Have you ever heard of "Unkai Terrace"? It's a remarkable spot in Hokkaido that offers breathtaking views of seas of clouds, or as we call them in Japanese, "unkai."
So, what exactly are unkai? They are nature's own spectacle that occurs under specific conditions, and when it happens, it's truly awe-inspiring. Japan is home to various types of seas of clouds, such as mist floating above the ocean or a lake, or even fog formed when humid air from low grounds is pushed up the mountainside by winds.
Thanks to Hokkaido's expansive landmass and its coastal surroundings, there are numerous areas where you can witness the magical phenomenon of unkai. It's no wonder Unkai Terrace has become a popular destination for visitors seeking these mesmerizing vistas!
- Table of Contents
- 1. Unkai Terrace offers an outstanding view
- 2. Observation decks offering Unkai views from Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo
- 3. Panorama Deck 900: Enjoy Hokkaido's Sea of Clouds that spreads across Mount Tokachi
- 4. Hihijikikogen Camping Ground: Offering a magnificent refreshing view
- 5. Yotei Panorama Terrace: Be enthralled by the view of Mount Yotei floating on a sea of clouds
- Tips when going to see the unkai
1. Unkai Terrace offers an outstanding view
Located in the picturesque Shimukappu Village, Unkai Terrace is a renowned observation spot within Hokkaido's expansive Hoshino Resorts Tomamu.
It stands as one of the top destinations in Hokkaido for witnessing Japan's enchanting seas of clouds. Since its opening 13 years ago, Unkai Terrace has captivated the hearts of over 1 million visitors, with its popularity soaring during the autumn of 2018.
The popularity of Unkai Terrace stems from the unique opportunity it offers to witness three distinct types of seas of clouds.
First, there's the captivating "Pacific Ocean Unkai," which emerges when the eastern part of Hokkaido experiences high pressure, leading to the formation of sea fog.
Then, we have the mesmerizing "Tomamu Unkai," which occurs when the Tomamu area is enveloped by high pressure and experiences radiative cooling.
Lastly, there's the intriguing "Bad Weather Unkai," which unveils itself during inclement weather or when unfavorable conditions are about to set in. Each type of unkai presents a captivating and unforgettable spectacle for visitors to behold.
Hokkaido's sea of clouds can be seen from mid-May to mid-October and has a 40% chance of occurrence. At the Hoshino Resorts Tomamu website, you can see the next day unkai forecast.
Another charm is that they have various spots where you can view the sea of clouds as if you are one with nature. Based on the Cloud 9 plan that suggests 9 ways to enjoy unkai, they have produced the Cloud Pool and Cloud Walk.
- May 11 - October 16, 2023
- ・May 11 - May 31: 5:00 am - 7:00 am
・June 1 - August 31: 5:00 am - 7:00 am
・September 1 - 30: 4:30 am - 8:00 am
・October 1 - 16: 5:00 am - 8:00 am
- Unkai Gondola Fee
- For Non-Overnight Guests: Adults, 1,900 yen, Children ages 7-11, 1,200 yen
2. Observation decks offering Unkai views from Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo
Akan-Mashu National Park that spans over 1 city and 10 towns including Akan and Mashu is the most historical national park in Hokkaido. The caldera lake, Lake Mashu, and Lake Kussharo are the two most popular tourist spots that represent the area.
From June to October, the area can be covered in mist that drifts from the Pacific Ocean in the south; if the conditions are right you can see the unkai sea of clouds in Hokkaido.
Lake Kussharo’s caldera is the largest in Japan, the outer ring has 4 observation decks, which provides a unique view of the sea of clouds. Tsubetsu Pass Observation Deck located west-southwest of the lake is at an altitude of 947m and is known as the spot where you can most likely see unkai.
Bihoro Pass Observation Deck located to the west of the lake offers a great panoramic view of the unkai. Mokoto Pass Observation Deck located on the north side is popular with photographers because it provides direct light.
Lake Mashu is known as “Misty Lake Mashu.” Throughout the year the water temperature is low and ascending air currents are likely to occur in the summer, and there is a rare chance that thick mists will cover the lake and create an unkai.
If you are lucky you can see unkai with the sunrise at Lake Mashu First Observatory Deck located to the southwest and Lake Mashu Third Observatory Deck located to the north.
3. Panorama Deck 900: Enjoy Hokkaido's Sea of Clouds that spreads across Mount Tokachi
The popular tourist site Furano is known for its lavender fields, but it also has a spot to view unkai. Furano Ski Area located on the west side of New Furano Prince Hotel operates its aerial lift during the summer.
Panorama Deck 900 is located at the peak station, and from here you can get a view of the Furano Basin and the Tokachi Mountain Range far out.
