It's Lunchtime

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Spring in Japan
Ep40: Lunchtime Series


Japan Hour:

It's Lunchtime

Our bus journey along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in Hokkaido continues. We are searching for drift ice, while finding out what the locals eat. On the morning of the second day, we take the bus from Kato Farm in Yubetsu and head towards Monbetsu, the terminal. 

The bus runs along the coast and we alight at the Drift Ice Park in Monbetsu City. It is around 10.20am by now and the next bus from here will depart at 1.40pm. Monbetsu faces the Sea of Okhotsk which is famous for drift ice. When the drift ice season arrives, the whole city celebrates it. For example, many ice sculptures are created every year for Monbetsu's Drift Ice Festival, which started in 1963. 

The Drift Ice Park facility has a wooden playground inside the building. There is an area where people can enjoy picnics or barbecues in summer. The facility also offers snow rafting in winter. We speak to an employee of the Drift Ice Park, Mr Nakamura. He tells us that Umi no Salon, from where we can see the Sea of Okhotsk and possibly drift ice, is two to three kilometres away. He offers to take us there by snowmobile. After five minutes of snow rafting, we arrive at the spot from where drift ice can be seen; it is located at the edge of the Drift Ice Park. 

We try to look for drift ice from Umi no Salon using a pair of binoculars but we only manage to see chilled sea water instead. We do however see the Garinko-go icebreaker boat which we are planning to take later from Monbetsu.

Mr Nakamura takes us back to the Drift Ice Park on the snowmobile. He has lunch with his colleagues at the facility and we get to see some of their lunchboxes. For example, we speak to Ms Sakagawa whose lunch is prepared by her mother each morning. Today, her meal consists of meatballs, spring rolls, omelette and chicken nuggets. We then walk around the building, where we meet a young kid, Kazuma, and his mother. He is having lunch - rice ball made with leftover kinpira burdock root and meat. 

After this, we take the 1.40pm bus from the Drift Ice Park to the terminal and our final stop, Monbetsu. We arrive at 2pm and go to the bus terminal to ask for directions to the boat station. We walk for half an hour in the heavy snow to Garinko-go Station. We had earlier booked a place on the boat for the 3pm tour as it is a reservation-only boat. The one-hour cruise costs 3,000 yen if there is drift ice and 2,500 yen if there is no drift ice seen. Garinko-go has a capacity of 195 passengers and it is fully booked on this particular day. The passenger seats are on the first floor. There are screws at the front of the ship that break up the ice as it advances. 

Garinko-go travels along the frozen Sea of Okhotsk and the ice around the boat shatters as it moves along. As it advances, the ice around the boat shatters. We see pieces of ice of various sizes floating in the sea. We ask a crew member if these are drift ice and are told they may be baby drift ice. He tells us pieces of ice would form at the port of Monbetsu and there are also some that drift from the sea. We also learn that most of the drift ice on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in Hokkaido comes from Russia. They drift from the east of Sakhalin and as they overlap, they grow larger. 

After about an hour of cruising, the Garinko-go returns to the port. We want to see what the locals are eating but it is minus 6 degrees Celsius due to the heavy snow. So we decide to ask the captain of the Garinko-go boat to show us his meal instead. The boat has however just left for the next round of cruising at 4pm so we have to wait till it comes back at 5pm.  

Once the Garinko-go is back at the port after the last tour of the day, the receptionist contacts the captain, Mr Honma, and we get permission to speak to him. Mr Honma tells us he will go back to his place and cook dinner for himself. He agrees to let us see his meal. He commutes to work by car and it takes 10 minutes to drive from the port to his place. He is currently staying in an apartment which his company owns.

For dinner, he cooks miso soup with young scallops, grilled Japanese sardine marinated in mirin and grilled salmon. He also prepares a luxurious crab and egg dish made with blue king crab. This dish features fundoshi, which is a triangular belly part on the inside of the crab’s shell.

During dinner, we find out more about Mr Honma. He was born in a family of fishermen in Shakotan Peninsula. He then moved to Kushiro and continued working as a fisherman. He changed his job at the age of 54 and became a tugboat captain in Kushiro. Three years ago, the company operating the Garinko-go was shorthanded so he started going to Monbetsu in winter to work for them. When the drift ice season ends at the end of March, he returns to Kushiro where he stays alone, as his wife passed away two years ago from cancer. He has a son Takuya in Sapporo who is a sports car mechanic. He comes home to Kushiro every other month with his two kids Shiryu and Shio and Mr Honma always looks forward this.


1)    A key attraction in Monbetsu is the annual Drift Ice Festival 
2)    Reservations are required to take the Garinko-go icebreaker boat to see drift ice