While Rebun Island was my favorite experience in Hokkaido, it is possible that Rishiri-to could have beaten its neighbor for the top spot had I planned my visit better. The striking Mt. Rishiri dominates the horizon for half the ferry ride to it, the island is lushly green, and there is no better seafood in Japan.
Like Rebun, Rishiri Island is part of the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park, comprising the northernmost points of Hokkaido, and therefore Japan. The ferries from Wakkanai dock at the bigger port town of Oshidomari, while a second ferry terminal exists in the other town on the island, Katsugata, to take you to Rebun Island. The focal point of Rishiri Island is Mt. Rishiri, a dormant volcano, and it is also the main draw for tourists. The shape of it resembles Mt. Fuji, and so it is often called Rishiri-fuji. While there are plenty of picturesque points around Mt. Rishiri to stop on a bus tour and make use of your camera, the brave see the beautiful mountain and must climb it.
I am not one of these brave. Climbing Mt. Rishiri, by all accounts, is a serious business and takes a full day. You can supposedly see the Russian islands from the top, though.
While I arrived at Oshidomari Port intending to climb part of the way, or at least take a bus to see Himenuma Pond, I ended up stuck at the port. This wasn’t a total loss, as I could climb Cape Peshi here and not only was the view fabulous, of both Mt. Rishiri and the distant Rebun, but I could feel fit and accomplished for finishing the hike, as it only took maybe 15 or 20 minutes.
I strongly advise studying and properly planning around the infrequent bus times as soon as you disembark the ferry. The ferry terminal contains a cafe with great views on the second floor and a tourist information desk on the first, where you can pick up the day’s bus schedule and a map of the island. There’s also a bay of coin lockers, and several of the lockers were big enough to stash my medium-sized suitcase in.
Mistakenly, I decided to climb Cape Peshi before organizing the rest of my day, and by the time I got to it, there wasn’t much chance of my taking a bus to Himenuma, coming back, picking up my suitcase, and getting to Katsugata by the check-in time of my accommodations. So a lot of this post is a do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-did.
Especially if you plan on climbing the mountain, book more than one night on Rishiri. The original hostel on Rishiri, Greenhill Youth Hostel, shut down some years ago, and though there are rumors online about a hostel called “3.9” (a play on the Japanese pronunciation of ‘thank you’), contact information is nowhere to be found. Even my Japanese friend could find nothing on Japanese language websites.
So I splurged and had my friend book one night for me at Minshuku Ebisu-so in Katsugata. Katsugata is about a 30 minute bus ride from Oshidomari and a minshuku is a Japanese-style bed and breakfast. While one night there only costs a bit more than the campsite on the island, they also offer two meals for an extra fee. I went for the meals since I didn’t know what Katsugata would offer for restaurants. The stay cost ¥8640. The proprietress who runs the minshuku is a kind, bubbly lady who doesn’t speak a word of English. I understood about 1/4 of what she said, but it didn’t seem to bother her. She is also an amazing cook. Dinner was a huge assortment of the best seafood I’d ever eaten, including the local specialty, uni, or sea urchin.
Even if you’ve tried uni elsewhere and didn’t care for it, try it in Hokkaido; the difference is astounding. There was also my personal favorite, hotate, or scallops, as well as different mushrooms, pickles, shrimp, sushi, etc. Second most notable were the four or five different dishes of octopus. I’d always been neutral about octopus, but what this lady did with it made it seem like an entirely different, and far more delicious, dish. There were a couple of less appealing offerings, like tsubu, a kind of sea snail, but since you can’t eat everything the proprietress puts in front of you, you don’t seem rude not eating it all. See my link below for someone else’s picture of one of her meals. You will get a far greater variety of home-cooked local delicacies for the same or a lower price at a minshuku than at a restaurant, so I recommend it.
Minshuku Ebisu-so: #0163-84-3640
The rooms at Ebisu-so are private, sunny, and airy, even if the mattresses are a bit hard. The proprietress has discount passes for the town hotel’s onsen, as well. I think my presence threw off at least one local- she was about to get in the onsen when she saw me, froze, and made a beeline for the other pool. I realized a bit later that she was simply a very chatty older lady who wanted someone to talk at, after seeing the politely strained expression of the young woman sharing her pool.
Unfortunately, while seafood makes an amazing dinner, it’s not quite as welcome to a Western palate for breakfast. I suggest requesting only dinner at a minshuku. There’s a convenience store in town for a cheap, prepackaged pastry or protein bar, and the ferry terminal is walkable from the minshuku, if you’re going to Rebun. The ferry terminal is smaller and only two ferries leave a day, but it has vending machines and a surprisingly good wi-fi signal.
Please see my post on Rebun for information on Wakkanai and getting to the islands.
Obviously, this post is an incomplete guide to seeing Rishiri Island, but I hope you can use it as advice on a few things not to do, and that it gave you an idea of what to expect. Happy travels, globehoppers!