Posted by: Japan Hoppers編集部 ユジン(Yoojin) 08 Mar 2017

Recommended Activities for Winter in Dōnan

Recommended Activities for Winter in Dōnan © yoojin

Among the 47 prefectures of Japan, located at the northernmost tip of the country is the prefecture of Hokkaidō. The district of Dōnan is located at the southernmost tip of Hokkaidō and is home to the area of Hakodate, a port town celebrated for its beautiful night views. In March 2016, the Hokkaido Shinkansen was established in order to provide a bullet train route from the island of Honshū to the island of Hokkaidō. As a result, Hakodate has gained widespread attention as the Hokkaidō destination nearest Honshū.

The district of Dōnan features numerous highly recommended attractions that are tailor-made for winter. In particular, this column will highlight those experiences specific to the towns of Shikabe and Nanae, both of which are approximately a one hour train ride from Hakodate. In particular, this column will focus on those activities in which I participated personally.

A Taste of Winter in Dōnan - Learning to Cook the Local Specialties of a Fishing Town

The seaside town of Shikabe is approximately one hour by car from JR Hakodate Station. It is home to a large number of fishermen who fish for kelp, octopus, pollack and more. All along the coast from central Hakodate to the town of Shikabe one can see the local specialty, kelp, blowing in the salty sea breeze. The resulting atmosphere conveys the sense that you have indeed arrived at a real fishing village.

The town of Shikabe boasts the roadside station ‘Shikabe Kanketsuen Park’. Here, you can learn about the ingredients that Shikabe residents use in their local dishes through a hands-on cooking experience. The course instructors are often ‘beach mothers’ - women whose husbands and/or sons earn their living fishing in the local area. Having experienced this cooking class for myself, I can attest that all the instructors were bright and friendly, teaching me with endless patience and unfailing politeness.

At the time I participated, the class menu consisted of three items: ‘Gokkojiru’ or lumpsucker soup, a local specialty. ‘Mentai’ pasta, a pollack pasta made from ingredients found exclusively in the Dōnan region. And, lastly, a carpaccio dish featuring freshly caught octopus. Of the three, gokkojiru is only available in the winter months of January and February. While every part of the ‘gokko’ (lumpsucker) fish is used in making the soup, only soy sauce is used to season the dish - its simple flavour enhancing the goodness of the natural product.

The instructor of my class, Toshi, shared with me a story about the teachers of the first cooking class. Initially, the teachers were worried that no one would want to learn to make the everyday dishes they prepared at home. However, since then, participants from many countries have consistently praised the food for its “beautiful taste”. Moreover, having seen patrons enjoying ‘a taste of home’, all the teachers have come to heartily enjoy teaching the cooking class.

Once the food is ready to eat, the beach mothers will come and dine with you. Not only can you expound upon the deliciousness of the cuisine, it is also possible to talk about the different food seasonings used in each household, about the fishing seasons and about the way of life in the region. This fun aspect of the hands-on experience is exclusive to this particular cooking program.

Information about the ‘Beach Mother’ / Local Speciality Cooking Experience

Availability: All year round
Number of Participants: 2-40 people
Duration: 90 minutes
Cost: 3000 JPY
Reservations: Please make a reservation with Shikabe Kanketsuen by phone (Japanese language only) up to one week beforehand. The phone number is 01372-7-5655.

In addition to exploring the local cuisine, Shikabe also offers the chance to become acquainted with region-specific products through activities such as kelp drying and fishing. For those interested, please check out the Shikabe homepage. Located in close proximity to Shikabe Kanketsuen, there is also a fishing harbor where you can see row upon row of berthed fishing boats. A view such as this can only been seen in a real fishing village and, being only a five minute walk away, please take the opportunity to witness it for yourself.

Enjoy a Personal Encounter with Horses in a Winter Wonderland

Located within the coastal district of Dōnan is the inland town of Nanae. This town is home to our next attraction, the ‘Paard Musée’. The name is a combination of the Dutch word ‘paard’ meaning ‘native horse’ and ‘musée’, the French word for ‘gallery/museum’. The Paard Musée is a horse ranch that opened in October 2016, its mission being to bring people and animals together in nature. According to a worker at the ranch, “the Paard Musée is a place where people and horses work together”. In total, there are 47 horses who work with people to transport trees, convey luggage, etc. These activities allow people to get up close and personal with horses while existing in harmony with nature.

I myself participated in the ‘Horse Encounter Experience’. This is a beginner’s course that demonstrates ways of befriending horses with the ultimate aim of progressing people onto horseback. At first, we were asked to do things like talk gently to the horse while feeding it hay, brush the horse, etc. These actions are performed under the guidance of an instructor, primarily as a means of encouraging you to let your guard down around horses.

Feeding hay to the horses was done in an attempt to soothe the nerves of the horses themselves. However, the sight of the horses happily munching away at their food proved very therapeutic for us observers.

Lastly, once we were shown how to use the reins to walk and halt the horse, we were put into pairs (one person on horseback, one person leading the horse by the bridle) and proceeded to complete a circuit of the riding ground.

The riding ground itself is quite expansive, looking out onto a view of the mountain volcano ‘Komagatake’, enabling the horse rider to experience Mother Nature in all her beauty. In the winter silence, the sound of the snow being crushed, step by step, beneath the hooves of the horse left quite an impression on me. While this program takes place within the riding ground, there is another horse-trek that allows you to ride into the nearby woods as part of a “Nature Horseback-riding Program”. It is particularly recommended for those who wish to commune more with nature.

Information about the Horse Encounter Experience

Availability: All year round
Number of Participants: 1 or more
Duration: 30 minutes
Cost: 2160 JPY per person
Reservations:  You can make a reservation beforehand either by telephone (0138-67-3339) or by email ( While subject to availability, on-the-day participation is also OK.

Dōnan is Simply Brimming with Attractions and Activities

Dōnan is Simply Brimming with Attractions and Activities

With the cooperation of: Hokkaidō-Oshima General Promotion Bureau

Japan Hoppers編集部 ユジン / Yoojin

Japan Hoppers編集部 ユジン / Yoojin

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