East Hokkaido: A magnificent natural view and a rich ecosystem

The Shiretoko Peninsula where nature remains untouched

Shiretoko tour
Shiretoko tour

The name “Shiretoko” means “edge of the earth” in the language of Ainu, the former inhabitant of this area. As the name says, Shiretoko is located at the easternmost tip of Hokkaido and the whole area is covered with untouched nature. The entire peninsula and the coastal zone are registered as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site and you can see a dynamic view of nature and a rich ecosystem there. There are a lot of walking courses in the packaged tours to visit Shiretoko Five Lakes (Shiretoko Goko Lakes), which sit in a World Natural Heritage forest. There are plenty of guided trekking tours appropriate for all experience levels, from a novice to advanced one, so everyone can enjoy the nature of Shiretoko.

hiretoko sightseeing boat Aurora
Shiretoko sightseeing boat Aurora

Shiretoko Peninsula is surrounded by ocean on 3 sides and has many hills, so the view from the ocean is also a highlight you cannot miss. Mountains, waterfalls and rocky areas show up one after another and if you are lucky, you can also see sea eagles and brown bears. The Shiretoko sightseeing boat Aurora departs from Utoro port which has two courses, 1.5 hour course and 3 hours and 45 minutes course.

Aidomari Onsen
Aidomari Onsen, a hot spring off the beaten track that has its source next to the ocean

Hot springs gush out everywhere in Shiretoko Peninsula, which you can enjoy in any way you like. If you want to relax, the hot springs set up to hotels and Japanese inns are recommended. There are also some natural outdoor hot springs, from where you can watch the ocean just in front of your eyes. Some outdoor hot springs do not even provide a changing room, but if you have a bathing suit ready, there is no need to worry. You will be able to enjoy a hot spring experience that is not available anywhere else, feeling a lovely breeze on your body. For the location of each hot spring, see a sightseeing map available at places such as tourist associations or hotels.

The largest marsh in Japan which is a treasure house of flora and fauna!

Enjoying Kushiro Marsh in a canoe
Enjoying Kushiro Marsh in a canoe

Kushiro Marsh, the biggest marsh in Japan registered under the Ramsar Convention, is a paradise of rich nature for the wildlife that lives there. You can enjoy the wild nature even more if you participate in interactive activities such as canoeing and horse trekking.

The view of Kushiro Marsh
The verdant expanse of green plants in Kushiro Marsh

A great way to see the nature is canoeing on Kushiro River, which is known as a mecca for canoeists. You can feel the wild nature while slowly going down the river in scenery of untouched nature with no dams.

Japanese cranes and a white-tailed eagle
Japanese cranes and a white-tailed eagle

When you take a stroll in the Kushiro area, you will see many wild birds. There are said to be approximately over 200 kinds of wild birds living in east Hokkaido and among these, Kushiro Marsh is especially known as a treasure house of wild birds where many bird watchers come to visit. You can see powerful and adorable behavior of birds including Japanese cranes, white-tailed eagles, Blakiston’s fish owls and whooper swans.

Norokko-go, popular diesel locomotive

While enjoying your time in the marsh, you may hear the whistle of a train from off in the distance. It is coming from a diesel locomotive called Norokko-go, a sightseeing train that runs between Kushiro and Toro Stations. You can simply enjoy watching the cute train running through the vast nature or get on and enjoy the natural scenery out of the windows of the train. This is a popular means of transportation in the area of Kushiro Marsh.

Kaisendon (seafood rice bowl) from Washo Market (Japanese)
Kaisendon (seafood rice bowl) from Washo Market

Kaisendon (seafood rice bowl) is a popular dish which allows you to enjoy seafood in a delicious way just like sushi and sashimi. At Washo Market in front of Kushiro Station, you can make your original Kaisendon by buying your favorite ingredients individually. It is easy to make. All you have to do is buy rice in a bowl at a deli in the market, then buy ingredients from some of the many seafood shops standing next to each other and put them on the rice. Enjoy your own original Kaisendon. Sea urchin, salmon roe, scallops, salmon, shrimps, Sakhalin surf clams and squid are available throughout the year. In summer especially, why not try Pacific saury which is in season and blue king crab that can be caught only in the sea near Kushiro.

The most convenient way to get around is by rental car

The door to the east Hokkaido area is Tancho Kushiro Airport. There are flights from Osaka and Nagoya in some seasons, but the flights from Tokyo and Sapporo are regularly operated throughout the year. The highlights of east Hokkaido are spread out widely and there is not much public transportation, so renting a car is recommended for getting around. *Only the drivers who have an international driver’s license issued under Geneva Conventions are allowed to drive in Japan.

“Mashu blue” when the sky and the lake meld together Akan National Park Area

Mashu blue
The shining lake in Mashu blue

In the Akan National Park area located in the southeastern part of Shiretoko or in the northern part of Kushiro, you can see beautiful lakes. Lake Mashu-ko is known to have one of the best transparency in the world of 20-30 meters (65-98 feet), and you can see the lake turned into unique deep blue color just like a sapphire called “Mashu blue” on a sunny day. But it is often foggy around this area, so only a few lucky visitors can see Mashu blue. Due to the rare chance to be able to see Mashu blue, Lake Mashu-ko is becoming an even more mysterious place.

Ball-shaped Marimo (Moss Balls)

A cute and unique kind of algae, Marimo, lives in the lakes of the Akan National Park area. Small string-shaped algae gather to form a green ball, but Lake Akan-ko especially has the perfect current for Marimo to go through photosynthesis while rolling, so Mario grows into a big beautiful ball shape. You can learn more about how Marimo grows at the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center and Akankohan Eco Museum Center.

Let’s go to east Hokkaido where you can fully experience and learn the ecosystem and culture surrounded by magnificent nature!