Rishiri Island is one of the northernmost points in Japan, lying 20 km from the northwest shores of Hokkaido. Rishiri, along with its neighbor Rebun Island, is a haven for hikers, alpine flowers, and seafood lovers and provides that hard-to-find feeling of escaping everyday life.
Rishiri Island is centered around the impressive Mount Rishiri, a 1721-meter-high dormant volcano that offers a challenging climb. The island’s name means “island with a high peak” in the native Ainu language. It’s also known as the “floating island” thanks to its often mist-covered presence.
The island has around 5,000 inhabitants and relies on fishing and tourism—so visiting and eating as much as possible is basically your civic duty. If you’re not into scaling volcanoes, then you can visit the island’s beautiful pond reserves, cycle the dedicated coastal route or prepare your own kelp.
What to do on Rishiri Island: Experience the great outdoors
Rishiri has a hell of a lot to do for a small island, especially if you’re a fan of nature and outdoor activities. Luckily, none are too hardcore, so you can choose from gentle nature walks to more challenging mountain hikes, with cycling routes and mini-hikes in between.
The 60 km cycle route
For cycle fans, you can see the northwest coast of the island with relative ease. The route is about 60 km long, incorporating both of the main towns and the airport. You can rent bikes from both ports and some of the inns if you’re staying on the island.
The full return route takes around 7 hours, but, of course, depends on stop-offs along the way. To the northern side, you can visit the Himenuma and Notsuka Observatories for the stunning coastal views.
Head inland to visit Himenuma Pond, with views of Mount Rishiri sometimes reflected in the water. The trail passes through Oshidomari, with hot springs and the Peshi Misaki Coast mini-hiking trail making great stop-offs.
Heading west, you’ll pass the Fuji Wildlife Area, curving round to Rishirifuji. The smaller town has impressive outdoor onsen, a forest park and some local restaurants.
A little farther on is Kamui Kaigan, the experience center with sea urchin picking and kelp souvenir making experiences.
Hiking Mount Rishiri: One day, two routes and some great views
While it’s not quite Fuji, Mount Rishiri is still a serious hike. The 1721 m climb must be started early in the morning and ideally completed with a local guide, taking around 9 hours.
There are two courses to choose from: the Oshidomari Course and the Kutsugata Course. The former is better suited to visitors as the latter has dangerous ridges to cross.
On the Oshidomari Course, you start at Hokuroku Camp Site. From there, you pass by Kanro Spring, where you can fill your water bottles with the freshest natural spring water. The route continues up to the peak of Mount Chokan and on to Mount Rishiri’s north peak, which is home to a small shrine. While the south peak is the highest point, it is inaccessible to climbers due to severe erosion.
Guided trips can be booked in advance. One option is booking though Rera Mosir, a local hotel. The owner has been climbing the mountain since the age of nine and is a trained and registered guide.
Not a hiker? Get great views of Mount Rishiri instead
Not every mountain has to be climbed, and simply admiring Mount Rishiri from a distance is plenty for many of us. The peak is visible from almost everywhere on the island (unless shrouded in mist as it frequently is), but there are some popular view points.
The jagged peak may seem familiar if you’ve ever been presented with some melt-in-the-mouth Hokkaido omiyage (edible souvenirs) from colleagues or friends. The alps-like mountain was spotted by the president of sweets company Ishiya, who uses the pride of place on the packaging of its ever-popular white-chocolate Shiroi Koibito biscuits. The exact view can be seen from Numaura Observatory. Bonus: There’s a special gift for those who get engaged here.
You can also reach as far as Mount Rishiri’s 5th station by car. Or enjoy views of the lake from Otatomari Swamp, a beautiful pond with a nature walk running along the water’s edge.
Kamui Kaigan seafood activities
If you like a hands-on approach to seafood, then the Kamui Kaigan sea park offers the freshest dishes available.
You can catch and prepare the island specialty of sea urchin using their specialist equipment before enjoying the subtle delicacy with a view of the sea.
Crab-catching equipment is also available for free, which is great fun for kids.
Kelp production is another specialty of the island, with Rishiri kombu being one of six Hokkaido-only varieties. You can slice, cut and fold your kombu into three products, which make for a great souvenir or gift (especially with the adorable island mascot, Rishiri-cho included on the packaging).
Sea urchin catching is available from June to September, while the kombu experience (¥1,500) is available all year round.
Swamps, ponds and nature trails
For a more casual way to see the natural beauty of the island, you can head to some of the following spots. Closest to the main port is the Peshi Misaki Coast trail, which is a short walk on a long cliff (luckily). From the top, you can watch boats arrive into the harbour, see the glorious Mount Rishiri, and hopefully spot a few unusual flowers along the way.
Close to Oshidomari, Himenuma is a stunning artificial pond famous for its mirror-like reflections of Mount Rishiri. The decked walking trails protect the flora while various fauna can be heard and possibly spotted as they rustle through the undergrowth. The area is a very popular with bird watchers, and there’s also a small shop selling the work of local photographers.
The pond is close to the hiking trail for Pon Yama, a 444-meter-high hill that makes a great alternative to the trickier Mount Rishiri. The path from the pond takes 1.5 hours, but it can also be accessed from the 3rd station on Mount Rishiri (a lovely trail that passes the Kanro Spring). It’s filled with trees, has nice views and is a pleasing mini-trek, if you have the time.
Otatomari Swamp, toward the south of the island, is actually a beautiful blue pond with views of Mount Rishiri in the distance. There are trails running around the water’s edge, which make for a short and pleasant walk with plenty of bird spotting and alpine flower hunting opportunities. There’s a small cafe serving locally flavored ice cream (rosehip and bamboo grass, if you were ever wanting a change from ubiquitous matcha) and fresh seafood. It’s a perfect stop-off if you’re cycling (and if you’re not, no judgment here).
