The spectacular coastal Oiwake Soran Line, stretch south from the Matsumae Peninsula to Hiyama Region, is the home of Hokkaido’s Japanese tradition and historical heritages dating back to the feudal period. Japan’s northernmost castle town Matsumae and once the island’s main trading center Esashi keeps tasteful buildings and traditional festivals.
DURATION: 5 hours +
BEST TIME: May to October.
BUSES: Hakodate Bus (www.hakobus.co.jp) operates most lines.
Matsumae ›› Known as ‘Little Kyoto of the North’, Japan’s northernmost castle town remains the historic temples and ruins.
Kaminokuni ›› One of Hokkaido’s oldest Japanese settlements, kaminokuni has a few Medieval Age buildings and heritages scattered along Route 228.
Sennen Hokkaido Tegata (千年北海道手形) allows unlimited travel on two or three days on the Hakodate Bus connects Hakodate Station with Kotaniishi, Matsumae, Esashi and the Otobe-so-mae (おとべ荘前: one stop north of Genna). Pass holders get a discount on the ferry between Esashi and Okushiri. Purchase at Hakodate Station bus terminal, JR Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station’s tourist office and Kikonai’s michi-no-eki.
One of Japan’s first international trade ports opened in 1854, Hakodate is a romantic port town with an East-meets-West culture, historic buildings, lively markets, fresh seafood and coastal onsen.
From Hakodate Station bus terminal stop 6, Hakodate Bus 410 and 411 (for Kotaniishi: 小谷石), and 510 (for Matsumae: 松前) runs along the Tsugaru Strait on Route 228. Otherwise, the South Hokkaido Railway operates local trains from Hakodate to Kikonai (1hr / ¥1170).
Halfway between Hakodate and Kikonai, Oshima-Tobetsu (渡島当別) is home to Japan’s Trappist Convent on the scenic hills overlooking the Tsugaru Strait. It is not open to the public, but Tobetsu Church is open on every Sunday (mass from 8.45am).
Hakodate Bus 410, 411 and 510 stops at Tobetsu Trappist-iriguchi (当別トラピスト入口) about 1km east of the convent on Route 228. Also it is walkable from Oshima-Tobetsu Station on the South Hokkaido Railway.
After crossing Seikan Tunnel under the Tsugaru Strait, Kikonai (木古内) is the first shinkansen station on Hokkaido. It is a convenient gateway to the castle town Matsumae and the charming old trading center Esashi.
From Kikonai Station, Hakodate Bus 410 and 411 runs to Kotaniishi (小谷石). Hakodate Bus 510, 521, 522 and 523 runs to Matsumae (松前). You can switch to bus 631 or 632 here for short cut to Esashi (江差) via Yunotai Onsen (湯ノ岱温泉).
40km to 94km
Kikonai to Matsumae
Hakodate Bus for Matsumae passes through Shirakami-misaki (白神岬), mainland Hokkaido’s southernmost point on Route 228. Birdwatchers will love the falcons and brown-earned bulbuls. Todai-shita (灯台下), at the foot of the lighthouse, is the closest bus stop.
Hokkaido’s only castle town, Matsumae (松前) is known as ‘Little Kyoto of the North’, and the former feudal political center in Hokkaido. Matsushiro (松城) is the nearest bus stop of Matsumae-jo castle. You will have a layover if you are continuing northwest to Esashi.
94km to 150km
Matsumae to Kaminokuni
From Matsushiro-chuo (松城中央) stop near the Seicomart at the foot of the castle, the Tairyo-kun Bus (大漁くんバス: 6 daily / flat ¥100) runs to Haraguchi Gyoko-mae (原口漁港前) along the scenic coast. Hakodate Bus connects Haraguchi with Esashi Terminal (江差ターミナル) via Kaminokuni.
Kaminokuni is said that Hokkaido’s first Japanese settlement dates back to the late 12th-century. Takeda Nobuhiro, the first lord of the Matsumae clan, ruled here as a trading post in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Buses from Haraguchi Gyoko-mae stop at Kaminokuni (上ノ国) at the historic heart. If you take a Esashi-bound bus from JR Kikonai Station, get off at Odome (大留) and head west on Route 228 for 2km.
The small capital of Hiyama Region on the west coast of the Oshima Peninsula, Esashi was Hokkaido’s main trading center from 17th- to 19th-century, when Japanese marchants brought herring and woods. It is also the jump-on and off point for ferries to Okushiri-to.
Nakauta-cho (中歌町), in front of the Esashi Oiwake Hall, is the main bus stop of Central Esashi. If you take the bus from Kaminokuni or Haraguchi, change buses at Esashi Terminal (江差ターミナル). From Nakauta-cho, infrequent buses run to Hakodate, Yakumo and Taisei.