Hokkaido

Japan – The Land of the Rising Sun

So caĺled because Nihon and Nippon literally mean the Sun’s Origin and so translated to the Land of the Rising Sun.

My first visit to Japan, 40 years ago, was to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. I was visiting a sibling and had a week there enroute to Australia.

Memories of mountains , tall buildings, concrete footpaths and well suited men hurrying to work have stuck with me for all of those years. Not to mention seeing the thousands of people being packed into trains by pushers, men with broom like sticks, literally pushing everyone into the train.

Fast forward to 2018 and those memories are pushed way back into the furthermost corner of my memory bank.

If you have never been to Japan, please put it on your travel list.

It is a land of towering mountains and deep gorges. Of heavily wooded forests,unbelievable autumn foliage ,stunning clifftops, crystal clear water ,and lakes. Birdlife abounds in these pristine lakes.

Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s islands is home to volcanoes, natural hot springs (onsen), and fantastic ski areas during winter.The Shiretoko Peninsular is also home to Brown Bears. Large furry creatures who make their home in the Shiretoko World Heritage Park as well as the adjoining Shiretoko National Park.

“Shiretoko” is derived from the Ainu ( indigenous people of Japan) word “sir etok” meaning a place where the earth protrudes, or the end of the earth.

A 4 hour hike around the five lakes in Shiretoko World Heritage Park is well worth the sore legs experienced afterwards.

The lakes were formed long ago after an eruption of nearby Mt Io.

The lakes are fed by underground springs which means the water is crystal clear. A totally unspoilt natural area that is jaw dropping to say the least.

This area is suitable for hiking by over 60 year olds with no mobility issues.

Those with mobiliy issues are also catered for with a shorter, 800 metre elevated wooden platform boardwalk. An area on which to walk and see one of the lakes and the stunning snow capped mountains surrounding the lakes. Also

from this area ,atop the towering cliffs , the Sea of Okhotsk can be viewed, without any damage to the fragile ecosystem. The boardwalk is free to use and is wheelchair friendly.

In wintertime the drift ice from further north arrives at the Sea of Okhotsk and walking tours out onto the ice are conducted.

Another hike is the Shiretoko National Park animal watching tour. This is slightly more challenging and not for those with mobility issues. A 4 hour hike through the forest of Birch, Mongolian Oak, Ginkgo Maple and Cedar trees is amazing. One is always aware that one is walking through Bear territory and the nature guides call out and clap to let the bears know they have visitors.

Hikers are briefed on what to do in case they are confronted by a bear. Stay calm, do not run and retreat back to where you came started the hike.

All well and good, but I had images of a 500kg ball of brown fluff galloping towards me at 30 k’s and hour and thought , no way I could remain calm. In fact I am sure I would have passed out. Probably a good thing too as Bears are not interested in stationary bodies.

I need not have worried though as no bears were sighted. As scary as they sound, I was secretly hoping to see a bear in the wild. Just not too close.

Other animals encountered are Red Fox and lots of Sika Deer.

There are many birds including several species of Woodpecker, Stellers SeaEagke, the white tailed Sea Eagle and this park is also home to the worlds largest owl, the Blakistons Fish Owl.

There are over 50 species of mammal here and 280 kinds of birds.

Shiretoko is indeed a nature lovers paradise.

During autumn the Salmon run the rivers in Shiretoko. They run up river to spawn and then die. Salmon watching is suitable for limited mobility visitors.

Salmon is a very popular dish in Shiretoko and clams are harvested and enjoyed as well.

A good base for all of these activities in the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort in the small town of Utoro.

The hotel has many Onsen where hot spring bathing can be enjoyed.

The water from the thermals is full of nutrients and excellent for soaking in after a long hike.

There are hundreds of Onsen dotted about Hokkaido, most towns have a public foot bath as well. These foot baths can be a godsend for those with sore feet.

A visit to an Izakaya ( Japanese Pub) is well worth the time. There is an array of diferent foods on offer and the coziness of the Izakaya makes for a memorable time.

The people of Japan are some of the most friendly , respectful people I have ever encountered. They will go out of their way to please and always with a smile.

I would recomment an English speaking guide if visiting Hokaido as English is not widely spoken and the guides are experts in what type of tours or eating experiences the tourist may be looking for.

On my time in Hokkaido I did not see any other Australian tourist . I

asked myself why.

The answer I think, is that like myself, most Australians are unaware of this beautiful and intriguing destination.

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