Hokkaido Day 6 (Abashiri) (19 Feb 17) – Riding the Special Train that Operates Only in Winter Along the Coast of Abashiri and Watching Angels in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum

Replacing the old Ryuhyo Norokko is the modern diesel-powered Ryuhyo Monogatari Train for the special winter round trip from Abashiri to Shiretoko-Shari JR Station

The Train Service to Shiretoko That Runs During Winter

The other winter only event in the city of Abashiri is riding on the Ryuhyo Norokko Train along the coast towards Shiretoko-Shari Station. The highlight of taking the JR on this route is the ability to see the drift ice from the train as this is where the train tracks pass close to the shore as the train cruises slowly along the tracks along the coast. However, the Ryuhyo Norokko Train boasting panoramic views of the Sea of Okhotsk clutched in wooden seats ceased operations in 2016. Replacing the ageing locomotive is the modern diesel-powered Ryuhyo Monogatari Train, which resembles the JR that we have been travelling on in this Hokkaido trip. The Ryuhyo Monogatari Train took over the round trip runs plying the Abashiri to Shiretoko-Shari to Abashiri route from the Ryuhyo Norokko Train. There are no reserve seatings onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train, all seats are the first-come-first-served basis. The best seats on the train are those on the left side of the train, where the coast will be seen. Naturally, these seats were snapped up quickly as my friend and I stepped onto the train. We only found seats on the right side of the train, which meant that we can only view the drift ice from afar. As the train pulls out of Abashiri Station, the city sights seem boring. Passing through a tunnel, the coast was immediate to our left. The train started to slow down for the passengers on board to get a glimpse of the coast and any drift ice on it. This got most of the passengers onboard this limited special service Ryuhyo Monogatari Train service excited. I can hear people gasping in awe and cameras snapping away, despite there is not much drift ice in sight, except for a couple of icebergs looking drift ice floating on the sea.
Ryuhyo Monogatari Train at Abashiri Station ready to depart along the coast to Shiretoko-Shari Station 
Wefie before we board the Ryuhyo Monogatari
Onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train getting ready to see drift ice from the train
Staff explaining something in Japanese. As we do not understand Japanese we thought she might be introducing the special winter-only Ryuhyo Monogatari service 
Ryuhyo Monogatari pulling out of Abashiri Station
Snow-covered City of Abashiri
The Ryuhyo Monogatari slowed down as we reached the shoreline, where specks of drift ice can be seen from the train
The amount of drift being washed ashore 
More drift ice sighting from Ryuhyo Monogatari Train
This drift ice look more like an iceberg

As the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train made its way to Shiretoko-Shari Station, it started to snow. Drift ice hugging the coast began to appear. At one point in time, the line between land and sea became blurred as the Ryuhyo Monogatari passed by the snow-covered beach with the drift ice hugging the shore. The Ryuhyo Monogatari made a 10 min stop in Kitahama Station, which is the closest station to the Sea of Okhotsk.  The Kitahama Station is a very small station constructed with wood. The highlight of stopping at this station is the 2 storeys tall wooden structure, which allows passengers to get a good look at the Sea of Okhotsk. We climbed up the wooden structure and were able to see the drift ice and the coast with the sea beyond the drift ice. As it was snowing plus the strong sea breeze, it was not only cold, the snow hitting on my face making standing at the platform uncomfortable. My friend and I headed back to the train and found ourselves seats that are on the left side of the train. This means we were able to see the drift ice better for the rest of the journey on board the Ryuhyo Monogatari to Shiretoko-Shari. For the rest of the journey, drift ice was seen constantly. At one point along the tracks, it began to snow heavily. The white snow seems to stretch forever into the horizon. The Ryuhyo Monogatari soon pulled into Shiretoko-Shari Station. The train will continue its journey back to Abashiri Station.

The Ryuhyo Monogatari Train viewed from the wooden 2-storey platform 
Taking a wefie from the platform where the drift ice can be better seen
Drift ice being washed ashore viewed from the 2-storey wooden platform
Ryuhyo Monogatari Train in Kitahama Station with drift ice hugging the shore. Kitahama Station is the nearest to the coastline 
The wind is very strong plus the snow, but still, we have some time to take a wefie before boarding the Ryuhyo Monogatari
We continue our journey onboard Ryuhyo Monogatari towards Shiretoko-Shari 
The line between shore and drift ice became blurred
Snow-covered beach
I have no idea where the shore ends and the drift ice begins
Snow Winterland in Abashiri
This is part of the beach which is entirely covered with snow
Taking a wefie at Shiretoko-Shari Station

My friend and I alighted the train, thinking that we need to validate our return tickets at the station. Upon enquiring a staff at the station, we were told that we need not do that and can validate our tickets when we reach Abashiri Station. By the time we got back onto the Ryuhyo Monogatari our “golden seats” were taken. We sat on whatever seats that were empty as the train is getting crowded. The return trip is very much repetitive, same sceneries same drift ice conditions. We were not too disappointed to seat on the none drift ice view side of the train. However as the train zip past drift ice, especially the part where the entire place is covered in a blanket of white, be it from the snow on the beach or the drift ice, I will still find it charming and an incredible sight. For the return trip, the Ryuhyo Monogatari stop at Hama-Koshimizu Station instead of Kitahama Station. Hama-Koshimizu station is a larger station. The station has a shop where visitors can sample corn soup and buy souvenirs from. The train 20 mins stop at Hama-Koshimizu Station feels like the train is here for passengers to get souvenirs from the shop in the station. The Ryuhyo Monogatari completed the rest of the journey back to Abashiri after the extended stop at Hama-Koshimizu Station. As we have seen the sights along the way just mere minutes ago, the sight along the coast ceased to amaze us.

