The Rumoi Area: Savory Sake, Rare Seabirds, and Wonderful Sunsets



 The Rumoi area is a long stretch of land covering the northeastern coastal area of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. The area and its villages, towns, and cities—Mashike, Rumoi, Obira, Tomamae, Haboro, Shosanbetsu, Embetsu, and Teshio—face the Sea of Japan in the west. The area is one of the least touristy areas in Hokkaido, so this is the place to go if you wish to visit a place with no loud tourist masses and overcrowded attractions but rather want to get a first-hand experience of the local Hokkaido lifestyle and indulge yourself in the untouched nature of Hokkaido.

 The Rumoi area is famous for its wonderfully beautiful nature. The sunsets in the area are said to be the most beautiful in Hokkaido. In addition to its wild nature, the Rumoi area is known for its sushi and sake. The area has a long history of being one of the important herring-catching areas in Hokkaido and fishing is still one of its main industries. This means that there is an abundance of fresh seafood and sushi available in the shops and restaurants of the Rumoi area. The Kunimare sake brewery produces delicious sake known all around Japan, so don’t miss a visit to the brewery and sake tasting when coming here!

 In this blog post, you will get to know the Rumoi area, one of the most secluded areas in Hokkaido. Here you can read about Rumoi in general and especially about Mashike and Haboro towns as well as about the scenic Ororon line—a coastal road going past the numerous sightseeing spots in the Rumoi area.

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 This blog post is the second part of introducing the Rumoi area, of which the first post concentrates exclusively on Rumoi city. So, please also take a look at the post about Rumoi city. You can find it here: History of Hokkaido: Herring Catching and Spectacular Sunsets in Rumoi City. If you want to read more about off-the-beaten-path travel destinations in Hokkaido, I recommended that you take a look at our earlier blog posts (we have many!) about not-so-well-known hidden gems of Hokkaido: Shibetsu: Salmon Delicacies and Stunning Sceneries, The Teshikaga Area: Sustainable Traveling and Ainu Culture, The Timeless Charms of Remote Okushiri Island, Shikabe: Explore the Town of the Kombu, Iwanai: The Town of Blue Ocean and Delicious Seafood, Yakumo: The Town of Samurai and Rice, Toyoura: The Scallop Town, Nishiokoppe: The Deer Village, and Kuromatsunai: The Town of the Beech Forest.

Get to know the Rumoi area

 The Rumoi subprefecture (留萌振興局), or as we call it here for convenience, Rumoi area is located in northwestern Hokkaido and it covers a north-south oriented thin strip of land on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Even though it’s close to Sapporo, the main hub of Hokkaido, it’s a relatively secluded area because there are mountains that make or at least have historically made it an area difficult to approach other than the ship. The towns and cities in the area are located in a thin strip of land between the mountains and the Sea of Japan, in the deltas of numerous rivers that flow to the sea from the mountains. The landscape is of course dominated by the sea in the coastal area and mountains and rivers in the areas towards the inland. The summers in Rumoi are mild and the winters bring in a lot of snow with moderately cold temperatures. Villages, towns, and cities in the Rumoi area from south to north are Mashike town (増毛町), Rumoi city (留萌市), Obira town (小平町), Tomamae town (苫前町), Haboro town (羽幌町), Shosanbetsu village (初山別村), Embetsu town (遠別町), and Teshio town (天塩町). The distance between Mashike in the south and Teshio in the north is about 130 km (81 miles). From Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, it is about 112 km (about 70 miles) or 2.5 hours to Mashike and about 240 km (150 miles) or about 5 hours to Teshio.

 All of the towns get their names from the Ainu language—the language of the indigenous Ainu people. As always, the original Ainu names refer to the geography or the nature of the place.

 First, the whole Rumoi area and Rumoi city both get their name from the River Rumoi, which is in Ainu rur mo (ot) pet or ‘the thing (=river) where the tide is peaceful.’ Mashike comes from Ainu mas ke, which can be interpreted in two ways: either it means ‘overflowing much’ or ‘a place with a lot of seagulls’. Both of these refer to the season when herring come to spawn on the coast: there are overflowing many herring but also many seagulls attracted by the herring. The name Obira comes from o pira us pet ‘there is a cliff at the lower stream of the river’. Tomamae’s name has two possible explanations: it comes either from toma oma i ‘a place where rushes are growing’ or enrum oma moy ‘a bay that has a cape in it ’. Haboro’s origins are also more complicated. It might come from hapur ‘soft’ because the land area now covered by the Haboro port was soft, or it might refer to ha poro pet ‘a river that has big outflow coming out’. Shosanbetsu is another name that has uncertain origins. It might come from either so e san pet ‘a river where there is a waterfall flowing’ or susam pet ‘river of shishamo smelts’ (the latter would be a strange name because it is said that there are no shishamo smelts (a type of fish) in the river…). The name Enbetsu maybe comes from wen pet ‘bad river’, meaning that there is not much fish in the river, but this is uncertain. Lastly, also Teshio has several explanations with similar meanings: tes un i ‘a place where there is a fish trap’, tes us i ‘a place where the fish trap is attached’, or tes o pet ‘a river with many fish traps’. Judging from the names, River Teshio must have been a good place for catching fish, unlike River Enbetsu!

