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10 Awesome Things to do in Obihiro: Get Active in Hokkaido's Great Outdoors

10 Awesome Things to do in Obihiro: Get Active in Hokkaido's Great Outdoors

Date published: 15 June 2022

The Obihiro area is located about 150km east of Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest city. Alongside Obihiro's thriving agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fishing industries, the area serves as a core region for Hokkaido's food and ingredients.

But in addition to all that, it is surrounded by mountains like Mt. Tokachi, and is known for its fun activities that make the most of the abundant nature.

Here are​​ ten things to do in​​ the Obihiro area, among its vast and refreshing landscapes.

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Ban'ei kyōsō: Watch as giant horses draw an impressive 1-tonne sleigh
  2. 2. Rokka Forest: Enjoy nature and art in a vast landscape
  3. 3. Jewelry Ice: Natural jewels along the coast
  4. 4. Buta Don: Enjoy Obihiro's irresistible pork rice bowl
  5. 5. Taushubetsu River Bridge: Hokkaido's unique 'phantom bridge'
  6. 6. Kōfuku Station: Visit what might be Japan's happiest train station
  7. 7. Obihiro Zoo: A child's dream world
  8. 8. Tokachi Hot Air Balloon Experience (Anchored): Overlook the Tokachi Plain from 30 meters in the air
  9. 9. Tokachi River Rafting: Get the adrenaline pumping
  10. 10. Snowshoe Downhill Experience: Swoosh down covered in snow
  11. The land and sky stretch as far as the eye can see in Obihiro

1. Ban'ei kyōsō: Watch as giant horses draw an impressive 1-tonne sleigh

1. Ban'ei kyōsō: Watch as giant horses draw an impressive 1-tonne sleigh
The event is held mostly on weekends and public holidays (Photo: Yoshida Masakazu)

Located about 7 minutes from the south exit of JR Obihiro Station, Ban'ei Tokachi holds the only Ban'ei kyōsō (Ban'ei horse racing) in the world.

Ban'ei Racing is a race in which giant horses draw about a ton of sleigh to the finish line. It's said that during the era of the Hokkaido Development Commission, about 150 years ago, a festival was created in which farming horses drew sleighs to compete. It used to be held all over Hokkaido, but now Ban'ei Tokachi is the only place to see the spectacle.

The giant horses begin in an explosion of dust and sand (Photo: Yoshida Masakazu)

Even for first-timers, it's easy enough to make the most of your time here.

First, take a look at the odds and place your bet by buying a betting slip. There are instructions in various languages at the information center, so take a look and decide which type of bet to place.

There are various options, such as single-entry, double-entry, and wide. There are about 12 races in one day, so it's good to start with a small amount, like 100 yen, to get used to it.

You can really feel their force as they surpass the obstacles, small and large. The slogan of the races roughly translates to "A live show that turns tables in an instant" (一発逆転のライブショー), so you'll be on the edge of your seat waiting to see who wins!

Health & Safety Measures
Indoor disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
Brochures in English and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional) are available.

Event information
Dates: Varies by race *Please check the official website for more information
Opening time: Varies by race *Please check the official website
Duration: A total of 149 days from Friday, April 22, 2022 to Monday, March 20, 2023
Admission: 100 yen

2. Rokka Forest: Enjoy nature and art in a vast landscape

2. Rokka Forest: Enjoy nature and art in a vast landscape
Surround yourself in the floral aromas at Rokka Forest (Photo: Rokkatei)

About 40 minutes by car from JR Obihiro Station, in the village of Nakasatsunai, is a vibrant flower garden called Rokka Forest.

The garden was created by Rokkatei, one of Hokkaido's leading confectioners, and it was designed with the desire to "create a flower garden filled with the flowers from our confectionery's floral wrapping paper."

The vast land of 100,000 square meters is full of ezo-oyamarindō, damask roses, Trillium camschatcense, Asian fawnlilies, caltha palustris, and other elegant flowers.

The gardens look beautiful all year round (Photo: Rokkatei)

The park is dotted with galleries in renovated Croatian houses. In addition to exhibiting the works of Naoyuki Sakamoto, who designed the wrapping paper of Rokkatei, there are also seven original collages created by Sakamoto displayed in the Floral Wrapping Paper Museum (花柄包装紙館).