Sea kayaking and cross-country skiing
Sea kayaking tours are a fantastic way to see the island from a different perspective. Crystal-clear waters and experienced local guides meaning it’s safe for kids too. There are 3-hour experiences available from ¥8,800 per adult that include all the necessary equipment and pick-ups from the local hotels and ports. You can rent kayaks and arrange tours at the Rera Mosir hotel in Oshidomari, with times flexible for those arriving by boat.
In colder months, cross-country skiing is a popular activity, with the mountain slopes and forests providing challenging terrain. The best season is from late February to early March, although weather can be fickle due to the northern location of the island. The ski tours must be booked in advance and rental options are limited, so keen skiers will need to research depending on their preferences. The staff at Rera Mosir offer both backcountry skiing and snowshoe trekking in winter, including equipment, transfers and lunch.
Places to stay on Rishiri Island
The island has a decent selection of hotels, guesthouses and camping spots to choose from. Depending on which town you prefer and whether you have plans to hike Mount Rishiri, you may want to check transport times and transfers, as they are often included.
Rera Mosir: Our #1 choice for visitors
We may have mentioned it a fair few times in this article, but the Maruzen Pension Rera Mosir in Oshidomari is a great choice for accommodation on Rishiri Island. Not only does it have comfortable rooms, an open-air bath with mountain views and an incredible selection of fresh seafood for all meals, but the super-friendly owner is an experienced mountain and activity guide (and then some).
Since staying on the island is all about getting out and about, having easy access to the guides and equipment you need is super helpful. Mr. Watanabe is an island local and Rishiri expert, with a tight-knit team of local staff and those who’ve moved to the island specifically to work there. Watanabe-san is a certified mountaineering guide and mountain ski guide (Japan Mountain Guide Association). He is also the chairman of the local mountaineering association, holds the Rishiri Town Guide qualification, is Wilderness Advanced First Aid certified, and has even authored a book on Rishiri flower trekking—so you’re in a safe pair of hands, to say the least.
Staying at Rera Mosir is an ideal option if you plan on climbing Mount Rishiri. Not only can you glean some great tips, but the hotel offers a free drop-off to the Oshidomari trailhead at 4 am and pick-up whenever you’re done, with a packed lunch to boot.
Yuni Camping Ground: The best campsite for hikers
The Yuni Camping Ground has tent pitches as well as cute cabins to stay in, all perfectly located on the Oshidomari trekking route for Mount Rishiri. It’s open from mid-May to mid-October.
Cabins cost¥5,230 for up to four people. Tent spots cost ¥520 per adult and ¥300 for elementary school kids, with auto-camping spots priced at ¥2,610. There are toilets and showers available and a simple kitchen. For a free camping site, head to the Numaura section, close to the Otatomari Swamp (much nicer than it sounds!).
What to eat on Rishiri Island: Kelp brownies, anyone?
Unsurprisingly, Rishiri is famous for seafood, particularly their sea urchin and kelp. These items will not be far from your plate wherever you eat, along with the island’s staple hoke fish (local mackerel), which appears in a thousand ways.
Hotels and pensions will usually offer meals inclusive in rates. This can be a great way to get the best local produce without worrying about booking a table after a long day of cycling. If you’re camping, there are small local supermarkets and fishmongers dotted around both towns, so stock up on the day’s catch and cook back at your campsite.
For a more contemporary twist, head to Tsuki Cafe in the Oshidomari Port Building. They take local produce and create delicious and unusual dishes. Seasonal options include a bowl of smokey-mackerel-topped ramen and chewy kombu brownies, topped with kombu salt. Run by a local fisherman, it’s a surprising and lovely farewell (or greeting) to the island.
How to get to Rishiri Island
Rishiri can be accessed by either plane or boat from mainland Hokkaido and by boat from neighboring Rebun Island.
The Heart Land Ferry runs between Wakkanai and Rishiri two to three times a day (depending on the season). The journey takes 1 hour and 40 minutes.
There are a variety of seating options available:
- First-class seated (¥5,180 for adults)
- First-class in a Japanese-style room (¥4,520 for adults)
- Second-class reserved (¥3,210 for adults)
- Second-class unreserved (¥2,550 for adults)
Elementary school aged children are half price. Special private roomsare also available for the additional cost of ¥20,000, if you happen to need one.
Cars can be taken on board, with prices starting from ¥12,830, depending vehicle size.
Wakkanai can be reached by bus or train from Sapporo. The train takes around 5 hours and costs approximately ¥10,000—although it is covered on the JR Pass. You can also fly from Sapporo to Wakkanai or from Haneda to Wakkanai during peak season.
If you prefer to fly, you can catch the daily services from Okadama Airport, a smaller airport close to Sapporo used for Hokkaido-only routes. These run every day (weather permitting) with some additional services during summer. ANA also fly from Sapporo New Chitose to Rishiri daily between June and September. Flights take just under an hour and prices are around ¥20,000 with some discounts available for foreign visitors and for those booking in advance.
From Rebun Island
If you’re travelling from Rebun to Rishiri, you can use the daily ferry services that run between Rebun’s sole port (Kafuka) and either of Rishiri’s two ports: Oshidomari (on the north coast) and Kutsugata (on the northwest coast).
Services run daily between Oshidomari and Kafuka (except for the first week of January) with varying times throughout the year, while daily services only operate between Kafuka and Kutsugata from July to the end of September.
Regardless of the port you choose, the fares are:
- First-class seated: ¥1,960
- First-class Japanese-style room: ¥1,650
- Second-class reserved: ¥1,230
- Second-class unreserved: ¥920
Private rooms are available for an additional ¥10,000. Cars can bet taken on board, with prices starting at ¥4,710 per vehicle, depending on size.