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A good touring base for eastern Hokkaido, Abashiri is a small town in the shadow of Tento-san. On the town outskirts are shallow coastal lakes with flowers and seabirds. Bicycles can be rented for slow sightseeing. The whaling fleet sets out from here on "research" trips ("research" is the official word, common parlance would call it "hunting") under Japan's interpretation of IWC rules,
which keeps Japan at loggerheads with conservationists. Winters are harsh: visitors bundle up for boat tours through the ryuhyo (ice floes) that jam up on its shores and stretch out to sea as far as the eye can see.
Asahikawa, Hokkaido's second-largest city, is the principal entrance to Taisetsu-san National Park. It is not terribly cosmopolitan; daytime...