If you turn your attention outside, you'll notice subtle placements of the sculptures created by various artists, which make for great commemorative photos. Here you can enjoy nature and art to the fullest.

Health & Safety Measures
Disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
The official website is available in English and Chinese.

3. Jewelry Ice: Natural jewels along the coast

3. Jewelry Ice: Natural jewels along the coast
"Gemstones" washed up on shore

Every year around mid-January to late February, jewelry ice emanates from the river source near Mt. Tokachi, a short distance from Obihiro. Ice covering the Tokachi River flows southeast and into the Pacific Ocean.

The ice clusters collect on the coast of Otsu at the river mouth, and they shine beautifully in the sun. The harsh cold temperatures of Tokachi combined with mother earth's Tokachi River bring forth these natural wonders, which have come to be known as "jewelry ice" because of their jewel-like shine.

Early morning jewelry ice. Depending on the time of the day, the ice changes appearance.

Jewelry ice comes from ice from the Tokachi River that flows into the Pacific Ocean, which is washed in the waves to form crystal-like ice. You can only see the Otsu Coast of Toyokoro Town, about an hour's drive from Obihiro City.

It takes different forms depending on the time of day, such as bright red in the morning sunrise, blue of the Tokachi sky in the daytime, and a beautiful warm red glow in the sunset. Make your way here to bask in nature's brilliance.

Health & Safety Measures
Indoor disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

  • Jewelry Ice
    ジュエリーアイス
    • Address Otsu Motomachi, Toyokoro Town, Nakagawa District, Hokkaido 089-5461

4. Buta Don: Enjoy Obihiro's irresistible pork rice bowl

4. Buta Don: Enjoy Obihiro's irresistible pork rice bowl
How it's cooked and how the sauce is made makes a big difference to the taste.

Pork farming began in the Tokachi region around the end of the Meiji period (1868 - 1912), and since then, pork has become popular.

The specialty dish of Obihiro City, the "Pork Rice Bowl" or "buta don", is said to have originated in the early Showa period (around 1930) with an Obihiro restaurant owner.

The owner saw the farmers and settlers working up a sweat outside, and put two elements of popular dishes together: charcoaled pork and the rich soy-based sauce from eel dishes. This combination resulted in buta don.

This dish is also sold as bento boxes at stations (Photo: Yoshida Masakazu)

Making the dish is very simple. Thick-sliced pork is mixed in a sauce made with sugar and soy sauce, and then placed on top of a bowl of rice to complete the dish.

The sauce and the way the dish is cooked varies by restaurant, bringing out different characteristics that have the restaurants competing over flavor.

In addition to being served at restaurants throughout the city, it is also sold as station bento boxes at JR Obihiro Station.

5. Taushubetsu River Bridge: Hokkaido's unique 'phantom bridge'

5. Taushubetsu River Bridge: Hokkaido's unique 'phantom bridge'
The bridge sunk to the bottom of the lake due to dam construction (Photo: Masakazu Yoshida)

About an hour and 50 minutes by car from JR Obihiro Station, the Taushubetsu River Bridge is also called the "phantom bridge" because it disappears into the lake depending on the season.

Surrounded by nature, the East Daisetsu area was very successful in forestry until the early Showa period (1950s), so the National Railway Shihoro Line was established in 1939 to carry the felled trees.

In 1955, the route for the dam construction was changed, and the Taushubetsu River Bridge sank into the water.

Though you can almost completely forget about the bridge at some points in the year, when the ruins reappear in the dry seasons, they become the talk of the town.

One day you probably won't be able to see the bridge at all (Photo: Masakazu Yoshida)

Completed in 1937, the 130-meter-long concrete arched bridge appears on the frozen lake's surface in January, when there is not much water in the dam.

It starts to sink again in May when the water level rises. In summer, it is fully submerged at the bottom of the lake.

To see the bridge ruins, you can go to the observation deck off of Highway 273 or by hiking with a tour organized by the Higashitaitetsu Nature Guide Centre.

The Taushubetsu River Bridge is deteriorating as the years go on. Take a mental picture of it while it still holds its shape.

  • Taushubetsu River Bridge
    タウシュベツ川橋梁
    • Address Nukabira Gensenkyo, Kamishihoro-cho, Kato-gun, Hokkaido 080-1403
    • Phone Number 01564-4-2224
    • ・Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

6. Kōfuku Station: Visit what might be Japan's happiest train station

6. Kōfuku Station: Visit what might be Japan's happiest train station
Kōfuku Station opened in 1956 (Photo: Yoshida Masakazu)

Located about a 30-minute drive from JR Obihiro Station, Kōfuku Station is a small station on the former National Railway's Hiroo Line that was abolished in 1987.

When the station was opened in 1956, it was named "happiness" by taking a character from the local region (幸 from 幸震) and putting it together with a character from the settlers' original area (福 from 福 井).

Those two characters put together make happiness (幸福; Kōfuku) in Japanese.

There was a nearby station called "Aikoku Station" (Land of love station), so in the 1970s, it was said that the line between Aikoku Station and Kōfuku Station was good luck.

Tickets started selling like crazy under the new slogan "from the land of love to happiness."

Even now that the railway is not in use, tickets are still sold as memorabilia (Photo: Masakazui Yoshida)

It soon became well-known throughout Japan, and tourists from far and wide came to the small stations out in the countryside.

A souvenir shop opened in front of the station, and many drivers, riders, backpackers, and other travelers came to visit, thus beginning its golden age.

Only seven tickets were sold for a trip from Aikoku to Kōfuku Station in 1972. But in 1973, three million tickets were sold, and in four years, more than 10 million tickets were sold!

Of course, now, the hype has died down and returned to its natural quietness.

Health & Safety Measures
Disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
None

7. Obihiro Zoo: A child's dream world

7. Obihiro Zoo: A child's dream world
The entrance fee is 420 yen for adults (Photo: Yoshida Masakazu)

Located about a 6-minute drive from JR Obihiro Station, Obihiro Zoo opened as Hokkaido's second-ever zoo in 1963. The zoo is located in a natural area of Midorigaoka park, so you might even spot a Hokkaido squirrel or wild birds, too.

You can see the flamingos up close (Photo: Masakazu Yoshida)

Right by the main gate, you'll find American flamingos, European flamingos, and Chilean flamingos. You can sit on the opposing bench and watch them pass the day away.

On the eastern side of the zoo is Chibikko Farm, where you can interact with and pet the guinea pigs, goats, and sheep.

The area is alive, with families having fun on the playground, Ferris wheel, and picnic lawn. It is like a dream come true for the little ones.

Health & Safety Measures
Indoor disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
The official website supports English, Chinese (Simplified, Traditional), and Korean.

  • Obihiro Zoo
    おびひろ動物園
    • Address 2 Midorigaoka, Obihiro-shi, Hokkaido 080-0846
    • Phone Number 0155-24-2437
    • ・Hours: [Summer] April 29-September 30, 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. October 1-November 3, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. [Winter] Only Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays between December 4-February 27, from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. *December 29-January 3 are closed even on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays
      ・Admission: Adults 420 yen. Free for junior high school students and below
      ・Closed: All days not specified in the opening hours above

8. Tokachi Hot Air Balloon Experience (Anchored): Overlook the Tokachi Plain from 30 meters in the air

8. Tokachi Hot Air Balloon Experience (Anchored): Overlook the Tokachi Plain from 30 meters in the air
Go to Tokachigaoka Park's Flower Clock Hanack to get on a hot air balloon (Photo: Tokachi Nature Center)

Looking at the wide-open sky amongst the vast nature of Tokachi, it must be pretty common for people to think, "I wonder what things look like from up there."

And just a 15-minute drive from Obihiro City, the Tokachi Nature Center grants that very wish. Just get up bright and early and head to "Tokachigaoka Park's Flower Clock Hanack." There, the clear blue sky of Tokachi awaits.

Taking a ride through Tokachi's blue skies (Photo: Tokachi Nature Center)

The balloon ride takes about 5 minutes (including boarding and disembarking).

You ascend to 30 meters above sea level, where you will be captivated by the sight no matter what the season: the vibrant greens of spring, the patchwork of the crops in summer, the trees dyed a vibrant red in autumn, and the silver and snowy landscape that extends through winter.

Reservations are not required, but please call to see if boarding is possible 20 minutes before you arrive. Boarding is possible from the age of two, so this is a great way to make some family memories.

Health & Safety Measures
Disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
Simple English conversation is possible.

  • Tokachi Nature Center
    十勝ネイチャーセンター
    • Address 14-1 Tokachigawa Onsen, Otofuke-cho, Kato-gun, Hokkaido 080-0262
    • Phone Number 0155-32-6116
    • ・Meeting time: April - June and September - November 6:30 a.m. - 7:30 a.m., July and August 6:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.
      ・Period: April 29 to December 11 *From October to December, boarding is only available on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays
      *For days other than the above, groups of 20 or more will be accepted.
      ・Duration: approx. 5 minutes (including boarding and disembarking) *It may be cancelled due to weather, such as wind and rain.
      ・Admission: Adults 2,300 yen. Children (2 years old to 6th grade) 1,800 yen
      ・Closed: No closed days other than those not listed above.

9. Tokachi River Rafting: Get the adrenaline pumping

9. Tokachi River Rafting: Get the adrenaline pumping
Join forces to make it past the rapids (Photo: TOM - Tokachi Outdoor Mates)

The Tokachi River offers a variety of fun outdoor activities, one of which is rafting, a thrilling yet refreshing experience that has garnered a lot of attention.

TOM - Tokachi Outdoor Mates, is located about 1 hour from Obihiro in Shintoku. Here, there is a rafting route set in the best part of the Tokachi River for rafting, spanning 2.5 kilometers. "Double rafting" is available if you want to go down the river twice in one tour.

The sense of accomplishment when you score a goal is indescribable! (Photo: TOM - Tokachi Outdoor Mates)

Instead of finishing after one go of the course, when you're still nervous and unsure what to do, you can go a second time with more confidence, and attack the course head-on for a more enjoyable experience.

The regular course takes about 150-180 minutes (including reception, changing, and transportation), but there are also shorter rafting options, which take about 90-120 minutes.

The shorter options are a good choice if you're low on time or just want to give it a go. You can book online through their site that has English support.

Enjoy the cherry blossoms in spring, the fresh greenery in early summer, and the bright red leaves in autumn while rafting along the Tokachi River.

Health & Safety Measures
Disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
The booking site is available in English. Simple English conversation is possible.

  • TOM Rafting Tour
    TOMのラフティングツアー
    • Address 240, Kuttari Baseline, Shintoku-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido 081-0154
    • Phone Number 0156-65-2411
    • ・Hours: Morning sessions from 8:50 a.m. Afternoon sessions from 1:50 p.m.
      ・Active period: April 29 - October 31
      ・Admission prices: Varies by course. Closed: Irregular holidays

10. Snowshoe Downhill Experience: Swoosh down covered in snow

10. Snowshoe Downhill Experience: Swoosh down covered in snow
Slide down at full force

The TAC Tokachi Adventure Club runs a Snowshoe Downhill Tour at the Sahoro Resort Ski Area, about a 60-minute drive from JR Obihiro Station.

Snowshoes are just what they sound like - shoes for walking on snow! Where regular shoes would fail you, snow shoes allow you to walk easily on the fluffy snow, so they are a popular item for those who love hiking the snowy mountains of Hokkaido.

Cover yourself in the fluffy snow!

After making your way up the slope on the ski lift, the Snowshoe Downhill Tour lets you walk, run, jump and slide over the glistening snowscape. The activity takes about 2-3 hours.

It's a fun and easy activity to do even if you can't ski. Children can have fun, and adults can have fun returning to a childlike innocence! Experience quality powder snow in a fun environment.

Health & Safety Measures
Indoor disinfection measures taken - Sanitizer installed - Ventilation measures in place - Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature - Guests are required to wear masks

Multilingual support
Simple English conversation is possible.

  • TAC Tokachi Adventure Club
    TACとかちアドベンチャークラブ
    • Address 539-21 Kuttari, Shintoku-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido 081-0154
    • Phone Number 0156-65-2727
    • ・Time: From 9:00 a.m. for 2-3 hours
      ・Season: From late December to late March of the following year *Depending on snow conditions, etc.
      ・Admission: 5,500 yen including lift. 4,400 yen without lift.
      ・Closed days: Irregular holidays

The land and sky stretch as far as the eye can see in Obihiro

One of the great things about Obihiro is just how vast the land and the sky seem, and just how "Hokkaido" everything feels. The area is well-known for its agriculture, dairy, and delicious food, and there are so many fun things to do. Obihiro is the kind of place you'll want to stay a while.

Original Japanese text by: Masakazu
Translated by: Cassandra Lord
Information in this article is accurate as of April 2022.
Please check the official websites for the latest information.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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