Utashinai: Japan’s Least Populated City

So far we’ve covered a number of Japan’s most populated cities in this blog. For example, Tokyo, Japan’s most populated city, is home to about 13.01 million residents in only about 845 square miles of space. (That’s about 15,144 people per square mile.) Conversely, Japan’s least populated city is Utashinai in the Hokkaido region. Utashinai is home to about 4845 residents in about 22 square miles of space. It may have much less space then Tokyo, but it’s far more spacious for the residents, as the density translates to about 224 people per square mile.

Utashinai is about a 7-hour train ride from Tokyo in the central part of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Like the rest of Hokkaido, Utashinai is known for cold, snowy winters as well as beautiful, spacious landscapes. For tourists, there are two reasons to head to Utashinai, besides perhaps the peace and quiet that such a small town affords. The first is the ski season, which can last anywhere between November and May, particularly December through March. Travel to Utashinai to tackle the Kamoidake ski hill (about a medium-sized hill). The ski chalets and hotels in the area offer Swiss-style ski-centric decor and often host ski groups and meets during the primary skiing season.

The other reason tourists visit Utashinai is the outdoor onsen. Kamoidake has a popular onsen resort and there’s another onsen called Tyrol no Yu. (In the spring and summer months, local sports teams may practice at the Tyrol arena.) You can stay at the onsen or spend only about US$5 per adult and US$3 per child to take a dip in the Tyrol onsen.

The appeal of visiting such a small town as Utashinai is that you’ll witness a completely different type of Japanese culture than you would in the larger cities. It can also prove extremely relaxing after some time in one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas (Tokyo) to retreat to a much quieter, more scenic area.

For residents of Utashinai, partaking in the skiing and onsen are a part of their daily lives, but there isn’t a lot else to do. In 2007, the local high school closed and high schoolers have to trek to neighboring cities for school. The town once thrived on a number of coal mines established in the 1890s and was home to a record of nearly 46,000 people in the 1940s; however, since the three coal mines closed in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the town has struggled to find an economic identity.

Would the idea of visiting Japan’s least populated city appeal to you? Why or why not? Do you enjoy winter sports and visiting onsen?

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Tags: hokkaido, japan, japanese customs, japanese places, onsen, utashinai