The coast, the drift ice and the sky are all white
I can’t tell where the shore ends and the drift ice in the sea starts
Drift ice as seen onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train
My friend in front of Ryuhyo Monogatari  when it pulled into Hama-Koshimizu Station for a 20 mins break
Shop in Hama-Koshimizu station
Passengers onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari buying souvenirs at Hama-Koshimizu Station
The layer of white floating fare out in the Sea of Okhotsk is drift ice
No drift ice insight as Ryuhyo Monogatari drove nearer to Abashiri Station
Blocks of iceberg looking drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk
Mascots of Ryuhyo Monogatari Train in Abashiri Station
Me taking a photo with one of the mascots of Ryuhyo Monogatari  Train in Abashiri

The Angels in Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum

Alighting the Ryuhyo Monogatari, my friend and I caught the next bus to the Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum. The Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum is a 3-storey building (technically 4 if the basement is taken into consideration), built on top the 207m high Mt Tento (or Tentozan) educating visitors on the drift ice and the life inside the drift ice. My friend and I headed for the rooftop observatory, to catch the view of the entire City of Abashiri and its surroundings. From the rooftop observatory, we could get a great unobstructed 360° view from the mountain. The view from the rooftop observatory started from the greenery of the evergreen trees around the Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum that calls Tentozan home. As we cast our sights further, the sea of white took over the sea of green where the frozen Lake Abashiri and the frozen Abashiri River that runs through the city into the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as the entire Abashiri City, covered in snow. Beyond the city of Abashiri, the colour turned blue where the Sea of Okhotsk was in sight, yet further into the Sea of Okhotsk, the white coloured drift ice could be seen. The view on the rooftop observatory was simply stunning. As it was getting cold from the wind, my friend and I headed to the basement of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum.

Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum sits on top of the 207m Tentozan in Abashiri
Wefie at the entrance of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
The Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum has 4 levels
My friend on the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
Me at the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
City of Abashiri and drift ice (the white patch floating on top of the sea on the horizon) seen on rooftop observatory of  Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
Panoramic shot of City of Abashiri and Sea of Okhotsk from Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
My friend with the frozen Lake Abashiri in the background
View of City of Abashiri on the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
Frozen Lake Abashiri saw from the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum

Passing the ticketing counter, down a blue lighted staircase, we arrived at the heart of the museum, the Life in the Drift Ice display. The first thing that caught our eyes is 3 small tanks with semi-transparent organism swimming inside it. This is the thing we have came to see. The Cliones, otherwise known as the Sea Angels. These elegant creatures, about the size of a thumb, are actually sea slugs. They were given the name Sea Angels as these elegant little creatures swim in the sea by flapping their wing-like fins, resembling angels flipping their wings when flying in the sky. I was mesmerised by these fascinating creatures and spent a good 30 mins observing them swimming in the enclosed tanks. One of the staff begins to inform us that there will be a short clip in the theatre further in the museum. The short 15 min video clip was about the formation of drift ice and the life beneath the drift ice. As we exited the theatre, what caught my eyes were several tanks, where stonefish-like fishes were kept. The rock looking fishes looked pretty similar except for the colour pigmentation on their skin.

Down this blue corridor is the Life in the Drift Ice display located in Basement of Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
The Sea angel is also a mascot for the City of Abashiri
The Sea Angel is a white and orange covered in a transparent body organism that lives underneath the drift ice
The Sea Angel flipping its fins resembling an angel flapping its wings in flight
Life under the drift ice
Pufferfish that lives under the drift ice
Fishes that live under the drift ice
A weird-looking fish that lives under the drift ice
These fishes looking rock

Snapping some pictures, we headed for the Drift Ice Experience Room. The drift ice experience room was kept constantly at -15℃ to allow visitors to experience the coldness on drift ice. There is real drift ice on display in the room, together with replicas of seals. I liked the colour display inside the drift ice experience room, where the day turned into night and back into day again constantly replays itself realistically. Before entering the room, we were handed a wet towel and the staff told us to flip the towel while inside the room. So we did that and the towel stiffens. I thought the drift ice experience room was a great place for us to physically touch the drift ice, coupled with the ingenious way of using visual lightings to simulate the different time of the day, it was certainly an enjoyable experience.

My friend in the Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
Taking a wefie with a fake seal in the Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
Me in Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum. The ice on display are real drift ice taken from the Sea of Okhotsk
Real drift ice taken from the Sea of Okhotsk on display in Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum
I like the display of lights simulating different time of the day in Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum

My friend and I left the museum to catch the last bus back to Abashiri. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel to pack for our next destination tomorrow on our Hokkaido trip. We will be travel from East to West the next day to the Onsen Town of Noboribetsu.


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