Dosanko, Horoshiri-dake and Hokkaido Beaches

The samurai warriors who were exiled to Hokkaido, and joined the irrepressible Ainu, set the tone for the type of rugged individualists that became the Dosanko (children of Hokkaido) of today. What is interesting is that many of the foreign nationals who have taken residence on the island have followed that tradition.

Dosanko Takes Shikoku!

Last Spring, Londoner Naomi Adams took this pioneer spirit and tackled the 1,500 km pilgrimage of Shikoku's famed 88 temple circuit, proving that, in a country full of mountains, one need not cover great vertical distance to test one’s physical limits.

One evening during the 38-day haul, she barely had the strength to ease herself into an onsen. She asserted that the real challenge of the course lay in the relentless effort necessary to complete the tour. The temples themselves became secondary to waking up each morning staring down the barrel of a 30 km walk. She laughed as she told of moments crying beside the road, hot, sunburned and blistered.

But the memories that stood out most were those of the kindness of the people. Whether it was because she was a rare foreign o-henro-san (pilgrim) she cannot be sure, but she recalled countless instances of cheers from passing motorists, water and food given at the end of long stretches, and free lodging in personal homes when a ryokan could not be found. A fellow pilgrim even paid for a room at an upscale onsen hotel after a long chat on a particularly grueling day.

While she was loath to recommend the journey to anyone but the most serious trekker, she felt certain that others would receive the same generosity.

Horoshiri-dake

Seasoned Scottish mountain enthusiast Ben Warren claimed that the area surrounding Horoshiridake was one of the most beautiful and undiscovered hikes on an island where the mountains are routinely tramped year round.

The journey started with a gravelly 30 km drive off the main road near Furenai, in south-central Hokkaido. Starting at the car park, a 12-14 km path, almost of half of which ran through the shallows of the Sarugawa River, led to a mountain lodge. From there, the haul to the summit was tough, but near the top it flattened out into a 42 km loop along the ridges connecting several mountains.

Part of the group camped comfortably at the lodge, but as it was a warm, windless night, Ben pitched a tent right up on the ridge and was afforded a breathtaking 360-degree view of the empty terrain, with a sunrise and sunset included.

These mountains are not volcanic, which gives them a different feel than other “active” areas. Also, the road is dicey even in summer, so this is a seasonal hike. Hurry there before the snow starts falling.

Beaches in Hokkaido?

Beaches don’t usually spring to mind when thinking of Hokkaido. Except for a few weeks each summer, the water is usually too cold for swimming. The rare clear sandy areas are often packed with people, and the rocky areas, for many western eyes, seem unappealing.

However, if you take a trip to one of these rocky spots along the Shakotan peninsula, which lies just west of Sapporo, with Japanese friends, you might be pleasantly surprised. While not quite the Frisbee-throwing affair you would expect from a day at the beach, there is fun to be had, mainly in the form of pulling from the shallows critters that you may not see outside of the sushi restaurant. It is like snorkeling without the snorkel, with a free lunch included. It is astonishing what delicious treats can be pulled from beneath slimy, jagged rocks.

A little further out, near the bottom of the “V” that forms the Shakotan, can be found a few tucked away sandy areas. They are cleaner than the beaches closer to Sapporo and are great for a romantic afternoon at the sea and perfect for quiet campsites. Just a two-hour drive from the city, they can feel extremely desolate.

For the slightly more active beachgoer, Atsuma and Muroran, which both lie southeast of Sapporo, are packed with beginner and intermediate surfers riding modest waves from late spring to early fall. In the off-season, many snowboarders keep in shape here on the water. The atmosphere is friendly and noncompetitive, and there are usually plenty of waves for everyone.