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Cool Activities in Remote Hokkaido

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Ice fishing and snowmobiling offer winter fun in the small town of Horokanai.

In the heart of northern Hokkaido, in a town that holds the record for being one of the coldest places in Japan, lies Shumarinai Prefectural Natural Park. In the winter months, it is an ideal destination for a wide range of winter activities thanks to heavy snowfall, beautiful scenery and easy-to-arrange tours for visitors.

The park was established in 1974 and is home to Lake Shumarinai, the largest manmade lake in Japan. Created in 1943 with the construction of a dam, the lake spans 2,373 hectares (about 30 times the size of Tokyo Disneyland). It is renowned for its unique topography, including deep fjords and numerous islands.

From early May until year-end, anglers visit to catch cherry salmon and white-spotted char. It is also possible to fish for the remarkable Japanese hutchen, Japan’s largest freshwater fish, thought to be over 40,000 years old. This species is designated a protected species, though, so it is only possible to catch it under certain conditions, and restrictions apply. For details, contact the Shumarinai Fresh Water Fisheries Association or ask staff based at the lake.

Ice fishing

From January to mid-April, the lake is completely frozen over, offering stunning views of a sheer white landscape. Anglers pitch tents on top as a shelter for a day or half day of ice fishing; on some days, you can see hundreds of colourful tents dotted across the lake’s icy surface.

With a layer of ice more than a metre thick, staff based at the lake use equipment to bore holes to allow fishing rods to reach the water. The must-catch fish in this cold season are Japanese smelt and trout. Beginners are encouraged to catch Japanese smelt in tents near the shore while the more experienced anglers can be taken further out on the lake by snowmobile to catch trout.

Staff will help you the make the most of your time. Fishing license and bait can be obtained on site. There is also a rental package, which includes a rod, trap, bait, stool, and ice fishing net, so it is possible to arrive at the lake empty handed and still enjoy fishing.

Once equipped, a guide will lead you to one of the many bell tents, which are typically prepared with 10 small bore holes. The holes are placed in a circle, creating a very social environment that allows fellow anglers to talk to one another easily. Participants sit on plastic stools facing the centre of the tent, which becomes quite warm considering the freezing temperature outside. With staff on hand to help, it’s a great activity for a group.

Snowmobile and other winter sports

Lake Shumarinai has a lot on offer besides ice fishing. There are snowmobile tours that take visitors far across the lake’s frozen depths, all the while experiencing the area’s famous diamond dust. It’s a thrilling way to see the vast scale of the lake and enjoy the wilderness.

Also available are snow camping and snowshoeing at night, guided by the moon and stars.

More information

To find out more about the attractions in the area, visit the official Lake Shumarinai page.

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