Asahikawa (旭川) is the second-largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. It is located at the confluence of four rivers and is surrounded by hills. It is near the centre of Hokkaido, and is a good base for visiting the nearby Daisetsuzan mountain range and the picturesque Biei-Furano area. The place has few foreign visitors, though Asahiyama Zoo attracts many Japanese tourists.
With 130 rivers and streams, and over 740 bridges in the city, Asahikawa is a pleasant city to walk or cycle around, especially during the warm season. It is a middle-sized city with a rural feel and direct access to the mountain and outdoor areas.
- 1 Tourist Information Center, 8 Chome-3-1 Miyashitadōri (in Asahikawa Station), ☏ . This center is a good place for information on transit and lodging. You can also buy local merchandise.
- 2 Higashikawa Information Center (東川町インフォメーションセンター 道草館), Higashimachi 1-1-15, Higashikawa, Kamikawa (on Highway 1150, a few kilometres SE of central Asahikawa), ☏ . This rest area and information center ("michinoeki") has maps and information on the area. It also has extensive free indoor and outdoor seating, a gift shop, and a small deli selling fried food and ice cream. In the evening, the parking lot is quiet, and there is little road traffic.
- 1 Asahikawa Airport (AKJ IATA, 旭川空港), 2 Sen-16-98 Higashi, Higashikagura, ☏ . Serves flights to Tokyo Haneda. There are also seasonal flights to Taipei on every Tuesday. The airport is a 30-minute bus ride from Asahikawa station.
Asahikawa is the terminus of the JR Hakodate Main Line to Sapporo, Otaru and Hakodate. The spacious station hosts a tourist information centre and lounge with free wifi; helpful English speakers are usually available.
Limited express services run between Sapporo and Asahikawa frequently: every 30 minutes during morning and evening hours, and every hour at other times. The journey takes 85 minutes and costs ¥5,080 return. Infrequent local trains can take anywhere from two to three hours at a cost of ¥2490, in which case - unless you have a Seishun 18 Ticket - a bus may be the better option.
Chuo Bus Service and JR buses offers frequent (every 20 minutes or so) bus service from the Sapporo JR Station for ¥2000 (¥3750 round trip). It takes just over 2 hours. In the winter, the trip takes 2 hours 25 minutes.
There are some bus services to Daisetsuzan National Park.
The city has an extensive bus network. All attractions are easily reached by bus from the main train station.
- Sightseeing Bus Fan Fan, ☏ . July 1-September 30. This bus service covers three circuits in a hop-on hop-off style and takes you to the main attractions, including the zoo. The buses have an hourly frequency. 1 day ¥800, 2 days ¥1000.
Most of the sites are easily accessible by foot from the main train station, though others like the zoo, Otokoyama brewery, and the ski resorts need a bus or taxi.
Most of the town is in flat land and cycling is easy in summer. Cycling is allowed in the pedestrian lane of all streets, and some streets have special bicycle lanes. There are also dedicated lanes along the embankments of most of the rivers (and there are many). Some hotels offer free bicycle rental. The Tourist Information Center (in the train station) lends bicycles. The region is covered in thick snow in winter.
- 1 Hokkaido Traditional Art Craft Village (北海道伝統美術工芸村 hokkaidō dentō bijutsukōgei mura).
- Asahikawa Furniture Center.
- Romantic Road (Tree tunnel and Churches) (ロマンティック街道 romantikku kaidō), Kaguraoka Park~ Midorigaoka. The road that leads from Kaguraoka forest to the residential area of Midorigaoka is known as the “romantic road”, because of the trees that line both sides of the street, and the two wedding chapels close by. In the summer time, the trees on either side of the road create a tunnel of green over the entire road.
