Japan’s northernmost rail line, JR Soya Line (宗谷本線) from Asahikawa covers 260km lonely kilometers further north at Wakkanai, passing through the Nayoro Basin along the peaceful river Teshio-gawa. Most travelers just take the train and aim for Wakkanai, but a few relaxed places are worth to take a placid time and get their taste of the night sky full of stars.
ORDINARY FARE: ¥5940 (Valid for 3-day)
▶︎ SOYA Sapporo – Wakkanai
▶︎ SAROBETSU Asahikawa – Wakkanai
DURATION Soya 5hrs 10min ● Sarobetsu 4hrs 40min // STOPS Asahikawa ● Wassamu ● Shibetsu ● Nayoro ● Bifuka ● Otoineppu ● Teshio-Nakagawa ● Horonobe ● Toyotomi ● Minami-Wakkanai ● Wakkanai
▶︎ NAYORO Asahikawa – Nayoro
MAJOR STOPS Asahikawa ● Nagayama ● Pippu ● Wassamu ● Kenbuchi ● Shibetsu ● Furen ● Nayoro
▶︎ DC 40 Asahikawa – Otoineppu
▶︎ DC 54 Asahikawa – Wakkanai
▶︎ DC H100 Asahikawa – Nayoro
STATIONS & STOPOVERS
LEGEND ⬇︎︎ Route Info // ☆ Attractions // ♨︎ Onsen // ☞ Transfer
ASAHIKAWA TO NAYORO
Northern Hokkaido’s major transport hub, Asahikawa is a good base for a train trip on the JR Hakodate Line, the JR Furano Line and the JR Sekihoku Line. The city is straddles the clear rivers and laid out in a grid pattern.
☆ Asahikawa City Museum (0.8km) Has excellent Ainu culture and historical displays.
☆ Asahi-bashi (1.5km) Asahikawa’s iconic bridge across Ishikari-gawa.
☆ Asahiyama Zoo (10km) Features wildlife of Hokkaido.
◎ POP Asahikawa-shi 331,000
⬇︎︎ 1.8km Asahikawa-yojo 旭川四条
☞ JR Sekihoku Line (for Abashiri)
⬇︎︎ The train passes by the side of Asahikawa Rail Yard.
⬇︎︎ 9.3km Nagayama 永山
⬇︎︎ When you cross the artificial river of Nagayama-shinkawa (excavated in 2002) in early spring, look out for swans on the water.
⬇︎︎ 11.4km Kita-Nagayama 北永山
⬇︎︎ The train crosses over Ishikari-gawa, Hokkaido’s longest river.
☆ Pippu Ski Area (8km) Boasts superb views of the Kamikawa Basin backed by the Daisetsuzan Mountains.
◎ POP Pippu-cho 3600
⬇︎︎ 22.8km Ranru 蘭留
On the former border of Teshio and Ishikari provinces, the Shiokari Pass sits at 274m and well-known for Miura Ayako’s famous novel. Beside the train station, some 1600 cherry trees come into bloom in mid May.
☆ Shiokari Pass Memorial Museum (0.1km) The restored Miura Ayako’s old house.
Wassamu is the Nayoro Basin’s southernmost town and Japan’s top pumpkin producing area.
☆ Wassamu-Higashiyama Ski Area (1km)
☆ Minamioka Forest Park (8km) Great for camp facing the reservoir.
◎ POP Wassamu-cho 3200
Kenbuchi (only rapid and local trains stop here) is one of the prettiest rural towns in Northern Hokkaido but it is not touristy than Furano Region. You can explore the peaceful countryside with yourself. There are 20km- and 38km-long circumference cycling routes around the picturesque town.
☆ Picture Books Museum (0.8km) Has a huge collection of ehon (picture books).
◎ POP Kenbuchi-cho 3000
⬇︎︎ The line passes through the beautiful snowstorm prevention forest (European spruce) planted in 1942.
Shibetsu is home to sheep farming and training camp for Japanese top athletes. A few attractions are dotted around the town. The main attraction is its idyllic Hitsuji-to-Kumo-no-Oka, called the Suffolk Land.
☆ Hitsuji-to-Kumo-no-Oka (4km) Sheep farm on a scenic hill.
♨︎ Hinata Onsen (13km) There is a small ski area overlooking the Nayoro Basin.
◎ POP Shibetsu-shi 18,000
⬇︎︎ 61.7km Tayoro 多寄
⬇︎︎ 64.5km Mizuho 瑞穂
⬇︎︎ 68.1km Furen 風連
⬇︎︎ 72.6km Higashi-Furen 東風連
⬇︎︎ Before arriving at Nayoro, look out for the impressive Kimaroki steam locomotive snow plow train (covered in winter) on the right.
Nayoro makes a base for excursions in the surrounding countryside and mountains. In summer lovely sunflowers blooming in the serene fields. Ice-bound winter brings powder snow and mysterious sun pillars.