 The Rumoi area’s landscape overlooks the sea to the west and therefore there are several excellent places to watch the sunset. Rumoi city and the whole Rumoi area are indeed known for their beautiful sunsets and there are several spots along the coast to watch the famous sunsets. When it comes to food, having direct access to the sea, the area boasts fresh and delicious seafood, for example, shrimp, herring, and herring roe. Rumoi is home to one of the most famous sake breweries in Hokkaido, which produce high-quality sake using local rice and water. The city’s sake is known for its smooth and refined flavor and is often used in local cuisine. You can read more about the Kunimare sake brewery in the next section.

Mashike and Kunimare sake brewery

 Mashike town (増毛町) is the most southern of small towns in the Rumoi area. There are about 3,850 inhabitants in the town. The history of the town goes back to 1751 when a trading post was established on the location. The distance from Mashike to Rumoi city is about 16 km (10 miles) and to Sapporo city is 112 km (70 miles). The town is known for its long history of herring fishing and sake brewing and of course its beautiful nature. 

The highest peak in Mashike is Mt. Shokanbetsu (1,492m/4895ft, in Japanese Shokanbetsu-dake/暑寒別岳), which is part of the Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-national Park (暑寒別天売焼尻国定公園). The Masike mountains are popular among hikers and mountain climbers in the summer and skiers in the winter. At the foot of the mountains spread out Uryu wetlands (Uryunumashitsugen/雨竜沼湿原) that is a mountain bog with an elevation of about 850-900 meters above sea level and home to more than 200 species of plants.

 Mashike owes a lot to a man called Taizo Honma. Honma devoted much of his life to making Mashike a more prosperous town and also to making the lives of its inhabitants better. Honma first moved to Mashike in 1875 and started a kimono business under the name Maruichi Homma. His business thrived and he ventured into the herring-fishing business and shipping business, developed the infrastructure of the town, opened a general store, and started a sake brewery. Maruichi Honma Residence (旧商家丸一本間家), the symbol of the town, is a National Important Cultural Property in Mashike. The tastefully preserved house is a great place to visit to learn about the local history of Mashike. That’s why it’s also designated as one of the “historical buildings of Mashike” (増毛の歴史的建物群) and it’s part of the Hokkaido heritage site (北海道遺産). 

 Also over 100-year-old Sengokugura (千石蔵)—the herring warehouse of Maruichi Honma—is open to visitors (in summer only, though) and it’s worth visiting when touring Mashike. There is an old fishing boat used in herring catching and other fishing equipment on display.

Another historical building of Mashike and part of the Hokkaido heritage site is Kunimare Sake Brewery (国稀酒造) (an outbound link), the northernmost sake brewery in Japan. The brewery was founded by Taizo Honma in 1882 and at the time it was one of the several breweries in Mashike. Today, it’s the only brewery left. Kunimare Sake brewery is partly open to visitors with sake tasting corner and a souvenir shop. The visitors can also enter the warehouse where the sake is brewed.

 The colder the climate, the tastier sakes the brewery can produce. As Kunimare sake brewery is the northernmost sake brewery in Japan, it is easy to produce fresh, smooth, and delicate-tasting sakes there. Shokan Shizuku, The flagship sake of Kunimare sake brewery, is described to have umami in its dryness and is highly valued sake all around Japan. It’s aromatic (kunshu/薫酒) which means it has some fruity flavor and is suitable as an aperitif. Kunimare’s sakes are popular both in Hokkaido as well other parts of Japan.

 If you want to read more about different alcoholic beverages produced in Hokkaido, take a look at our earlier blog post Enjoy Hokkaido and its wines, beers, spirits, and other drinks, too.

