Japan Tourism / Exploring Southern Hokkaido by Rail, Collecting Special Stamp Along the Way

Nobuyuki Koshi/Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
A train on the South Hokkaido Railway line runs along the coast.

South Hokkaido Railway is the northernmost railway company that issues a commemorative ink stamp called a tetsuin, and the firm is the only one in Hokkaido that issues such a stamp.

The company’s logo seen on the tetsuin incorporates the waters of Hakodate Bay and the Tsugaru Strait, as well as the lights used on squid boats, as squid is a local specialty.

When the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line started services in 2016, South Hokkaido Railway took over the 37.8-kilometer stretch between Kikonai and Goryokaku stations on the JR Esashi Line. Services between Kikonai and Esashi stations were discontinued in 2014.

After I arrived at Goryokaku Station, I headed straight to Goryokaku Tower.

Nobuyuki Koshi/Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Goryokaku Tower. Visitors can enjoy the view of the star-shaped Goryokaku fort and an exhibit about its history. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Ticket sales for the observation deck end at 5:50 p.m.). Open daily.

I enjoyed a panoramic view of Mt. Hakodate, the Tsugaru Strait, Mt. Komagatake and the Goryokaku fort. Then I headed to Hakodate Station to get the company’s tetsuin at its office.

Nobuyuki Koshi/Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
The Goryokaku fort

I received a sheet of paper with the pre-printed tetsuin featuring the company logo and the railway’s name written in Japanese calligraphy by the priest of Samegawa Shrine, which is famous for the Kanchu Misogi Festival. The tetsuin paper is printed in such a way that there is space for the date next to the shrine’s name.

Nobuyuki Koshi/Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
South Hokkaido Railway’s tetsuin stamp

“We hope passengers will enjoy the seasonal scenery from the train windows, get off at various stations along the line and really feel what makes this place so special,” said Michihiro Harui, who works for the company’s corporate planning department. “We also hope people will collect tetsuin as a way to remember the trip.”

After receiving my stamp, I took the train from Hakodate Station to Kikonai Station.

A few minutes after seeing a conveyor belt jutting out over the water near Kamiiso Station, the train started running along the coast.

From the window, I could see various well-known landscapes, including Mt. Hakodate and the Shimokita and Tsugaru peninsulas across the Tsugaru Strait.

After getting off at Kikonai Station — the last stop — I went to Samegawa Shrine. Then, I headed to Misogi beach, which is where the Shinto ritual Kanchu Misogi Festival takes place every January. During the ritual, sacred icons from the shrine are brought to the beach to be purified in the icy waters of the Tsugaru Strait.

Nobuyuki Koshi/Special to Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Samegawa Shrine. The annual Kanchu Misogi Festival is held Jan. 13-15 in accordance with the misogi legend handed down at the shrine.

After so much traveling, I was starting to get hungry, so I stopped at Misogi-no-Sato Kikonai — a Michi-no-Eki rest area — and ate at the restaurant Dounan de’s, where I ordered salted bread and pasta with Kikonai hijiki seaweed and spinach in yuzu pepper cream.

On my way back to Hakodate, I got off at Oshima-Tobestu Station and walked to the Tobetsu Trappist Monastery on the so-called “Road to Rome.”

It was a beautiful area as I could see the blue ocean shining beyond the row of trees.


Japan Tourism is presented in collaboration with The Japan News and Ryoko Yomiuri Publication, which publishes Ryoko Yomiuri, a monthly travel magazine. If you are interested in the original Japanese version of this story, click here.