The more you learn,
the more you’ll want to
travel the Hanasaki Line.
The Hanasaki Line is a beautiful,
powerful line that makes you feel
the earth’s dynamism.
It runs across the eastern
part of Hokkaido.
The Hanasaki Line is actually
a nickname for
the 135.4-kilometer line
that connects Kushiro and
Nemuro on Hokkaido’s longest railway line,
the JR Nemuro Main Line
(Takikawa — Nemuro).
It is a scenic line that offers
views of forests, farms, and the Pacific Ocean.
A wetland registered in the Ramsar Convention is
also located along the way.
The Bekanbeushi Wetland is a sanctuary
for wild birds,
and its magical scenery created by
the greenery and water is impressive.
Birds fly freely,
and animals are constantly on the move.
The wetland, greenery, sea, and sky seen from
the windows also change their appearance from
moment to moment.
That is why you can never take your eyes off
the windows while traveling
on the Hanasaki Line.
A trip on the train that runs on the
easternmost railway line in
Japan—and in Asia—is filled with discoveries
Why not travel on the Hanasaki Line—the Earth
“The trip starts in the port town of Kushiro”
The trip on the Hanasaki Line starts from Kushiro Station in the port town of Kushiro. The cries of seagulls in the sky and the wind that carries the scent of the sea make the heart pound with excitement.
Famous Ekiben (boxed meals) also add enjoyment to the trip. At Kushiro Station, enjoy choosing from a variety of Ekiben, including “Iwashi-no-Hokkaburizushi” (sardine sushi) and many more.
After departing from Kushiro Station and passing through residential areas, the train is surrounded by windbreaks on both sides, as the view fills with green.
As the train approaches Akkeshi, the Pacific Ocean comes into sight. The moment the view opens from the forests to the sea is majestic. In summer, you can see kelp being dried on the seashore
Akkeshi is known as one of the biggest oyster producers in Japan.
The Ekiben “Kakimeshi” (oyster rice), cooked in Ujiiemachiaijyo in front of the station, has been loved by train lovers and travelers since old times. Oyster dishes and Robata (fireside cooking) can also be enjoyed at the Michi-no-Eki “Akkeshi Conchiglie,” about a 10-minute walk from the station.
“Head to a scenic spot”
After Akkeshi Station, the train moves into the Bekanbeushi Wetland, an amazing scenic spot on the Hanasaki Line. Registered in the Ramsar Convention in 1993, Lake Akkeshi and the Bekanbeushi Wetland are home to animals only seen in Hokkaido, Japan, such as the red-crowned crane, white-tailed eagle, and brown bear. Migratory birds such as whooper swan can also be seen.
The view of the wetland formed by the greenery and water is mysterious, with rivers and common reeds, along with grey herons and mallards on the waterside. This sanctuary for water birds looks like a world from a fairy tale. The vivid greenery of summer will make you want to continue enjoying this scenery even more.
Of course every season is beautiful—fresh green in spring, vivid green in summer, golden-colored autumn, and icy winter. From veils of clouds and mist to indigo twilight, everything is picturesque.
After Itoizawa, the green scenery spreads outward again. As the train moves eastward, trees and farm fields pass by the windows in varying shades of green. Look at Ezo deer in the woods and cows with black and white spots on farms. Horses can be seen running, too.
“Wow! I get to see the animals of Hokkaido up close,” I gasp as I stand in the front part of the train, which the train lovers call the “front row seat” for its views of both the train tracks and scenery. The Hanasaki Line uses a diesel car called the KIHA-54 series. As the diesel car propels itself like an automobile, the vast sky of Hokkaido spreads outward, unobstructed by overhead wires.
The KIHA-54 series features retro seats in each car, inviting travelers on a nostalgic trip. The green seats were used in the 183 series of the Limited Express Ozora. The blue seats with tufted puffin motifs and other features of the Hanasaki Line are from the rapid train “Kaikyo” on the Tsugaru-Kaikyo Line which used to connect Hokkaido and Honshu. The deep red seats are also from the 789 series on the Tsugaru-Kaikyo Line. They are now used in the Lupin the Third themed car.
Hamanaka Town on the Hanasaki Line is the hometown of the cartoonist Monkey Punch, who created the beloved masterpiece “Lupin the Third.” Lupin, Fujiko Mine, Inspector Zenigata, Jigen, and Goemon are waiting for you at the stations.
There is also a car decorated with Rosa rugosa petal and snow crystal motifs.
“Views change by the second on the way to the easternmost station”
Views from the windows change rapidly as the train moves forward. After running through trees and fields in shades of green, the train offers a view of the Pacific Ocean. The sky is so transparent and blue as if allowing you to see outer space. The clear blue sea reflects the sky, while lace-like white waves lap against the shoreline.
Cape Ochiishi juts out and falls sharply into the sea. This mysterious scenery in the blue world and the milky white seashore covered in mist are magnificently beautiful.
The train slows down and offers audio information when passing by scenic spots, too.
The scenery flies by, and the train moves toward Higashi-Nemuro Station, located on a small hill. Higashi-Nemuro Station is an important access point for towns along the Hanasaki Line. Trains are packed with local high school students in the morning and evening. The station is also special for train lovers and travelers. Two of JR Line’s farthest-flung stations are located in Hokkaido: the northernmost is Wakkanai Station, and the easternmost is this station, Higashi-Nemuro Station.
The train turns westward after Higashi-Nemuro Station and reaches the final stop, Nemuro Station. It is the end of the trip on Japan’s easternmost railway. While feeling fulfillment at having reached the easternmost station, the wish to continue to the easternmost point of Hokkaido by land is sure to grow in the traveler’s heart.
To fulfill that wish, the Nemuro Kotsu bus departs from the station to Cape Nosappu, the easternmost point on mainland Hokkaido. The route from the station to the cape offers another grand view unique to Hokkaido. This train-bus trip is my favorite scenic route to feel the local charm. After passing through Nemuro’s residential areas, the bus moves along the coastline of Habomai, with Onneto Swamp to the left. The wetlands and seashore spread without end, and a fishing town appears. The weather at the seashore is capricious—the sun shines on the fields like a spotlight, the milky white mist covers the bus stops, and the sea changes its color between blue and silver. As I consider where I am and how far I’ve come, the bus arrives in Cape Nosappu, the easternmost point on mainland Hokkaido.
Despite the summer sun, the thermometer in Cape Nosappu points to 16°C. It is truly another world here. Hanasaki Line, or the “Earth Exploration Train,” offers an absolutely unique trip.
- Naomi Yano
- Photographer and writer who travels around Japan and abroad. She is also known as the first “Tetsuko” (train girl) for her love of train trips. She publishes photography works and essays and appears in media. Her works include “Kisha Tsugaku” (KADOKAWA/Media Factory), “Onnahitori-no-Tetsudotabi” (Shogakukan), and “Tetsuko-no-Tabi Shashin-nikki” (CCC Media House).