- 2 Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum (男山), 2-7 Nagayama (North of city along the 39 highway, 30 min by bus Dohoku Bus from city, get off at Otokoyama Koen), ☏ . An award-winning and the most famous sake brewery in Asahikawa. It has artefacts dating back to about 1670 and has been portrayed in Japanese block prints (ukiyo-e) of the Edo period. Sake tasting and purchase of special editions. There is a museum in the upper levels portraying historical scrolls, ukiyo-e, and sake-brewing tools. Free visit and sake tasting.
- Asahikawa Winter Festival (旭川冬まつり asahikawa fuyu matsuri), Tokiwa Park (North of the city, near the Asahibashi bridge). Second to Sapporo's snow festival in popularity, this festival attracts ice sculpture artists worldwide and hosts the largest snow sculpture in Japan. The festival is held at the start of February.
- 3 Asahibashi Bridge (旭橋) (follow Route 40 to the north until it meets the Ishikari river). This is one of the three most famous bridges in Hokkaido and the only one still unchanged since it was built.
- 4 Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園), Higashi Asahikawacho Kuranuma (take Asahikawa Denki Kido Bus for Asahiyama Zoo at Bus Stop No. 5 in front of Asahikawa train station; bus departs hourly and the ride takes about 40 minutes; there is another bus from the airport, also hourly, that takes about 35 minutes), ☏ . Summer 09:30-17:15, winter 10:30-15:30, closed April 8-April 28, October 19-November 2. The most famous zoo in Japan and the second most visited. This is a small zoo with a few enclosures. The star attractions include the polar bear enclosure that allows to see the bears underwater, the seal enclosure that where you can get seals all around you, and the penguin enclosure including a glass tunnel through the pool. ¥820, season ticket ¥1200.
- 5 Arashiyama Pottery Village (北の嵐山 kita no arashiyama). Located on a hill overlooking Asahikawa to the north, this neighbourhood has several crafts workshops including pottery, glass craft, wood work, and textile. Some of these offer courses and many of them have a display area where visitors can see and buy their products.
Asahikawa is the coldest city in Japan, holding Japan's temperature record of -41°C (in 1902). It's not that bad most of the time though, and the good side to cold and snow is that there's some great skiing nearby.
- Kamui Ski Links (カムイスキーリンクス) (just west of town). The local favorite.
- You can also do cross-country skiing in some of its parks, including the Tomizawa skiing course at Kamui no Mori Park.
- Biei and Furano are each about one hour away.
- Back-country options include Asahidake and Kurodake.
If you come in summer you will enjoy fine weather with maximum temperatures sometimes exceeding 30 °C. Take advantage of the fine cycling paths following the river banks.
- 1 Cycling path to Kamuikotan (Starts from the Asahibashi bridge). This unpaved cycle trail follows an old rail line and tunnels downstream along the right hand side of the Ishikarigawa river as it cuts through the hills. Near the end of the path is the historical (tiny) train station Kamuikotan. About 20 km one way.
- 2 Cycling path to Higashikagura (starts from the cycling bridge upstream of the Twin Harp bridge). This is a paved cycle trail upstream along the right hand side of the Chuubetsu river. The path has no major slopes except the last few hundred metres and it is set between the river bank and endless rice fields, heading towards the imposing Taisetsu-san mountain. The path ends in a wooden hill with a pond and a camping site. About 15 km one way.
Asahikawa's main shopping area is next to the train station, in what is called the Kaimono Koen ("shopping park"). When it was built in 1972 it became the first pedestrian-only outdoor shopping mall in Japan. The street is lined with department stores, shops, cafes, and restaurants. A more remote area is the Arashiyama pottery village. Located on a hill overlooking Asahikawa to the north, this neighbourhood has several crafts workshops including pottery, glass craft, wood work, and textile. Some of these offer courses and many of them have a display area where visitors can see and buy their products.
- 1 Aeon Mall Asahikawa Station, 7-2-5 Miyashitadori (next to Asahikawa train station). A large mall next to the train station. Very convenient for all kinds of shopping.
