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. Both towns are accessible by local buses from Hakodate.
Hakodate to Esashi (Oiwake Soran Line)
DURATION: 5 hours +
BEST TIME: May to October
PLAN YOUR OWN TOUR
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.
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. Motomachi district on a scenic hillside keeps a nostalgic atmosphere.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› 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).
Oshima-Tobetsu 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).
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› 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. Oshima-Tobetsu Station on the South Hokkaido Railway is halfway between Hakodate and Kikonai.
After crossing Seikan Tunnel under the Tsugaru Strait, Kikonai is the first shinkansen station on Hokkaido. It is a convenient gateway to the castle town Matsumae and the charming old trading center Esashi.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› 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).
Shirakami-misaki is mainland Hokkaido’s southernmost point, birdwatchers will love the falcons and brown-earned bulbuls.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› Todai-shita (灯台下), at the foot of the lighthouse, is the closest stop to Shirakami-misaki on the Hakodate Bus routes 510, 521, 522 and 523.
Hokkaido’s only castle town, Matsumae is known as ‘Little Kyoto of the North’, and the former feudal political center in Hokkaido. In the early-Edo period, the town was established by the Matsumae clan, whose reign came to an end in the Boshin civil war. But the town remains the castle ruins, historic temples and culture.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› Matsushiro (松城) is the nearest bus stop of Matsumae-jo castle. You will have a layover if you are continuing northwest to Esashi. 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). 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.
TRAVEL BY BUS ›› 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.
DETOUR: 15km Southwest of Kaminokuni
Yunotai Onsen 湯ノ岱温泉
The winner of Hiyama’s onsen competition in 2014, this mountainside relaxed place boasts pleasant red-brown carbonated springs and friendly staff. It is on the bus route between Kikonai Station and Esashi via Odome (in Kaminokuni).
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. Today the town keeps the wooden houses, shrines and traditional culture. Esashi is also the jump-on and off point for ferries to Okushiri-to.
CONNECTIONS ›› 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. From Nakauta-cho, infrequent buses run to Hakodate, Yakumo and Taisei.