The quiet sub-prefecture of Sorachi is a place to experience with all your senses. The eyes are given a treat no matter when your arrival with its abundance of lush nature and gorgeous scenery that can be admired all year round. The area also used to be a coal mining town and its history of its booming industry can still be experienced at its museums and even on its roads. Coal mining has even affected Sorachi’s rich produce as well. The mineral-rich soil and cool, temperate air has made it one of the top wine producing areas in Japan.
To discover Sorachi, start with Iwamizawa and Mikasa, cities situated in the south of the sub-prefecture. A large part of Iwamizawa’s history lies in its coal mining past. It is worth finding out more of the town’s coal mining industry at the Sorachi Mining Memorial Management Center. The museum introduces the valuable Hokkaido heritage of coal mining. Apart from gaining information about Sorachi mining areas, there are art exhibitions held in the 1909 stone kuras (warehouses) situated at the back of the building.
Mikasa also has a museum dedicated to the coal mining industry. The Mikasa City Museum displays machines and devices used in coal mining, which was a thriving industry during the early Meiji period. Coal mining in Mikasa closed in 1989, after which, archaeologists began digging deeper into the ground to unearth fossils. Mikasa City Museum is therefore known for having Japan’s largest collection of ammonite fossils. There are about 600 locally found specimens, as well as other fossils of reptiles, shellfish, and other ancient life. The museum is perfect for young children to visit, as it allows visitors to touch most of the fossils on display.
A highlight of these two cities are its wineries. Hokkaido has been established as one of the best grape-growing regions in Japan. In Iwamizawa, travellers can visit Housui Winery. This vineyard holds similar conditions to that of Bordeaux in France, which produces crisp and light red and white wines. On a tour here, visitors can sample the Yuki no Keifu series of premium wines that are 100% completely made with grapes harvested in this company’s own fields. In the summer, a specialty ice cream is served where its syrup topping is made from the discarded grape skins after wine production. It is alcohol free and safe for kids to consume too. Over in Mikasa, Yamazaki Winery is a famous winery run by four generations of farmers. All the wine produced are made with grapes grown here and is most known for its pinot noir, which is said to be difficult to grow in cold regions. Both wineries can also be viewed from Mt Tappu Observatory in Mikasa.
These two areas of Sorachi are also known for its fresh produce. The delicious flavours of Hokkaido can easily be sampled at North Farm Stock, an upmarket grocer that produces and sells unique foods made from Hokkaido ingredients. One of its top sellers is its Mini Tomato Sauce, which uses cherry tomatoes that have a high sugar content to produce a mild and rich ketchup that contains no additives.
Another place to visit to try Hokkaido produce is at Spa & Inn The Maple Lodge. The cabin-style accommodation has its own apple orchard and many of the dishes at the restaurant feature these handpicked fresh apples. The restaurant also has its own vegetable sommelier, Masako Yoshikawa, who aids in the preparation of Hokkaido produce to create French-inspired meals. Spa & Inn The Maple Lodge has plans to create a glamping (glamorous camping) ground in the field next to the lodge. Available in summer and autumn, it allows guests to enjoy the fresh and cool air under the stars. Included in the glamping package is also a barbecue and outdoor cookout of Hokkaido ingredients next to a campfire. If not glamping, guests staying at the lodge should check out Moyo Hot Spring onsite of the hotel. The traditional hot spring has baths made of cypress and granite and are filled with therapeutic mineral water that soothes chronic dermatitis, improves poor circulation and relieves aching muscles and fatigue.
FROM TOP LEFT Ammonites on display at Mikasa City Museum