Unkai is likely to occur early in the morning from September to October. The probability of seeing unkai increases when the weather is good and the temperature difference between morning and evening is large. The view of the unkai covering Furano Basin is spectacular. Depending on the weather conditions you can sometimes see the unkai until 9:00 a.m.
If you are lucky, you can get a view of the colored leaves and unkai at the same time from around late September. Also it’s quite rare, but unkai can occur in the winter too.
- Summer Season
- ・Summer: July 15 - August 31; 8 AM - 4 PM (last descent at 4:20 PM).
・Adults: 2,000 yen
・Children: 1,000 yen
Panorama Deck 900 at Furano Ski Resort富良野スキー場「パノラマデッキ900」
- Address Nakagoryo, Furano, Hokkaido 076-8511
About a 10-minute drive from JR Furano Station
*Operation period, time and price may change. Please check their official website or call for confirmation (call Furano Ski Area for confirmation)
Phone: 0167-22-1111 (New Furano Prince Hotel)
4. Hihijikikogen Camping Ground: Offering a magnificent refreshing view
Since its inauguration in March 2013, the Hokkaido Shinkansen has been making a stop at Hokuto City in southern Hokkaido. Within a convenient 15-minute drive from Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station, you'll discover the remarkable Kijihiki Highland. This location offers a unique vantage point to gaze down upon the Hokkaido Shinkansen viaduct, leaving visitors in awe of the engineering marvel. Moreover, Kijihiki Highland has become a beloved spot among locals and camping enthusiasts alike, who flock there to witness the captivating seas of clouds, known as unkai.
The best chances to witness unkai are during the months of May to June and September. This captivating phenomenon is often sourced from the likes of Onuma Lake, Funka Bay, Hakodate Bay, and the paddy fields of Ohno Plain (which are filled with water from May to June).
An optimal condition for unkai formation is when the nighttime temperature drops significantly, followed by a morning temperature rise of approximately 10 degrees Celsius. These temperature differentials increase the likelihood of experiencing this extraordinary sight. If luck is on your side, you may even witness the mesmerizing spectacle of cloud cascades flowing from Onuma to Ohno Plains.
To make the most of your visit, we suggest planning your arrival between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. It's worth noting that the gates of Kijihiki Highland open at 8:30 a.m. To ensure an early arrival, we recommend considering a camping experience at the Hihijikikogen Camping Ground nearby.
Once you reach Kijihiki Highland, prepare to be amazed. From the Kijihiki Highland Panoramic Lookout, situated at an elevation of 560 meters, and the even higher Funkawan Observation Deck, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of Koma-ga-take and Mount Hakodate majestically suspended above the sea of clouds, the unkai. These vantage points offer a truly unforgettable experience for visitors.
- Address 174 Murayama, Hokuto, Hokkaido 041-1244
About 15 minutes by car from JR Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, About 50 minutes by car from JR Hakodate Station
・Open: April 22 - November 5, 2023
・Hours (Panoramic Observatory): 8:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. (until 8:30 p.m. from July 1 - August 31)
5. Yotei Panorama Terrace: Be enthralled by the view of Mount Yotei floating on a sea of clouds
Rusutsu Resort is a resort complex in Rusutsu Village that has a hotel, amusement park, golf course, and ski area. From spring to autumn the “Yotei Panorama Terrace” opens at the peak of the ski course West Mountain (Mount Sorioi). You can reach the terrace with the Yotei Gondola.
If you are lucky, you might be able to see the unkai between June and August. During this time when the unkai is likely to happen, the unkai early morning gondola (available to hotel guests only) operates. You can enjoy the view of Mount Yotei’s peak sticking out of the unkai under the morning sun.
According to feng shui, the terrace is a power spot receiving energy from Mt. Shiribetsu. The terrace is located in a spot that increases your fortune for relationships and money. There is also the “bell of happiness,” which is a popular photo spot.
- April 29 - October 15, 2023
- April - July 21: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (See the official website for hours in other months)
- Gondola fare
- ・Regular admission, 1600 yen round-trip
・Summer admission (July 22 - August 20), 1800 yen round-trip
Yotei Panorama Terrace羊蹄パノラマテラス
- Address Rusutsu Resort, 13 Izumikawa, Rusutsu, Abuta, Hokkaido 048-1711
Hotel guest bus from New Chitose Airport (requires reservation), free shuttle bus from Sapporo for Rusutsu Resort customers (requires reservation) about 2 hours, about an hour and a half drive by car
・Phone: 0136-46-3331 (representative), 0136-46-3111 (reservation center)
Tips when going to see the unkai
The featured locations mentioned in the article are situated in high-altitude regions. Even during the summer season, the early morning temperatures tend to be relatively low. It is advisable to dress appropriately to ensure comfort and warmth during your visit.
Text by: minna no kotoba sha
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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