☆ Nayoro Kitaguni Museum (1.3km) Has an exhibition of local lifestyle.
☆ Piyashiri Ski Area (9km) Calls itself ‘Japan’s most light and dry snow ski area’.
☆ Sunflower Field (himawari-batake) The best season is from late July to mid August.
◎ POP Nayoro-shi 27,000
NAYORO TO OTOINEPPU
☆ Hokkaido Sunpillar Park (1.3km)
⬇︎︎ 91.2km Chiebun 智恵文
⬇︎︎ 93.3km Chihoku 智北
Bifuka is known for its Japan’s northernmost large-scale rice fields. From 1964 to 1985, Bifuka Station was a branch point of the Biko Line for Niupu. About 20km east of Bifuka, you will find the charming rural village of Niupu where is said to be the setting for Murakami Haruki’s famous novel “A Wild Sheep Chase”.
☆ Old JNR Biko Line Memorial Hall (JR Bifuka Station)
☆ Torokko Okoku Bifuka (22km) You can hire a motor draisine and trundle it for 10km-return on the disused railway track.
◎ POP Bicuka-cho 4000
⬇︎︎ 101.9km Hatsuno 初野
⬇︎︎ 112.1km Onnenai 恩根内
♨︎ Teshiogawa Onsen (1km) Peaceful location on the river bank of Teshio-gawa.
⬇︎︎ 124.7km Sakkuru 咲来
Developed by railway workers in the 1910s, Otoineppu 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.
☞ Hamatonbetsu (1hr 25min) ● Esashi (55min)
◎ POP 700
☆ Tenpoku Line Railway Museum (inside the train station)
☆ Otoifuji Ski Area (1km)
♨︎ Teshiogawa Onsen (9km) There are five free municipal buses per day.
OTOINEPPU TO HORONOBE
⬇︎︎ The train follows the right bank of Teshio-gawa, which flows into the Sea of Japan.
☆ Eco Museum Osashima Center (0.1km) Ainu’s prominent sculpture Bikky’s atelier.
☆ Nakagawa Eco Museum Center (1.3km) Has an amazing collection of local meteorites.
At the northern edge of Kamikawa Region, this rural riverside town has several cycling routes, a cozy onsen and an eco museum.
♨︎ Ponpira Aqua Ri-s Ing (1.4km)
◎ POP Nakagawa-cho 1400
⬇︎︎ The train enters Soya Region.
⬇︎︎ 175.8km Toikanbetsu 問寒別
⬇︎︎ 178.0km Nukanan 糠南
⬇︎︎ The train passes through Shimohira Tunnel (1556m), JR Soya Line’s only tunnel.
⬇︎︎ 183.7km Onoppunai 雄信内
⬇︎︎ 191.6km Minami-Horonobe 南幌延
⬇︎︎ The line passes through the 45th parallel north.
On the 45th parallel north near Sarobetsu Shitsugen, Horonobe is a transfer point for Rumoi on the coastal Ororon Line.
◎ POP Horonobe-cho 2200
HORONOBE TO WAKKANAI
☆ Panke-numa (2km) Sarobetsu’s largest marsh. One hour return walk.
Northern Hokkaido’s top dairy farming town of Toyotomi is a main gateway for Sarobetsu Shitsugen wetland and Toyotomi Onsen. A vast stretch of Sarobetsu dotted with wetlands, quiet marshes, sandy beaches and peaceful dairy farms. Colorful and lovely wildflowers bloom from late June to mid July.
♨︎ Toyotomi Onsen (6.5km) Discovered during the search for oil in 1926.
☆ Sarobetsu Wetland Center (6.5km)
☆ O-kibo Sochi Public Farm (10km) About 1500 cows are grazing from May to October.
◎ POP Toyotomi-cho 3800
☆ Kabutonuma Park (0.1km) Serene campsite overlooks the gentle marsh.
⬇︎︎ 236.7km Yuchi 勇知
⬇︎︎ 245.0km Bakkai 抜海
⬇︎︎ The train follows the scenic coastal terrace overlooking Rishiri-to in the sea.
⬇︎︎ 256.7km Minami-Wakkanai 南稚内
Japan’s northernmost train station of Wakkanai is an important turning point for all tourists. They spend a couple of time in the town and its surroundings (such as Soya-misaki) before traveling onward. Wakkanai has ferry connections to Rishiri-to and Rebun-to islands. In summer there are also international ferries to Sakhalin Island, Russian Far East.
☆ North Breakwater Dome (0.4km) A 427m-long half-arched breakwater built in 1936.
☆ Wakkanai Park (1km) Hillside park with views over the city and remote islands.
☆ Wakkanai Centennial Memorial Tower (Wakkanai Park) Has a historical museum.
☆ Nosappu-misaki (4.6km) Wakkanai’s best sunset location near the city center.
◎ POP Wakkanai-shi 33,000