Shiretoko is located in the east part of Hokkaido, where the distance of nature and humans is very close. In 2005, Shiretoko was listed in the World Natural Heritage Site of UNESCO with its remarkable interactions between marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and biodiversity. The beautiful nature shows different features with seasons, and gives benefits to animals, and humans. Since the main industries in Eastern Hokkaido are agriculture, dairy farming, and fishery, people living there know how to cope with nature, and preserving it directly affects their lives. The best way to enjoy the Shiretoko area is to be natural. Exploring nature and the culture with bare heart, you will be hugely moved. There are also many places that have not been featured much, yet very interesting to visit. Let us learn more about Shiretoko and Eastern Hokkaido to have adventures there from icy winter to deep green summer.
・The very first thing you must enjoy is the nature of Shiretoko. As it is a World Natural Heritage, there are plenty of spots to know. In Shiretoko peninsula, there is untouched nature such as Shiretoko mountain range, Shiretoko Goko lakes, and Mount Rausu. In winter, seasonal drift ice comes to the Sea of Okhotsk, and in some parts like Notsuke peninsula, you can see the ice horizon.
・You can encounter a lot of wild animals: Hokkaido deer, Blakiston’s fish owls, sea eagles, and more. Eastern Hokkaido is also known as the biggest ranch area in Japan. You will have a chance to see cows, or ride on a horse.
・Staying at an Onsen ryokan is something you cannot miss in Shiretoko. Including Rausu in Shiretoko peninsula, there are many hot spring spots in Eastern Hokkaido. When it is a fine night, an open-air bath becomes a planetarium, and even when it is snowy, you can have a very relaxing moment.
・Looking into the life of local people in the Shiretoko area, you can notice how sustainable thoughts are infiltrated in their lives. They know well about the climate, the land, and how to interact with animals. It will be interesting as well to know about the Northern Territories between Russia. You will see how close the islands are to Hokkaido, and what local people are thinking about them.
There are several airports in Eastern Hokkaido, but it is also possible to go from New Chitose airport in Sapporo which takes about an hour and half from Tokyo（Haneda Airport or Narita Airport）. It takes 6 to 7 hours driving from Sapporo to Shiretoko, but you can enjoy the view and even stay one night in the middle. If you would prefer to use a closer airport to Shiretoko, Memanbetsu, Kushiro, or Nakashibetsu airports are available. To Rausu town, it takes about 2 hours 40 minutes from Memanbetsu, 3 hours 10 minutes from Kushiro, and one hour 15 minutes from Nakashibetsu. Please note that the national road No. 334 which crosses Shiretoko peninsula is closed in winter time. It is also possible to take public transportation from each airport to the Shiretoko area.
There are a variety of events throughout the year in Shiretoko. In winter, there is a snowball fight festival in Mount Shari, Kiyosato town as well as snow walking with kanjiki, a traditional snowshoe. Shiretoko Fantasia is a spectacular event to admire drift ice with colorful lighting, dynamic sound effects, and smoke of straw. The short summer starts with the opening of Rausu mountain. You can observe the primeval forest of Shiretoko, snowy crowns, the sea of Okhotsk, and Kunashiri Island which is one of the Northern Territories. Shari Neputa is one of the biggest events in Shiretoko. Neputa is a traditional festival in Japan, especially in Aomori Prefecture, carrying the images of historical figures or Kabuki characters. This festival started in Shiretoko since they made a friendly pledge between Hirosaki city, Aomori.
Cruising tours in the sea of Okhotsk is one of the most popular activities in Shiretoko. Icebreaking ship “Aurora” in Abashiri is the winter feature of Shiretoko. The tour is an hour long and you can see cliones, sea eagles, and seals if you are lucky enough. The best timing for the tour is the one that starts at 3:30 PM. You can enjoy the color change in the sky as the sun sets.
Summer cruising tours are more focused on encounters with wild animals. Abashiri Nature Cruise is a tour that takes about 2 and a half hours to 3 hours going around the sea of Okhotsk. It is a habitat of whales and dolphins, and there is a high possibility to see them. Sometimes, there is a chance to see a blue whale, the largest animal on earth.
・The animals are wild so that there is no permission that you can see them.
・Icebreaking ship tour costs ¥3,500 for adults, and ¥1,750 for adults. The number of tours changes with the month.
・Abashiri Nature Cruise costs ¥8,000 for adults, and ¥4,000 for children. It requires a reservation in advance.
Shiretoko Goko Lakes, and Mountain Range
Shiretoko peninsula, a World Nature Heritage Site, has five major lakes called Shiretoko Goko (means five lakes in Japanese). There are two ways to hike around them. One is walking on the wooden deck, and the other is walking on the ground. Wood-deck walk can be participated for free, and there is no worry of encountering a brown bear. It only takes about 40 minutes and is easy to try for children or elderlies. The ground course has two loops; a 3km loop where you can see all the lakes, and a 1.6km loop where you can see two lakes. In either course, you can enjoy the primeval forest, and watching wild animals.
