Way up near the northern tip of Hokkaido is a pair of small islands called Rebun and Rishiri. It’s one of the most remote places I’ve ever been to in Japan (long train ride from Sapporo, plus ferry ride from Wakkanai). Both islands are part of Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park (利尻礼文サロベツ国立公園).
Rebun is a stunning and scenic island with rolling hills (upper left photo), dramatic coasts, deep blue ocean, and beautiful sunsets (lower right photo). Most famous for summer alpine flowers, but we went in autumn, so it was off season. We rented a car and drove around the island. Many scenic points and easy hiking trails.
Upper left photo shows Rebun’s freshwater Lake Kushu (久種湖) and a bit of the Sea of Japan on the right. The lake is well stocked with fish and the native Ainu name means “Pond Beyond the Mountains.” (Ainu are Hokkaido’s indigenous people.) In winter, the lake sees migrating swans and ducks.
Lower left photo is Rebun, with charming local fishermen’s wives who were hanging ika cuttlefish to dry in the sun. Cuttlefish is a major local product on Rebun, and we noticed many cuttlefish boats at the local port when we arrived. We encountered these friendly ladies by chance as we walked around the shore for the sunset (lower right photo). They smiled at us and chatted. A moment to treasure, and I’m glad I took pictures of them. Maybe I’ll send these photos to their neighborhood someday. The island kids were also friendly and we talked with them too.
You can see most of the island in one day by renting a car. We stayed overnight in a minshuku in the Kafuka Port area where most of the lodging is located.
After Rebun, we took a ferry to nearby Rishiri. Rishiri is a round island dominated by Mt. Rishiri (upper right photo), a sharp and distinctive mountain. If Rebun and Rishiri were Wedded Islands, I would call craggy Rishiri the groom and the soft-looking Rebun the bride. (Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any legends or myths about both islands being wedded.) Tourists should definitely visit both islands on any trip here. Like seeing both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.
From Wakkanai in Hokkaido, it takes 2 to 3 hours by ferry to Rebun’s Kafuka Port. Wakkanai is at least 5 hours by train from Sapporo Station. There are also flights from Shin-Chitose Airport to Wakkanai Airport.
Rebun official: http://www.rebun-island.jp/en/