Teshio River Journey – The Wind-down

Posted on Oct 5, 2020
Posted on Oct 5, 2020
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We'd had a near-perfect weather window to complete the Teshio River Canoe Journey in four days. We'd planned it to take six days, so we had two days to spare. We made the most of those two days by retracing our steps by car back to the put in in Shibetsu City. A great highlight was the Teshio River settlers' museum in Teshio village, the location where Hokkaido was named, and a few forest walks along the way. We'd spent far too long speeding past these places on our way down the river, so it was nice to 'rediscover' them on the slow return to Sapporo.


After a very long, restful sleep at the Kagaminuma Campground in Teshio village, we started our very relaxed two-day drive back to Sapporo City. This started with a drive to the end of the road on the sand spit separating Teshio River from the Japan Sea. Defying the forecast for the day, the sea was beautifully calm. Crystal clear. Deserted.


It was a hot day.

“We should take a look at that forested walk we saw on the way,” proffered Haidee.

A sensible idea given the beating sun.

I had a quick swim in the sea, and we carried on our way.

The forested walk turned out to be amazing. It was in a Mongolian oak forest, dotted with remains of centuries old pit-dwellings, some reconstructed by archaeologists. 

See the full story here: https://hokkaidowilds.org/hiking/teshio-river-mouth-archaeological-walk


After the walk among the 4th Century AD pit-dwelling remains, we headed to the Teshio River Museum. Situated in the center of the Teshio township on the coast (here), this gorgeous red-brick historical building houses centuries of Teshio River history. All the text in the museum is in Japanese, so it may offer limited interest to those who can’t decipher the explanations, but there was plenty to look at.

I asked the museum keeper about the large wooden boat in the entrance way.

“That’s the sort of boat they used in the settler days in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s,” he explained.

“They used the sail going up- and down-stream, as well as the oars and poles, going as far as Nakagawa, or even as far as Nayoro if the wind was blowing right,” he continued.

That’s up to 150km upstream. Very impressive.

There was one room dedicated to a quick overview of the indigenous Ainu heritage of the river, and the rest of the museum (two floors) was dedicated to the Japanese settler history of the river, as well as some geological observations, revealing the past geological history of northern Hokkaido.


After a quick lunch at the Teshio Onsen restaurant, we started our way back up the Teshio River. The plan was to stay at the Teshio-gawa Onsen campground that night.

On the way to Teshio-gawa Onsen, we stopped in at ‘some kind of historical thing’ (see my uninformed utterance in the video here). It had been raining at the time we passed this point when we were on the river, so we’d just paddled on by.

This is, however, quite a significant place as far as Hokkaido is concerned. 

In 1857, as early Japanese explorer Matsuura Takeshiro was travelling up the Teshio River aided by knowledgeable indigenous Ainu guides, this ‘new’ frontier island was not yet named by the Japanese colonists. During this Teshio River journey, Matsuura came up with a few possible Japanese names for the island, one of which included hokkaido. Matsuura’s rendition of the name used different characters to the final version we know today. Matsuura’s version used the same first and last kanji characters as today’s naming—北 (ほく hoku) and 道 (どう dou)— but the middle kai was represented by two characters 加伊 (かい kai). Matsuura used these Japanese characters as a transliteration of an indigenous Ainu word kai, which means ‘person of the land’.

In 1869, Matsuura was called upon by the government of the time to suggest six options for names for the island north of Honshu. Of these six, the government chose Hokkaido and, against the great protestation of Matsuura himself, chose to change the middle kai characters to 海 (かい kai), representing ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’. Reportedly, Matsuura protested this change because he felt his transliteration of the Ainu kai better reflected the Ainu heritage of Hokkaido as an island.

The place where Matsuura is said to have came up with the name Hokkaido is marked with a large pole and information board, on the inside of a large bend in the river, here, near Otoineppu.


It was a very quick stop at the Place where Hokkaido was Named, and we carried on to Teshio-gawa Onsen.

Teshio-gawa Onsen is quite the oasis.

Free well kept campground, canoe port, onsen hot springs with great view, restaurant, and even a down-to-earth hotel.

We enjoyed a long soak in the hot springs, a comfortable night in the tent in the campground, and also did a walk the next day in the hills behind the onsen. 

The walk was quite the adventure—see the write-up here: https://hokkaidowilds.org/hiking/teshio-gawa-onsen-hills-walk

After staying overnight at Teshio-gawa Onsen, we headed back to Sapporo via Shibetsu City (we had to pick up some gear we’d left at the Cycling Terminal Hostel). On the expressway, we were back in Sapporo in about 3 hours.

River vacation done.

Back to work.

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Teshio River Journey – The Wind-down Difficulty Rating





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GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.