Shiretoko National Park

With an area of 386.33 km² (38,636 ha), the Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園, Shiretoko Kokuritsu Kōen) is a natural area that covers most of the Shiretoko Peninsula in the northeastern tip of Hokkaidō, and is part of the network of national parks in Japan. The name of the protected area comes from the Ainu language and means "the end of the earth," reflecting its remote and secluded location.

This region is one of the most remote in all of Japan, and much of it can only be explored on foot or by boat, ensuring a unique and authentic nature experience for visitors seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Shiretoko is known for being the habitat of the brown bear (Ursus arctos), housing the largest population of these animals in all of Japan. Additionally, from the park, visitors can enjoy impressive views of the disputed territory of Kunashir Island, currently occupied by Russia but claimed by Japan. This geopolitical situation adds a fascinating element to the visit, offering a unique perspective on the region’s history and politics.

We cannot forget to mention the spectacular hot water waterfall called Kamuiwakka-no-taki, whose name in Ainu means "the water of the gods." Soaking in these hot springs is a rejuvenating and relaxing experience that perfectly complements the natural beauty surrounding this area.

In recognition of its cultural and natural importance, in 2005, UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage Site. Additionally, there has been a suggestion to link this region with the Kuril Islands of Russia to create an International Peace Park, an initiative aimed at promoting cooperation and preserving the region’s natural beauty.

Shiretoko National Park Information

Shiretoko National Park

History

Shiretoko, a natural treasure located in the Hokkaido region of Japan, has been recognized for its exceptional beauty and biodiversity for decades. On June 1, 1964, a significant milestone was marked in its history when it was designated a National Park. Covering an area of approximately 38,954 hectares, this park encompasses a variety of ecosystems, from mighty mountain peaks to pristine marine coasts.

Located in Hokkaido Prefecture, Shiretoko has been a symbol of conservation and nature preservation in Japan. Over the years, it has maintained its ecological integrity, providing a safe haven for diverse wildlife and a source of inspiration for nature lovers and conservationists alike. Since its designation, it has been a prominent destination for visitors seeking to immerse themselves in Hokkaido’s natural beauty and discover the hidden treasures of this unique region.

World Natural Heritage

The Shiretoko area was recognized as a World Natural Heritage site due to its unique characteristics and exceptional ecological value. Three main aspects were highlighted that met the standards for this prestigious title:

  1. Maritime ice: Shiretoko is located at the lowest latitude of all seasonal sea ice areas in the Northern Hemisphere. This influence of seasonal sea ice significantly contributes to the area’s high productivity and serves as an outstanding example of the ecosystemic interrelationship between the ocean and the land.
  2. Ocean-Land connection by rivers: The rivers of Shiretoko act as vital links between the ocean and the land, creating a unique system where marine and terrestrial life coexist harmoniously. This riverine connection contributes to the richness and diversity of local ecosystems.
  3. Wildlife: Shiretoko is home to abundant and diverse wildlife, both on land and at sea. It is a crucial habitat for numerous species of animals and plants, including many rare species. Notable among them are salmonid fish, marine mammals like the Steller sea lion and various cetaceans, as well as seabirds like the spectacled guillemot and Steller’s sea eagle, among other migratory species.

These aspects make Shiretoko a place of global importance and justify its inclusion in the World Heritage List as an exceptionally biodiverse and valuable ecosystem.

Location

The Shiretoko Peninsula is situated in the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, distinguished by the towering Shiretoko mountains that dominate its landscape. Shiretoko National Park, located at the geographical coordinates: 44°09′43″N 145°14′08″E, covers about 390 square kilometers of this vast promontory, as well as about 220 square kilometers of the surrounding sea. On its western edge, there are steep cliffs approximately 100 meters high that fall abruptly towards the Sea of Okhotsk, offering a safe haven for seabirds such as the spectacled guillemot. On the other hand, the eastern coast gently slopes towards the sea, creating a diverse and fascinating habitat.