- 2 Nitta (First street to the right of the central station.). This shop features traditional Japanese toys and decorations. The upper floor showcases a collection of fine dolls in porcelain and silk.
- 3 Juncobo (淳工房 junkōbō) (Arashiyama area). This white buillding showcases crafted glass made in the premises. Their sake glasses made to resemble icicles are very popular.
- 4 Taisetsugama Pottery (大雪窯) (Arashiyama area). This shop displays an extensive collection of fine pottery. If you cannot make it to the shop, there are some items for sale at Seibu, in the city centre.
Asahikawa is known as one of Japan's gourmet towns, and despite its small size, contains many restaurants of nearly every description. Many restaurants are clustered in the Kaimono Koen (Shopping District Park) area, in front of the JR station. This makes touring a number of restaurants on foot a viable option for a day trip. Asahikawa's ramen noodles are nationally famous, with shoyu (soy sauce) being the flavor of choice. There are also a large number of ethnic restaurants. Hokkaido is generally known for having good dairy products, and Asahikawa is no exception.
- 1 Ramen Village (旭川ラーメン村) (about 6km NE of the town center.). Eight of Asahikawa's greatest ramen shops in one combined outlet
- 2 Santōka (山頭火) (from Kaimono Koen, turn right at the narrow street that divides the two Seibu department store buildings, the shop is at the next junction, on the left hand side), ☏ . 11:00-22:00. The original shop of a popular ramen shop that has opened several branches in Tokyo and overseas. Shoyu ramen ¥800.
Asahikawa is famous for its sake, especially Otokoyama (男山, lit. "man mountain"), which is probably Hokkaido's best-known label. Other local sakes include Takasago (高砂) and Taisetsu no Kura (大雪の蔵). Beer fans will wish to look for the local Taisetsu microbrew.
- 1 Taisetsu-ji Brewery (大雪地ビール taisetsu-ji bīru), 11-1604-1 Miyashitadori (near the train station, past the Kitasaito Hospital), ☏ . Set in an old brick warehouse near the railway station, this beer pub offers its own brewed beer in a western setting. Worth a visit only for beer lovers.
There is a hotel booking service at the railway station.
If you plan to climb Mount Asahidake in the morning, there is a convenient camp for tents at the foot of the mountain, reachable by bus.
- 1 Asahikawa Mongol camping ground (旭川モンゴル村キャンプ場), 東旭川町桜岡35-3, ☏ . 10:00-18:00, close on Thursdays. Living like a Mongol is your dream? Head for the Asahikawa Mongol camping ground! Besides sleeping you can also do some paragliding and yurt construction. You can stay in a yurt for ¥3000. You can also use your conventional tent beside for ¥1000.
- 2 Totonou Guest House (ととのうプレース), 西神楽１線２４号４６３-44, Higashikagura, 078-8381 (from Asahikawa take the JR train heading to Furano; get off at Chiyogaoka stop), ☏ . Check-in: from 14:00, check-out: by 10:00. Laid-back, small town hostel with open-minded owners who speak excellent English. It is 2-minute walk from train station. ¥3,600 for dorm, ¥6,750 for double or triple, for teepee accommodating four persons.
Being in the center of Hokkaido, Asahikawa is a good base to explore other parts of the island.
- Furano is a village set in a picturesque landscape that is often used in Japanese dramas and advertisements about quite, rural life in Japan. A popular way to travel between Asahikawa and Furano in summer is the Norokko-go, an old style locomotive that runs purposely at a very slow speed.
- Sounkyo Gorge and Asahidake at the Daisetsuzan National Park, with very popular onsens (hot-spring resorts) and fine mountain hiking.
- Wakkanai the northernmost point in Japan.
|Routes through Asahikawa|
|END ←||N S||→ Takikawa → Sapporo|
|END ←||W E||→ Kitami → Abashiri|
|Wakkanai ← Shibetsu ←||N S||→ END|
|Shibetsu ←||N S||→ Takikawa → Sapporo|