Haboro and the Shokanbetsu Teuri Yagishiri Quasi-national Park

 Haboro Town (羽幌町) is a small town with about 6,300 inhabitants. It’s located about 50 km (31 miles) north of Rumoi city, 65 km (40 miles) north of Mashike, and about 180 km (112 miles) north of Sapporo. Some of the sightseeing spots in the town are Hokkaido Seabird Center (北海道海鳥センター) (an outbound link, in Japanese only), where you can learn about the local seabirds, and Haboro Rose Garden (はぼろバラ園) (an outbound link, in Japanese only), where the visitors can enjoy the delightful sight of about 300 types of roses blooming from late June to September.

 When it comes to food, Haboro boasts the largest catch of pink shrimp (amaebi/甘海老) in Japan and shrimp is what you should eat when in Haboro. Some local dishes that use pink shrimp as an ingredient are ebitako gyoza (エビタコ餃子) or shrimp and octopus dumplings and ebishio ramen (エビ塩ラーメン) or salty shrimp ramen noodles.

 One of the best things to do at Haboro is to visit the Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-national Park (暑寒別天売焼尻国定公園). The park was designated as a quasi-national park in 1990 and it consists of three areas: Teuri-Yagishiri islands (天売島・焼尻島) area, Shokanbetsu-Ofuyu (暑寒別・雄冬) area, and Okurige-Gokibiru (送毛・濃昼) area. The first area (Teuri island and Yagishiri island) is within Haboro town and the second area (Shokanbetsu-Ofuyu) and the third area (Okurige-Gokibiru) are down in the south at the coast of Ishikari in Mashike town and Ishikari city respectively.

 Especially a visit to Teuri Island (天売島) (an outbound link) and Yagishiri Island (焼尻島) (an outbound link) is something you don’t want to miss when visiting this national park. Haboro port is the gateway to these two remote islands. You need to take a short ferry trip to reach the islands but it’s well worth it. It’s also possible to stay for the night on the islands, so you might also want to consider that accommodation option.

 Yagishiri Island is where you can roam a primeval forest under the green canopy. About 1/3 of the island’s surface area is covered by the forest. The forest is especially known for being home to Japanese yew, a tree with a low canopy and branches stretching wide. The parts of Yagishiri island that are not covered by the forest, are lush pastures where Suffolk sheep are grazing. The island is also good for bird-watching and over 100 different species of birds either live on the island or use it as a resting ground.

 The neighboring island of Teuri is especially known for its seabirds. The island is a seabird sanctuary and about 200 different species have been spotted on the site. There are about 300 habitants on the island but as many as 1,000,000 seabirds. So, Teuri is a birdwatcher’s paradise! There is a 12-km-long (about 7.5-mile-long) road circling the island that is mostly paved, so it’s easy to move around the island to watch the birds. However, the best way to see the birds is to take a boat tour to the western side of the island. 

 Many of the birds on the island are rare seabirds, such as spectacled guillemot, auk, murre, and rhinoceros auklet. One of them has even given its informal Japanese name to the main coastal road going through the whole Rumoi area. You can read more about this in the next section.

The scenic coastal road Ororon line

 Ororon Line (オロロンライン) is a road stretching along the coast of the Sea of Japan all the way from Otaru in the south to Wakkainai in the north. Despite its name which seems to refer to a railway line, it is a scenic driving road, or, to be more specific, it consists of sections of Route 231, Route 232, and Route 106. The total length of the road is 320 km, which means about a 6-hour-long drive without any breaks. The road passes all the towns in the Rumoi area and the length of the Ororon line from Mashike to Teshio is about 130 kilometers and the driving time is a bit over 2 hours. 

 The video below doesn’t have English subtitles but I’m sure you can enjoy the scenery also without them.

 The name ‘Ororon’ comes from a name of bird called the common murre in English. It’s sometimes also called umigarasu (ウミガラス/海烏) in Japanese, that is, ‘sea crow’ in English, even though the bird looks more like a penguin. These birds used to breed in flocks on Teuri island but now their number is in sharp decline and Haboro town is putting a lot of effort to conserve the birds.

 The Ororon line follows closely the coastline and the scenery along it is fantastic! You can enjoy both the seascapes and the beautiful mountains and forests that characterize Hokkaido. Here you can read about the best spots along the Ororon line in the Rumoi area.

 While the Ororon line is an attraction in itself with its amazing sea views, there are many interesting places to see along it. Here are our pick-up spots on the Ororon line in the Rumoi area.


 One place you must absolutely visit in Mashike is the Kunimare sake brewery (Kunimare shuzo/国稀酒造). You can get to know the local history, enjoy the old beautiful buildings, and taste some best sake in Hokkaido at the same time! I won’t go into the details here, because I introduced Mashike and Kunimare already earlier in this blog post.


