The scenic JR Senmo Line (釧網本線) connects Kushiro with Abashiri, cutting across Kushiro Shitsugen and Akan-Mashu national parks. Although this line is best done with stopovers over two or three days, you can easily visit the breathtaking viewpoints, picturesque lakes and coastal wildflower gardens.
Kushiro to Abashiri (JR Senmo Line)
DURATION: 3 hours
ORDINARY FARE: ¥2860 (Valid for 2-day)
BEST TIME: June to September for warm weather / January to March for winter wonderland
Kushiro-shitsugen & Toro ›› From these train stations, you can easily climb up to the observation decks overlooking Kushiro Shitsugen wetland.
Mashu & Kawayu-onsen ›› In the eastern part of Akan-Mashu National Park, this area includes two picturesque caldera lakes of Mashu-ko and Kussharo-ko, pleasant hiking trails and a variety of open-air hot springs pools.
Shiretoko-Shari ›› Take bus to Utoro Onsen on the Shiretoko Peninsula West Coast for cruising, cycling or hiking.
Hama-Koshimizu to Kitahama ›› The placid lagoon Tofutsu-ko along the coastal wildflower garden is a good spot of many birds.
Kushiro is Eastern Hokkaido’s largest port town and one of Japan’s premier fishing bases facing the Pacific Ocean. Summer is often cool and grey, but a foggy night on the river bank is fantastic. A wide variety of tasty seafood and sushi fascinates many travelers. The limited express train Ozora run from Sapporo via the JR Sekisho Line.
BOARDING ›› From June to late September, the Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train (くしろ湿原ノロッコ号) has two daily runs slowly from Kushiro to Toro (50min / ¥640), stopping at Kushiro-shitsugen (23min / ¥440). Reservation seat fee is ¥530. For the fine views, sit on the left side heading from Kushiro.
As its name suggests, you can easily walk to Hosoika Viewpoint (細岡展望台) overlooking Kushiro Shitsugen and its meandering streams. Hosooka Visitors Lounge is a perfect place to wait for the train.
BOARDING ›› Soon after Kushiro-shitsugen, the train follows the calm stream Kushiro-gawa (釧路川) on the left. Hosooka (20.0km) is the closest station of the canoe port on the river.
Toro is a turning point of the seasonal Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train. The surrounding marshland area on the shore of Toro-ko is a good for strolling and canoeing.
BOARDING ›› The line runs on the western shore of Shirarutoro-ko (シラルトロ湖), the bottom of the ocean in ancient times.
In winter the elegant tancho (Japanese crane) often come here. The lakeside onsen Ikoi-no-ie Kayanuma (Day bathing 10am-10pm / ¥450) is a 10-minute walk south of the train station.
BOARDING ›› After passes through the wetland, the train stops at Shibecha (48.1km), where local buses run to Shibetsu (標津) on the Nemuro Strait.
Eastern Hokkaido’s first onsen town founded in 1883, Mashu (formerly known as Teshikaga) is a convenient location for exploring both Mashu-ko and Kussharo-ko by public transport. There is a free open-air ashi-yu (footbath) outside the train station.
BOARDING ›› Halfway between Mashu and Kawayu-onsen, Biruwa (82.1km) is a finishing point of the 71.4km-long Kita-Nemuro Ranch Way from Nakashibetsu via Mashu-ko Viewpoint 1.
A 10-minute bus journey north of the train station (timed to meet trains between 8am and 6pm / ¥290), Kawayu Onsen is one of Eastern Hokkaido’s most recommended places to soak and a good base for exploring the town.
BOARDING ›› The train passes through Senpoku Tunnel (549m) at the border between Kushiro Region and Okhotsk Region. The next stop is Midori (103.8km) that serves a pleasant onsen Midori-no-yu (緑の湯 / 10am-9pm / ¥450) just a short walk from the train station.
With its picture-book countryside and windproof forests, Kiyosato is one of the loveliest rural towns in Okhotsk Region.
BOARDING ›› Look out for the majestic Shari-dake (斜里岳), known as the ‘Matterhorn of Eastern Hokkaido’, on the right.
Shiretoko-Shari is a main gateway for the western part of Shiretoko Peninsula and Utoro Onsen along the Sea of Okhotsk. Most travelers pass through this town, but there are picturesque rural landscape views against the mountains.
BOARDING ›› The train follows the shoreline of the Sea of Okhotsk. In winter you might be able to see ryuhyo (drift ice). The next stop is Yamubetsu (143.3km) that has a cafe (11am-7pm) inside the wooden train station.
DETOUR: 37km Northeast of Shiretoko-Shari
Utoro Onsen ウトロ温泉
Utoro Onsen is a small but lively port town about an hour by bus from Shiretoko-Shari and a base for exploring the peninsula, such as Shiretoko Five Lakes and Furepe-no-taki.
JR station and the roadside station Michi-no-eki Hanayaka Koshimizu are in one building. Near the train station, the pyramid-shaped Furetoi Viewpoint on the coastal dunes feature scenic views of the sea.
BOARDING ›› The line sandwiched between the Sea of Okohotsk and the brackish lake Tofutsu-ko.
This seasonal train station (open from May to October) is located beside the sandbank wildflower garden Koshimizu Genseikaen (小清水原生花園), with over 40 species of flowers bloom from June to July.
BOARDING ›› The train continues to follows Tofutsu-ko.
This lovely wooden train station has a charming cafe (11am-8pm / Closed Tue) and an observation deck overlooking the sea. A 10-minute walk east of Kitahama Station, the pleasant lake Tofutsu-ko (濤沸湖) is visited by many birds, especially in winter.
BOARDING ›› The train runs close to the sea before Katsuradai (167.7km), just 500m south of the drift icebreaker port at the Michi-no-eki Ryuhyo Kaido Abashiri.
Abashiri is the historical and cultural heart of Okhotsk Region. The town has varied museums, lakes and places to stay, which makes it an ideal place for explore. In winter most tourists take an drift icebreaker cruises into the frozen sea.
CONNECTIONS ›› From Abashiri, the JR Sekihoku Line heads west to Asahikawa (237.7km). There are also frequent buses to Memanbetsu Airport.
BOOK YOUR STAY ONLINE: ABASHIRI
There are many sleeping options in Abashiri, from the city center to the west on the shore of Abashiri-ko. Most budget small hotels and minshuku are conveniently located around JR Abashiri Station.