Hokkaido Travel Adventures / Rebun Island Trails Tour Stunning Views of Alpine Nature

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Sea of Japan can be seen beyond the Motochi Lighthouse on Rebun Island, Hokkaido, on July 14.

Traveling abroad to specifically be in nature and learn about the local culture is becoming more common, particularly among wealthier tourists from Europe and the United States.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Adventure Travel World Summit was held in Sapporo last week, and approximately 800 people from about 60 countries, including travel agencies, media outlets and government tourism bureaus, took part in the event.

This series will explore the sights of Hokkaido, which is garnering attention as an ideal adventure vacation destination.

Rebun Island is located about 60 kilometers west of Wakkanai, Hokkaido, in the Sea of Japan and it can only be accessed via ferry, which takes about two hours from Wakkanai.

Nature remains mostly undisturbed as there are very few roads on the island. However, there are multiple hiking courses of various distances on the hills around Mt. Rebun, which has an elevation of about 490 meters.

The about 7-kilometer Momoiwa Observatory course tours the southern part of Rebun Island. Heading west and walking uphill for 2 kilometers from the ferry terminal in Kafuka, the island’s largest community, leads to a wide-open field of grass. In mid-July, hikers can see colorful alpine flowers blooming on either side of the trail.

Wind coming from the Sea of Japan blows toward Momoiwa Observatory, which is located on a hill about 200 meters above sea level. Once the fog lifted, the bright blue of the ocean and some uniquely shaped rocks known as Momoiwa (peach rock) and Nekoiwa (cat rock) could be seen.

Walking further, a hiker pointed to a small white flower and asked, “Isn’t this rebun-usuyukiso?”

The plant, known outside Japan as Leontopodium discolor, is part of the same group as the edelweiss flowers found in Europe.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Leontopodium discolor is in bloom on Rebun Island on July 14.

The island’s flora is said to be related to the plants that existed when Japan was still connected to the Eurasian continent during the Ice Age. About 300 species of alpine plants grow naturally on the island. Some have “rebun” in their names.

The west side of the island is so windy that even if it snows, it doesn’t accumulate. The surface gets so cold that ice sometimes forms deep underground.

“The environment here is too harsh for trees to grow, but it seems to be suitable for alpine plants because it is similar to a mountain at high elevation,” said Seiji Murayama of the Rebun town government’s natural environment section.

The black and white Motochi Lighthouse, located about 2 kilometers from the observatory, stood out against the blue sky. Although it was a little hazy, the 1,721-meter Mt. Rishiri could be seen across the sea.

Down the hill, along the seaside road, kelp was being dried on the beach — a sign that fishing is how many of the islanders make a living. They go out on small boats and catch sea urchins that are feeding on kelp. It is surprising that sea urchins, which are now considered a delicacy, used to be treated as a nuisance as they consume kelp.

Once at the ferry terminal in the afternoon, a sign read, “Sea urchins have been caught.”

It’s a little expensive, but it’s an opportunity to try fresh sea urchins at a local eatery. The spot also offered grilled and fried atka mackerel, which is the most commonly caught fish on the island. Catching sea urchins and collecting kelp only takes place in the summer and continues until around September, depending on the weather.

In July, a festival was held to express the islanders’ gratitude for the bounty of the sea. On the eve of the main festival at Itsukushima Shrine, children were pulling small floats at the port as crowds gathered to watch.

Before the pandemic, more than 100,000 tourists would visit the island every year. Most would come from Tokyo metropolitan areas to see the alpine flora in early summer.

Hiking was included as part of a tour for the Adventure Travel World Summit’s participants as the island’s attractions are relatively unknown overseas.

“The trip will definitely be a good opportunity to discover not only the flowers but also the scenery that is unique to the island and the lifestyle of the locals,” said Takeru Kawamura, director of the Rebun Island Tourist Association.

The island has a certain charm that cannot be fully experienced in just one or two days.