Located on a similar geographical latitude as Portland (Oregon) and Venice (Italy), the Sea of Okhotsk coast of Hokkaido is the northern hemisphere's southernmost region to see drifting sea ice (流氷, ryūhyō). The ice originates from the Amur River in Russia and then drifts through the Sea of Okhotsk to reach Hokkaido typically in mid January to early February before disappearing again around mid March to mid April.
The coast around Abashiri and the western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula receive the biggest amounts of ice, and in cold winters drift ice can be witnessed as far as Kushiro along the Pacific Coast and Wakkanai at the northern tip of Hokkaido. However, due to global warming, the amount and thickness of the drift ice has decreased considerably since the late 1980s, and it happens increasingly that the ice does not quite reach the Japanese coast during some periods during the ryuhyo season.
Where and how to enjoy ryuhyo?
The following are some ways for tourists to enjoy the seasonal phenomena:
Drift Ice Boat Cruises
One of the easiest and best ways to see the drift ice is by joining a boat cruise. During the peak of the season, drift ice boat tours are held daily from both the cities of Abashiri and Mombetsu further up the coast. The cruises typically last about an hour and cost around 3000 yen. Read more about the Abashiri ryuhyo cruises.
Drift Ice Tours
Tour companies along the Sea of Okhotsk coast have come up with various tour ideas for tourists to experience the drift ice. Among the most popular ones are tours to walk on the drift ice, observe the animals living on and beneath the ice and even swim in the sea with protective swim suits. The city of Abashiri and the town of Utoro on the Shiretoko Peninsula have several companies offering such tours.
Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum
Located in Abashiri, this is an interesting museum to learn about the drift ice around the year. One highlight includes a super cool room to experience how a wet towel freezes within seconds, while a short sledding course is built just outside the museum during winter. Read more about the Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum.