The drift ice sightseeing ship Aurora, based at Hokkaido's Abashiri, made its first trip of the season on Jan. 20.
While passengers were unable to see any "ryuhyo" drift ice that day, they enjoyed beautiful scenery adorned by large, plate-like pieces of ice in the shape of lotus leaves.
The 491-ton Aurora and 489-ton Aurora II made four 1-hour runs on the first day of the season.
The first run left port at 9 a.m. with 232 Taiwanese tourists and others aboard, before making its way through the ice.
In spite of the cold, passengers enjoyed seeing the snow-capped Shiretoko mountain range and marveled at Steller's sea eagles on the breakwaters. Some even took photos of themselves with seagulls that landed on deck.
"The snow-covered mountains were very pretty," said Zhao Ying, a 24-year-old Chinese tourist who was visiting with friends from Wenzhou, China.
Drift ice is located in waters about 50 to 60 kilometers north of the Shiretoko Cape coastline, according to the Abashiri Local Meteorological Observatory.
The Aurora sightseeing ships will operate daily until April 3, with two to six runs a day. Tickets cost 1,650 yen for elementary school students, and 3,300 yen for junior high school students and older passengers.