsen.
More info www.teshiogawa-onsen.com
Rider House Sakkuru
(ライダーハウス咲来) Built as a branch of the Nippon Express in the early 20th-century, this quiet rider house is located in front of JR Sakkuru Station. It has classical and cozy dorms for motorcyclists and backpackers, with shared facilities. You will need to bring your sleeping bag. The friendly owner Osawa-san offers a shuttle service to Teshiogawa Onsen at night if you don’t have your own wheels. Dinner and breakfast soba is available for ¥1000. Note that the owner is sometimes to go out by car.
Otoineppu bus terminal is in the same building as the train station (tickets 7.50am-6.30pm).
For Otoineppu, three daily limited express trains run from Asahikawa (1hr 45min) and Wakkanai (2hrs), and there is a daily limited express train from Sapporo (3hrs). A few local trains run between Nayoro and Wakkanai via Otoineppu.
From Asahikawa Station, there are three buses to Otoineppu (3hrs) continue to Esashi or Hamatonbetsu.