Shiretoko, the jewel of Hokkaido
At the east end of the island of Hokkaido you'll find of the most beautiful places in Japan: Shiretoko, a fantastic, protected natural area, where visitors must be discreet: after all, you mustn't wake the hundred bears who live here...
Shiretoko, "where the land ends", as it was named by the Ainu, the indigenous people who inhabited the region before the arrival of Japanese settlers.
Where the land ends and where you can watch the last bears in Japan, where sealions swim out to sea, where nature reigns supreme, and where man has not set foot wherever you look. It's the jewel of Hokkaido, with steep cliffs and deep lakes. Shiretoko requires a long journey to reach, but it is well worth it.
Waymarked pathThe peninsula, which stretches north-east of Japan to the Sea of Okhotsk, is both a nature park and a UNESCO classified area. At its center passes the Shiretoko Pass at the foot of Rausu Volcano.
In the south, the park of Shiretoko is organized for "Japanese style" tourism, trying to reduce the damaged caused by mass visits to this fragile area. Hikers get information from Shiretoko Nature Center (and strict instructions to follow), and take marked trails leading to the Furepe Waterfalls - a sumptuous view over a creek and a waterfall that flows over a cliff. You'll need to take a shuttle service to the Five Lakes and Kamuiwakka Waterfall trail.
To the north of the pass, Shiretoko goes "off-piste". The walks from this point are for knowledgeable climbers with the proper equipment: there's no phone signal, no human presence, just a large population of bears. This walk is for experienced hikers only.
Even if you are not an explorer, Shiretoko is a dream destination. Strain to catch the cry of sea eagles, a tiny frog, or discover the myriad of dragonflies on the edge of a lake. Finally, bathe in natural hot springs to rest your legs, sore from the climb.
In the distance, the KurilReach Shiretoko Park through some pretty villages in northeastern Hokkaido. Abashiri, the "big city" in the region, is best known in Japan for its prison, where criminals and members of the Yakuza were once sent. But now you can spend a pleasant day there, visiting remarkable museums and viewing the Okhotsk Sea, before going to Utoro.
Abashiri has become a hub of mass tourism, hotels and restaurants. It's even possible to take sea excursions aboard icebreakers in winter, or boats up along the peninsula in summer.On the other side of Shiretoko, the small port of Rausu has not benefitted from the same economic boost as Utoro. Here, the loss of the Kuril Islands to the Russians in 1945 has not been forgotten.