 Rumoi city is famous for its spectacular sunsets, so the place to go in Rumoi is Cape Ogon (Ogon misaki/黄金岬) and Cape Ogon Seaside Park (Ogon misaki kaihin koen/黄金岬海浜公園). Cape Orgon is said to be one of the best places for sunset viewing, so be sure to visit there. You can read more about Rumoi city in our earlier blog post.


 Obira town located next to Rumoi city is famous for its history of herring fishing. We recommend especially a visit to the former Hanada family banya (Kyuu Hanadake banya/旧花田家番屋), a fishermen’s lodging and working building that belonged to the wealthy Hanada family, to learn about the fishers’ lifestyle and living conditions. This banya built in 1905 is the largest of its kind in Hokkaido.


 Usually wind turbines are considered a nuisance and many people think they are an eyesore, but the town of Tomamae has embraced its wind parks and turned them into observation decks. And it’s true, there is something soothing in looking at the huge turbines slowly turning round and round with the blue sky and deep sea in the background. Check out for example Tomamae/Uehira Green Hill Wind Park (Tomamae guriinhiru uindopaaku/苫前グリーンヒルウインドパーク) or Eurus Tomamae Wind Farm (Yuurasu Tomamae uindofaamu/ユーラス苫前ウインドファーム) as some like to call it.


We introduced Shokanbetsu Teuri Yagishiri Quasi-national Park earlier in this blog post and our recommendation for Haboro is especially a visit to Teuri island (Teurito/天売島) and Yagishiri island (Yagishirito/焼尻島). Both of the islands are very beautiful and peaceful places, surrounded by endless sea and soaring seabirds. In Yagishiri you can enjoy walking in the lust forest and the company of the cutest sheep imaginable. Teuri is the place to go if you want to see rare seabirds and enjoy spending time in the fresh sea air.


 Misakidai park (Misakidaikoen/みさき台公園) in Shosanbetsu’s Cape Toyosaki is another famous sunset viewing spot. You can also spot Teuri Island, Yagishiri Island, and Rishiri Island on the horizon. The location of the park—high up in the cliffs—offers a spectacular view over the Sea of Japan and the colorful sunsets. At night, the place is an excellent spot for star gazing. Down at the shore, there is a small shrine called Konpira shrine (Konpirajinja/金毘羅神社) with a torii gate built in the sea, which offers a perfect Hokkaido photograph moment during sunset.


 For all the flower lovers out there, Embetsu has a wonderful spot for you. Kanaura wildflower garden (Kanaura gensei kaen/金浦原生花園), located about 6 km south of Embetsu village, is home to numerous wildflowers, such as azaleas and Japanese irises, and wild birds. Especially the Ezo daylilies blooming en masse in June is just a wonderful sight with Mt. Rishiri (“Rishiri Fuji”) in the background but there is something to see throughout late spring and the summer.


Kawaguchi ruins (Kawaguchi iseki fukeirin/川口遺跡風景林) in Teshio, about 1.5 km north of Teshio town, is an important cultural heritage site with about 230 remains of ancient pit houses. There are some restored pit houses, so you can get an idea of how they used to look and you can learn about how the Jomon period hunter-gatherers led their lives. The area is encircled by a walking trail and it is dotted wi

Visit the Rumoi area for a unique off-the-beaten-path experience in Hokkaido

 The Rumoi area in northwestern Hokkaido, is an amazing travel destination for you if you don’t want to spend your holiday with crowds of tourists: its an off-the-beaten-path, non-crowded area full of untouched nature and a lot of interesting things to see and experience. The area’s restaurants offer freshly caught seafood and delicious local sake to satisfy your culinary needs. There is a national park with wonderful views of the sea and rare seabirds. And you can enjoy the most amazing sunsets in Hokkaido on the Ororon line. The Rumoi area is the place to go especially if you are a photographer, nature lover, bird-watcher, or a foodie with a particular taste for Japanese sake and seafood.

 Hokkaido is an island with abundant untouched nature and it’s the best place to visit for outdoor people. We at Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel strongly recommend you set foot in non-touristy, off-the-beaten-path destinations, such as Rumoi. These are the places where you can see the real lifestyle of the locals and get the most genuine and unforgettable experiences during your trip. If you want to add a tour of the Rumoi area to your travel plan, don’t hesitate to contact us. Just hit the ‘Contact us’ button below and we can start planning your Hokkaido trip.