The Park is home to abundant wildlife, with brown bears roaming the coasts and whales traversing the deep seas. This largely untouched and wild natural environment was recognized for its unique combination of terrain and biodiversity, earning UNESCO World Natural Heritage status in 2005. It is a sanctuary of nature where land and sea merge in unique harmony, offering an unforgettable experience for visitors seeking to immerse themselves in the beauty and serenity of nature.

Best Time to Visit Shiretoko

During the season from spring to autumn, visitors have the opportunity to explore the five lakes, known as Shiretoko Goko, where nature is displayed in its purest state. The trails that wind through this landscape lead you to discover hidden waterfalls and secret corners of this natural sanctuary.

A must-see on your visit is enjoying a cruise from Utoro, where you can witness fascinating scenes of brown bears guiding their cubs along the shore. Additionally, the rich marine diversity of these waters offers you the chance to spot whales, dolphins, and seals, adding a touch of excitement to your Shiretoko experience.

In the winter months, the park’s magic transforms into a snowy landscape where you can embark on a cruise from Rausu to admire white-tailed sea eagles and Steller’s sea eagles. You can also participate in an exciting "drift ice excursion," where you equip yourself with a dry suit and walk on floating ice. Diving under the ice floes in a winter diving experience is a unique activity that will leave you with unforgettable memories of your visit to Shiretoko.

During winter, there is a unique opportunity to witness the phenomenon of drift ice. This ice drifts from northeastern Russia across the Sea of Okhotsk and can be observed from late January to early April.

One of the best ways to enjoy this experience is along the coastal road on the western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula, which offers stunning views of the floating ice. Additionally, there are various organized hiking routes that take you on guided walks on the ice, allowing you to experience this impressive winter phenomenon up close.

How to Get to Shiretoko National Park

To get to Shiretoko National Park, you have several transportation options. If you are coming from Tokyo, you can opt for direct flights to either Memanbetsu Airport or Kushiro Airport, as well as flights from Haneda Airport to Monbetsu Airport. From Sapporo, in Hokkaido, there are also direct flights to Memanbetsu Airport and Nemuro Nakashibetsu Airport, both close to Shiretoko.

However, keep in mind that local public transportation options in the area are limited. Therefore, the most convenient way to explore Shiretoko is by private car or rental car. This will give you the necessary flexibility to move around the region and visit its points of interest.

If you prefer not to drive, another alternative is to take a night bus from Sapporo. These buses will take you directly to the main terminals and hotels in the Shiretoko area, which can be a convenient option if you prefer to travel at night and arrive directly at your destination at dawn. However, it is important to check the schedules and availability of these buses in advance, as they may vary depending on the season and demand.

From Tokyo

You can take a flight from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Memanbetsu Airport, which takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. From Memanbetsu, Utoro, the gateway to the western side of Shiretoko National Park, is about 100 kilometers away. During the summer and winter months, there is a two-hour bus service available to Utoro. There are also less frequent flights from Haneda to Nakashibetsu Airport, lasting approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. From there, you can take an Akan Bus, which takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach Rausu, another small town. Both Utoro and Rausu are gateways to the park and offer excellent bus services, although Utoro has more frequent services.

From Sapporo

Several daily flights connect Sapporo’s Shin-Chitose Airport with Memanbetsu Airport. Additionally, there is a 6-hour highway bus that connects Sapporo and Utoro. This bus departs around midnight from Sapporo and arrives at the Shari bus terminal in Utoro around 6:00 a.m. From Utoro, there is a return bus that departs in the morning and arrives in Sapporo around 4:30 p.m. It is also possible to reach the park by train, although this journey takes between seven and eight hours. You must take the Super Ozora express train from Sapporo to Kushiro station, change to the JR Senmo line, and get off at Shiretoko-Shari station. From there, there are infrequent buses connecting to Utoro, and some continue to the Shiretoko Five Lakes area

Getting Around the National Park

Due to limited public transportation options, joining a tour is the best way to explore Shiretoko National Park. The Shiretoko Pass, closed in winter, connects Utoro in the west with Rausu in the east. Additionally, roads run along the east and west coasts. To visit other areas of the park, it is necessary to walk or take a boat. Utoro offers easy access by car to attractions such as the Shiretoko Five Lakes, Furepe-no-Taki Falls, and Kamuiwakka Falls. There are also buses from Utoro to attractions on the east coast, although the service is infrequent, especially in winter. From Rausu, tourist boats, whale and bird-watching cruises, and drift ice tours operate.

