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Once unimaginably far in the back of beyond, the name Abashiri used to strike terror into the hearts of suspected lawbreakers: it was the site of Japan's first maximum-security prison, built in 1890 when the enlightened Meiji era decided to copy Western ways instead of simply executing convicted criminals. Enlightenment in this case, however, translated into backbreaking hard labor (mostly road construction) and, for difficult cases like political prisoners, unheated cells in a region where winter temperatures often fall below -20 degrees C (-4 degrees F). The prison was finally closed, aptly enough, in 1984, but a newly constructed prison continues the tradition.
Today's Abashiri is an unattractive modern town filled with the implements and smells of its largest industry, fishing.
 Get in
Abashiri is the closest thing in northern Hokkaido to a transport hub.
 By plane
The nearest airport is Memanbetsu, 16 km south of Abashiri. Buses connect to/from the JR station before and after flights (25 minutes, ¥720).
 By train
Okhotsk Limited Express trains run from Sapporo to Abashiri. There are four daily departures, reaching Abashiri in 5 1/2 hours at a cost of ¥9440 each way. There is no charge for the service with the Japan Rail Pass.
 By bus
Night buses from Sapporo (around ¥8000) are the cheapest way to get to Abashiri. Buses arrive and depart from Abashiri Bus Terminal, a short walk east from the JR Abashiri station.
 Get around
Abashiri is fairly spread out. A network of buses radiates out from JR Abashiri station.
Being a fishing port, the thing to eat here is fresh seafood, particularly crab. There's a morning market with great selection.
Like every other city in Hokkaido, Abashiri has its own microbrew, creatively known as Abashiri Beer. The brewery, a 10-minute walk from JR Abashiri, is open to visitors and also serves lunch and dinner.
 Get out
The best reason to come to Abashiri is the attractions around it: