Hidaka – Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

Travel Blog Reviews Private Tour Planning Hidaka, Hokkaido Photography Tips Sharing

Welcome to my article on “Hidaka – Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem”. When travelling, sometimes it’s the unplanned itineraries that reward us with the best memories. Such is my experience with Hidaka, a coastal town in Southern Hokkaido, just about 130km or a 2.5 hour’s drive from the New Chitose Airport. Hidaka is Japan’s largest horse breeding hub accounting for nearly 80% of all horses bred in Japan. In 2011, out of about 7,000 thoroughbred horses bred in Japan, 5,600 came from Hidaka. So it’s no surprise the town revolves around horses. But beyond horses, over just 2 very short days’ stay (the sun starts setting about 430pm during autumn), I discovered many beautiful sights that warrant a revisit to this beautiful town.


Pan Paka Pan – A romantic cosy family-run bakery cum cafe serving delicious freshly-baked pastries by the Pacific Ocean.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

Beautiful setting to enjoy your freshly basked pastries by the sea at Pan Paka Pan. To achieve the sunstar effect, I shot at F22 for the best result. A strong distinct light source is necessary. If the sun is covered by mist or clouds, the effect will not be achieved. If your lens has an even number of aperture blades, it will show an even number of light streaks. But if it’s an odd number, the light rays will be multiplied by 2. This pic was shot with the Canon EF11-24mm F4L, which has 9 blades. So there are 18 rays of light. The ideal aperture used is between F11-F22.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

Nori (seaweed) is widely cultivated. Here, the harvested nori are set out to dry in the Pacific Ocean breeze. For such low angle shots, I always flip out my Canon 70D  swivel screen, turn on the live view and shoot upwards for a more dramatic angle.


Fish or squid dried overnight (ichiya boshi) is a popular delicacy in Japanese cuisine. It’s grilled over a light charcoal fire at mealtime. In this pic, I used the linear converging characteristic of the ultra-wide angled lens to draw the lines towards the fisherman, which I positioned using the rules of thirds to achieve a more balanced composition. Of course, it would be better if the lower rack is filled with fish as well but in unplanned shots, we take what we have. I smiled and used body language to indicate to the fisherman so that he cooperated in the posturing. A smile goes a long way.


Shishamo is dried in the cool autumn breeze. Shishamo literally means “willow leaf fish” as its shape resembles a willow leaf. To achieve the bokeh effect even with an ultra-wide lens, I focused up close and open up the aperture for a shallow depth of field. You must know your lens characteristics so that you can better achieve optimal performance.


The colours of autumn at Mt. Apoi, before the onset of winter. This is the best season to visit Hokkaido, as in deep winter, it may be a hassle moving around with everything covered by snow and possible flight delays, etc.


The Mt. Apoi Geopark was declared a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2015. The hiking trail up the 801m mountain is beautiful.


At the final 5th rest stop at Mt. Apoi, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Great location for a picnic and rest. The naturally formed rock structure served as our tables and chairs.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

The dayretires early during autumn. Shot at 5.52pm, Oyakoiwa Fureai Beach.


Golden hour at Hidaka. The cool crisp air by the Pacific Ocean is like Evian for the lungs.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

Lovely tree silhouettes at Kannonyama Park, Samani. The park entrance is flanked by a 400 years old tree.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

A picturesque venue crafted by man and nature.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

The Observation Deck at Kannonyama Park is itself an interesting subject. The view of the harbour and ‘parent-child rock’ is beautiful.


With nightfall so early, I need not wait till late at night to do light painting or star photography. I was able to shoot this at 7.00 pm. For light painting or star photography, a stable tripod is necessary. Turn off your lens stabilisation function, engage the mirror lock (if any), attach cable release (or trigger shuttle release via the 2sec self-timer), disable camera long exposure noise reduction and switch from AWB to tungsten.  In this pic of a lone tree, which I was not prepared to shoot as I did not bring a high-powered touch. I adapted by using my handphone torchlight and evenly lit up the tree during the entire duration the shuttle was opened.


The Milky Way was quite visible to the naked eye. Did not need to use my Google Sky Map App to look for it.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

A beautiful sculpture at my hotel ground. Shot during an early stroll in the cool autumn morning. Canon 70D, EF11-24mm, 1/160, F18, ISO400.


The thoroughbred racehorses at Tsuji Horse Farm were a delight to watch and shoot.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

A pair of horses sharing an intimate moment.


The horses were docile and even enjoyed human attention. A very intelligent and social mammal indeed.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

A stallion cantering on the chilly autumn morning. A sight to behold.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

Horses are one of the most intelligent mammals around. Here, my Japanese friend Kato-san shares a happy moment with a racehorse. I desaturated the coloured version for a black and white picture as it gives an ‘eternal and mood’ feel to the picture.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

A group shot with my Japanese host and friends. In the centre is Tsuji-san the owner of the ranch. An influential figure in the premium thoroughbred horse industry.  To ensure it’s the composition I want, I mount my camera on a tripod and engaged the self-timer. I also used the longest end of my zoom lens and the biggest aperture setting to separate the background from the subject for more depth.


On the way back to Sapporo, we could not resist stopping the car and checking out these colonies of sea birds roosting by the beach at Mitsuishi along coastal route 235. As the birds are quite far away and I only had my EF70-200mm lens, the picture (and also below) was cropped 70%. The clarity and detail showed the amazing capability of the 5DSR sensor.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

I was told these seagulls are washing themselves in the brackish water to dislodge bugs within their feathers. It was amazing sight and sound.

Hidaka - Hokkaido’s Hidden Gem

Feel the freedom of these seagulls. Perchance, I will be back again to visit them.

Thanks for coming along with my pixels journey. For other travel inspiration please check out my other travelogues here. The Facebook link to the trip photo album can be referred here.

This trip is made possible by Tsuyoshi Kato (Hokkaido Photoguide)  and Images from Canon 5DSR and EF11-24mm loan by Canon Imaging Academy (Singapore). All pictures are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and all right reserved.

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