Shiretoko mountain range is located on the center of the peninsula, and can be seen from anywhere in the Shiretoko area. If you wish to climb a mountain, you can visit in summer, and feel the great nature of Shiretoko.
・It is better to carry a bell in order to prevent you from meeting a brown bear.
・The long loop in the Shiretoko Goko hiking requires a lecture. The lecute takes 10 minutes, and costs ¥250 for adults and ¥100 for children.
Peninsula of Notsuke
Going south from Rausu town for an hour, there is a peninsula shaped like a shrimp: Notsuke. The narrow peninsula has a unique nature and many wild animals living there. In winter, the inner bay of Notsuke completely freezes, and you can walk on it. Notsuke is famous for interesting shaped sunrises. Sometimes it looks like a square, or a wine glass. Dozens of Hokkaido deer eating grass will welcome you in the early morning. The peninsula will be covered with trees and flowers in summer. There will be a group of seals resting in a shallow area of the bay, and you may have a chance to see cranes as well. You will see the island of Kunashiri, one of the Northern Territories, over the sea. It is surprising how close it is.
・Some parts of the peninsula cannot be stepped in. Follow the guides.
・You can park your car at Notsuke Nature Center for free.
Mutsu Pasture, located in Nakashibetsu town, is a place where you can have a house ride. The pasture started as a branch of Mutsugoro Animal Kingdom, organized by Hata Masanori known as Mutsugoro: a famous animal researcher and writer in Japan. The houses are born and raised vivaciously in the pasture, and very amicable to humans. Unlike in other pastures, you will have more interactions with horses from preparation to tidying up. Each procedure that you take makes you closer to the horse, and that brings a very special experience. The riding courses have different lengths so that anyone from beginners to experienced can enjoy the appropriate level.
・The fee is from ¥7,000 to ¥15,000 depending on the length.
・Children under middle school age can ride on the same horse with an adult at a discounted fee.
・Recommended age of riding is over 10 years old.
・If you are visiting with more than 5 people, you need to contact them in advance.
Rausu Hot Spring
Among the hot springs in the Shiretoko area, Rausu is one of the most popular places. Rausu hot spring has a long history since it was discovered in 1783. The smell of sulfur welcomes you when you enter the town. There are hotels, a camping site, and a visitors’ center along the national road. You can relieve the fatigue from a long drive with a gorgeous dinner and the hot spring. The open air bath at night time, you can see the stars well when it is clear sky. Cooling your body by the snow after bathing for a long time is another pleasure. There are other sightseeing spots in Rausu town such as Shiretoko Ridge, Lake of Rausu, Rausu Kunashiri Observation Tower, and so on.
・There are two hotels where you can enjoy the hot spring: Rausu Daiichi Hotel and Hotel Mineno Yu
・Both of the hotels accept one-day trip bathing for ¥500.
As the major industries in the Shiretoko area are agriculture, dairy farming, and fishery, there are delicious fresh ingredients both from farms and sea. Hokkaido ranks top in production of all those three industries in Japan. With its vast land and rich nature, eastern Hokkaido is the Japanese heart of food.
Milk and Dairy Products
Among the major milk producers in Hokkaido, Betsukai town has the biggest production. Betsukai is twice as large as 23 wards of Tokyo, and it has a population of 15,000 while having 110,000 cows. It is not only number 1 in the volume, but also in the quality. A cow drinks 100 to 150 liters of water a day so that the quality of water directly affects the taste of milk. Cows in Betsukai drink the subsoil water of the lake Mashu, and move freely in a huge pasture. Those healthy cows give 30 liters of milk a day, and milk gets sterilized for 30 seconds in 90℃ which puts less stress on the milk. You can try the rich and natural milk of Betsukai in the local restaurants or shops. Soft serve ice cream, cheese, yogult, and cream are also available.
Betsukai Scallop Burger
If you are looking for a local gourmet with ingredients from sea and land, scallop burger in Betsukai is something you have to try. Scallops taken in off-shore Notsuke are tender and juicy which are traded as a first-class product in Tokyo. Those scallops are made into a spring roll, and put into the buns of Hokkaido wheat with three different original sauces and vegetables. The harmony of each ingredient is well considered, and you can even enjoy putting the burger together by yourself. In the set menu, there are French fries with Hokkaido potato, soft serve ice cream, and most importantly, a glass full of Betsukai milk. Maybe you cannot imagine, but the burger and milk match quite well. There are four restaurants where you can order a Betsukai Scallop Burger. Of course, there are other feasts with scallops in the town.
Meals in Ryokan
One of the biggest pleasures of staying at a ryokan, Japanese style hotel, is to have the meal with local products. Especially in the Shiretoko area, splendid sea foods are served in various cook styles. Starting with sashimi, cold appetizers with shrimp, sea weeds, followed by a cod boiled with vegetables and miso. It is already a satisfying volume, but it does not end here at all. Grilled atka mackerel and large scallop, tempuras of fishes and vegetables, and finally a bowl of Hokkaido rice and miso soup with Hanasaki Kani crabs. This miso soup has an astonishing umami from the crabs, and mild flavor of miso, which can be counted as the best dishes of the meal. Moreover, local sake is good with both cold or hot.