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Hokkaido Travel Adventures / Cycling Around Hokkaido’s Tokachi Region Offers Stunning Scenery
6:00 JST, October 2, 2023
This is the third installment of a series exploring the sights of Hokkaido, which is garnering attention as an ideal adventure vacation destination.
Tokapuchi 400 is a cycling route of more than 400 kilometers that follows a rough figure-eight shape in the Tokachi region of central Hokkaido, starting and finishing in the city of Obihiro.
One day this summer, I joined a bike tour on a 70-kilometer section of the route that straddles 12 municipalities in the region. The tour aimed to reach the 1,139-meter-high Mikuni Toge mountain pass, which lies at the northern end of the Tokapuchi 400, passing by two lakes.
The tour was organized by Cycling Frontier, a Sapporo-based private company that guides cyclists in Hokkaido and rents out bicycles. Cycling Frontier hosts about 2,000 guests a year, with 70% of them foreign visitors. The tour participants included four visitors from Taiwan who said they planned to complete the Tokapuchi 400 in a few days.
The tour set out toward the northeast at the Urimaku roadside rest area in the town of Shikaoi at 10:30 a.m. The first 40-kilometer section is a hilly course with ups and downs and a maximum elevation difference of 500 meters. It took us to Lake Nukabira in Kamishihoro, passing by Lake Shikaribetsu, which stretches across northern Shikaoi and the southwestern part of the adjacent Kamishihoro.
We were accompanied on the tour by two guides from Cycling Frontier. President Yuya Ishizuka, 45, drove a car to support the cyclists and David Barnett, the company’s 58-year-old staffer from Britain, escorted the group on a bike.
At a mountain pass on the way, the scenic Tokachi Plain spread out below us. We took a break beside Lake Shikaribetsu whose surface was shining blue. Impressed, the four cyclists from Taiwan said the view was beautiful, as they wiped away sweat.
As the clock passed noon, we took lunch at a restaurant near Lake Nukabira, enjoying the restaurant’s popular hamburger steak and other dishes. The tour set out for the remaining section, taking National Highway Route 273 northbound for 30 kilometers. The uphill section became steeper, but it was no problem with the motor-assisted bike I rode. A comfortable breeze blew.
“I want to show you something,” Ishizuka said, and led us to the ruins of the Shihoro Line of the now defunct Japanese National Railways, along the cycling route. From the site of the former Horoka Station, a railway track stretches into the middle of a deserted forest. The four Taiwanese tourists were delighted by the fantastic scenery and took pictures. They were surprised to hear Ishizuka say, “There used to be a town here where about 350 people lived.”
Arriving at the goal of Mikuni Toge pass, I looked back the way we had cycled. The single road that runs through a forest looked as if it were a bridge over a sea of trees. The Taiwanese participants appeared satisfied.
Barnett, a mountain bike racer who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years, said the atmosphere of Hokkaido is similar to that of Europe and that attracts Asian tourists.
Cycling that does not put a burden on the environment is one of the main offerings of the Adventure Travel project. In Hokkaido, plans include a cycling tour along the Toyohira River in Sapporo, another one on the Shiretoko Peninsula and another that follows the so-called Ororon Line connecting national highways on Hokkaido’s west coast from the Rumoi region up north to the Soya region. In addition to cycling, those tours will offer such attractions as canoeing and eating out.
Ishizuka, who was a cycle racer for about 25 years for domestic and overseas teams, is involved in supervising AT tours. “It is comfortable to cycle on the roads in Hokkaido because they are wide and there are few traffic lights or cars,” Ishizuka said. “Cycling could become a major leisure activity comparable to other countries where it is popular.”
“Cycling is a major tourism resource in Hokkaido, just as powder snow is in winter. If cycling becomes more popular, that will make Hokkaido more lively,” he added.
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