[place]* The northern-most city of Japan, Wakkanai borders on the Sea of Okhotsk and is a rustic, quiet sort of place, centred on fishing and a small amount of local tourism.
In a Nutshell
Officially established as a city in 1949, Wakkanai has the unusual distinction of being the northern-most city of Japan. It is mainly dependent on fishing and seafood processing (being an exclusive economic zone for such) and a small amount of tourism, mostly from within Japan; the latter, however, has been in steady decline in the last decade. The population currently stands at around 39,000, having fallen by roughly 30% since the 1980's.
What to See
Wakkanai Park, within walking distance of the station, has an observation tower, a number of old memorials and an impressive view of the city and the Sea of Okhotsk beyond. Noshappu Point is a short 10 minute bus / taxi ride away, with a short seaside esplanade, a lighthouse and small aquarium and onsen facilities. Cape Soya, the northern-most point of Japan, is about 50 minutes by car away from the station.
What to Eat
Wakkanai is primarily known for its seafood, and good-quality sea urchin, ikura (salmon roe) and especially crab can be had at fairly low prices here. A few restaurants serve isobeyaki (seafood and vegetables cooked in a scallop shell) and the tourism association is currently pushing tako shabu shabu (shabu shabu with frozen, thinly-sliced takoyaki instead of beef)
The Super Soya and Sarobetsu limited express trains together provide three services daily from Sapporo (around 7:30am, 12:30pm and 5:30pm) taking five hours in total, for ¥9,660 (£70.90 / $113.10) each way. JR pass holders travel free.
Buses run infrequently between most of the main attractions. Please ask at the train station for timetables.
Wakkanai was certainly one of the places that left the strongest impressions - although whether that might have been from the epic train journey there, or the biting cold, I can't say. But its strange, almost forlorn emptiness certainly has its own unique charm, and there is no denying that the seafood is spectacular here. Is it worth the five-hour trip from Sapporo? Hmm. Maybe, but know what you're getting into, and I wouldn't stay for more than the half-day.