A gourmet ride in early summer in Hokkaido’s Okhotsk region,
guided by local rider Noriko

Hello, I’m Noriko, a cyclist from Kitami City, Hokkaido, Japan. This time, I would like to introduce a ride course in the captivating region of Okhotsk, which offers plenty of charm, including delicious treats, during the early summer.

Kitami City is a core city located in the eastern part of Hokkaido, with a population of 110,000 people. It is a region that combines agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hot springs, making it a perfect place to live. For those outside of Hokkaido, it may be famous for its drift ice and curling. Despite being in Hokkaido, which is known for its cold climate, Kitami is located in a basin, so it can experience temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius in summer and dropping to -25 degrees Celsius in winter. However, it is a region with many sunny and dry days, making it perfect for cycling.

Today, surrounded by the lush greenery of early summer, I will ride to Tokoro Town, which is approximately 50 kilometers away. I want to ride to buy the specialty of the season, fresh scallops.

Usually, I depart around 9 o’clock and arrive in Tokoro Town around 12 o’clock to have lunch. However, since the goal today is to buy scallops, I will start a bit later at 10 o’clock to match the opening hours of the shops. The starting point is the ” Okhotsk Cycle Station”. At this point, two bicycles have already been rented out, and I was informed that they are being used by visitors from outside of Hokkaido for sightseeing purposes.

Helmets can also be rented along with the bikes. It’s convenient and reassuring to be able to freely consult about the course and recommended spots.

The Cycle Station is located next to the Kitami Bus Terminal at JR Kitami Station. It’s less than a 50-minute ride by airport shuttle bus from the main airport in the Okhotsk region, Memanbetsu Airport. It may be surprisingly close.

Kitami Bus Terminal is bustling with tourists arriving on large tour buses.

The most popular item at the souvenir shop attached to the Cycle Station is the Chocolate Chip Mint Gelato. You can feel the passion of the leading expert in handling mint. It has a delicious taste of mint without any peculiar aftertaste!

It is delicious enough to make it worth stopping by just to eat this.

It is said that by 1939, the production of mint in Kitami City had grown to account for approximately 70% of the global mint market. As a remnant of that history, there is the “Kitami Mint Memorial Museum” that introduces the essential oil extraction methods and more. With that in mind, I visited this memorial Museum, located about 800m from the Cycle Station. With bike racks available, it is a recommended spot that is easily accessible for riders.

The Kitami Mint Memorial Museum. After operating as a factory in 1934, it served its purpose and was opened as a memorial hall in 1986.
Next door, at the Peppermint Distillation Hall, they were in the middle of a peppermint distillation demonstration. A refreshing scent filled the air.
The bundle of dried plants on the shelf behind is a variety of Japanese peppermint.
The garden of the memorial Museum is planted with various types of peppermint, as well as herbs representing both Japanese and Western varieties. The garden itself is also a pleasant space.

After finishing the tour of the Kitami Peppermint Memorial Museum, you can proceed along the embankment of the Tokoro River. It is safe to ride your bike on the embankment, while you may come across people taking a walk or jogging. Instead of crossing the road, try riding on the loop-like path. The embankment is mostly flat, making it a great choice for a leisurely ride.

The embankment is also used as a local community road for residents.

After riding for a while, we will enter Route 39 from the embankment and make a stop at the confectionery shop Shiga in Tanno Town. Shiga confectionery shop has a permanent bicycle rack, making it convenient for cyclists to stop by. It gives a sense of support and I feel very happy about it.

The bicycle rack is conveniently located near the entrance of the shop, offering the best position for parking bicycles.
I purchased a long-standing favorite, a custard cream-filled waffle. The fluffy texture of the pastry complements the not-too-sweet cream perfectly.
I also indulged in some soft serve ice cream at the eat-in corner. It had just the right amount of sweetness, and I was thoroughly satisfied.

I feel tempted to relax and take my time in the cozy eat-in corner, but I need to keep moving. After leaving Shiga Confectionery, I will continue along Route 39. There won’t be any rest stops for a while. I’ll make a quick stop at this drive-in and then switch to riding mode to cover the remaining distance to Tokoro Town, which is approximately 35km.

A drive-in where you can enjoy Hokkaido’s specialty dishes
Riding on Route 39, which stretches straight ahead. Be cautious as the road is somewhat old.

I stopped by a memorial monument located a little off the main road. It was erected to commemorate the spirits of the prisoners who lost their lives during their time at Abashiri Prison and road construction work. I am grateful for the road I am currently riding on.

Memorial monument called “Kusarizuka” (meaning: Chain Mound).

And then, we enter the climbing lane from Kusarizuka to Ubaranai , Abashiri City. This may be the toughest ascent of the road this time.

The wide sky makes for a pleasant course.

Back on the flat cycling road again. I’ll ride in a relaxed mode while enjoying the calm surface of Lake Notori. It’s refreshing to ride along the water’s edge. After that, I’ll enter the Tokoro-Abashiri Cycling Road.

There are plenty of tourist spots in Kitami City where you can enjoy while running.
There are also exhibits of locomotives, which are popular among steam locomotive fans.

After approximately four hours, we finally arrived at the Tokoro Fishermen’s Cooperative Direct Sales Store! We were able to safely obtain fresh scallops!

At the local residents’ fishermen’s cooperative direct sales store,
This volume (300g) of large-sized scallops is priced at 1,000 yen (including tax)‼ * Approximately 7 dollars (calculated at an exchange rate of approximately 145 yen per US dollar).The key point is that they are not frozen but “fresh”. They offer exceptional deliciousness among Hokkaido scallops.

Kitami is in its prime season for scallops from spring to early summer. Due to the need to bring back fresh food, today we arranged to meet with my family at the Tokoro Town Bus Terminal and concluded the ride. This time, it was a leisurely ride with detours, taking about 4 hours one way.

The Tokoro Bus Terminal is a crucial transportation hub for Tokoro Town, which was established after the discontinuation of the former Japan National Railways Youmou Line. From here, buses operated by Abashiri Bus (Tokoro Town Line, Saroma Lake Sakaeura Line), Kitami Bus (Tokoro Line), and the municipal bus (Sakaeura Line, Toufutsu Line) depart and arrive.
The Sea of Okhotsk, visible behind the bus terminal, is a spot for observing drift ice. Be sure to enjoy it during the winter season as well.

Today’s ride: Approximately 50km of distance covered, with an elevation gain of 385m. Including detours, it took about 4 hours.

Text_Noriko Sugano

Noriko Sugano

Born and raised in Kitami City, Hokkaido. As my family had a farm, I started commuting to school by bicycle from the fourth grade of elementary school. It was a 10km round trip to elementary school, 11km round trip to middle school, and for high school, I commuted by JR train, which was an 8km round trip to the nearest station.
I got married to my husband, who had a similar lifestyle, and we had a child. To my surprise, our eldest son expressed his desire to ride a road bike when he was in middle school! On his own!? Riding a road bike!? With various concerns in mind, we decided to have my husband accompany our son and act as his bodyguard. My husband, who initially said, “I’m done with cycling,” was impressed by the exhilaration and excitement of riding a road bike, exclaiming, “A road bike is completely different from any bicycle I knew before!”
We started with local rides, and also enjoyed driving to different destinations with our bikes loaded in the car, going for rides at those locations. We even went on rides where I would meet my husband, who had already set off on his road bike, to accompany him on the journey. We have been enjoying a cycling lifestyle as a family.