Rebun Island (礼文島), in contrast to neighboring Rishiri (利尻), is a long, narrow, flat island. In summertime it’s rich in flowers and wild grasses, especially in the meadows along the coasts. The name Rebun comes from the Ainu repun shiri, which means ‘island on the open sea.’ Rebun-dake (礼文岳) is a small hill standing right in the center of the island. There are as many flowers up on the flanks of the hill as there are on the seaside, but the hiking trail affords the best views of Rishiri that you’ll be likely to find.
The trailhead is in a little seaside town called Nairo (内路) on the eastern shore of the island. If you take the bus between the ferry harbor town of Kafuka (香深) and the peninsula called Sukoton-misaki (スコトン岬), Nairo will be one of the stops. By the side of a general store you’ll see the signs for the hiking trail; you’ll start the hike straightaway from the shore.
The trail is fairly straightforward, following a ridgeline thick with Kuril sasa bamboo. Around here there aren’t too many big trees, thought you’ll likely see the low winding branches of the Erman’s birch, as well as a few Sakhalin firs here and there. As you emerge from this low brush, the old Kitousu Trail (起登臼コース) will merge with the main trail at the Old Junction (旧分岐).
Soon the view will open up and you’ll start running into some dwarf stone pine among the birch and sasa up the slope towards the summit. If the weather is good, you’ll have great views of Rishiri’s towering form sitting still in the ocean across from you.
From the summit of Rebun-dake you can see all the way down the slopes to Sukotan-misaki in the north. Beyond is open sea stretching towards the arctic. You won’t go wrong spending a little time at the top—it’s recommended to bring the family along and make a picnic of it.
The return trip follows the route you took up.
It’s a bit of a waste to come to the island for the hike alone, and to get right back on a ferry as soon as you’re done; so if you can spare a bit of time you’re encouraged to make a slower trip of it. The flowers and winds along the coasts are terrifically beautiful, and a traveler who takes a little more time to savor the island will find their efforts rewarded.
One Point Advice
- The standard way onto the island is by ferry; one runs between Wakkanai City (稚内市) on the mainland, Oshidomari (鴛泊) on Rishiri, and Kafuka on Rebun. It’s a lovely ride and you might even catch sight of dolphins. If you’re taking a car on the ferry you must make a reservation. There’s also a small plane that travels between Wakkanai Airport (稚内空港) and Rebun Airport (礼文空港). You can catch an express bus or overnight bus to Wakkanai from Sapporo. Soya Bus (宗谷バス) maintains transportation on the island of Rebun itself.
- There are no places to fill up on water along the trail.
- For flower-lovers, the trail running between Momo-iwa (桃岩) and Shiretoko (知床), which takes about 2 and a half hours, is highly recommended. Alternately, the Rebun-rindou forest road (礼文林道) is another beautiful walk—you’ll see Hokkaido edelweiss blooming along here. Be very careful as this is an endangered plant. For those looking for a longer hike, there’s a trail that runs most of the length of the west coast of the island.
- Rebun is also home to a number of small festivals that might be worth checking out if you get the chance: The Rebun hana-matsuri flower festival (礼文花祭り, second Saturday in June), the Rebun jinja-matsuri shrine festival (礼文神社祭り, July 8-10), the Funadomari-kohan-matsuri lakeside festival (船泊湖畔祭り, August 7-8), and the Kafuka-kaikyou-matsuri channel festival (香深海峡祭り, August 9-10).
- After a severe decline in populations of the native Rebun large-flowered cyprepedium, the local environmental management office passes the ‘Species Preservation Act’ (種の保存法) designating special wildlife areas on Rebun to allow for the continued growth of the rare species.
The seaside and lowland flora are at their best from May through July. At these times keep in mind that the ferries and hotels are going to be packed, so if you want to avoid the crowds it may be a better idea to go later in the season and have the island to yourself.