Geography of Shiretoko

Due to its geographical location, Shiretoko National Park has a rich and varied geography, featuring the Shiretoko mountain range, various cliffs, and the cape that bears its name.

Shiretoko Mountain Range

Shiretoko Mountain Range

The Shiretoko Peninsula features the towering Shiretoko Mountain Range, a series of rugged mountains that rise along the peninsula. This range, created by volcanic activity, reaches heights of 1,200 to 1,600 meters and offers spectacular views from the summit of Mount Rausu, the main peak in the region.

Cliffs

Shiretoko Cliffs

On the western side of the peninsula extends a row of cliffs over 100 meters high. These cliffs were formed by ice accumulations that eroded the lava flows, creating a series of spectacular waterfalls that drop into the Sea of Okhotsk. The ruggedness of these cliffs provides a valuable habitat for seabirds such as the spectacled guillemot.

Cape Shiretoko

Cape Shiretoko

Cape Shiretoko, located at the tip of the peninsula, offers impressive and panoramic views of the coastal landscape. On the eastern side of the peninsula, where the coast is gentler and not directly influenced by drift ice, there are numerous seaweed collection stations along the beach. This difference in topography between the east and west sides of the peninsula is marked by the prominent Shiretoko Mountain Range that runs along the middle of the peninsula.

Wildlife of Shiretoko

Shiretoko stands out as one of the most untouched and pristine national parks in Japan, being one of the most famous in all of Asia, where wild nature unfolds in all its grandeur. The protected area is home to an impressive diversity of life, with 36 species of terrestrial mammals, 22 marine species, and an astonishing total of 285 bird species.

Among its most notable inhabitants are brown bears, Blakiston’s fish owls, and orcas.

Brown bear (Ursus arctos) in Shiretoko National Park

The volcanic landscapes of the peninsula give rise to a varied range of ecosystems, including oceanic, riverine, and forest environments, each with its own unique charm that dramatically transforms with the seasons.

Mammals

In the Shiretoko National Park area, 36 species of terrestrial mammals and 22 species of marine mammals have been identified. Rare species on a global level, such as the Steller sea lion and the sperm whale, stand out. However, the most iconic symbol of Shiretoko is the mighty brown bear, with an estimated population of several hundred, making it one of the highest concentrations of this majestic land animal in the world.

Birds

Approximately 285 bird species have been recorded in the Shiretoko National Park area. Among them are endangered species such as Blakiston’s fish owl, as well as white-tailed sea eagles and black woodpeckers. Additionally, the region is an important wintering ground for Steller’s sea eagles, with over 1,000 individuals spending the winter here.

Ecosystem

The unique connection between the ocean, rivers, and forests in Shiretoko is essential for the survival of its diverse wildlife. The ice floes that reach Shiretoko contain phytoplankton known as ice algae, which feed a vital food chain. Juvenile salmonid fish feed on zooplankton and, upon returning to Shiretoko after several years in the ocean, become food for brown bears and eagles, sustaining the terrestrial ecosystem.

Flora of Shiretoko

On the steep slopes of Shiretoko, significant changes in vegetation can be observed as altitude increases over relatively short distances. Starting from the lower areas, we find mixed forests of conifers and broadleaf trees, such as Sakhalin fir, Quercus crispula Blume, and painted maple. As we ascend, we enter forests of Erman’s birch, followed by areas dominated by creeping pines.

On land, approximately 872 species of vascular plants can be found, of which 233 are alpine plants. Among these species, some native and rare ones, such as Viola kitamiana, stand out, contributing to the richness and diversity of the flora in this region.

What to See and Do in Shiretoko National Park

3-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Eat Japanese Salmon

After landing at Memanbetsu Airport in the morning, take a local bus to Utoro to reach Shiretoko National Park. Enjoy a quiet lunch with a rice dish accompanied by salmon roe and other fresh seafood. Then, visit the Shiretoko World Heritage Conservation Center to familiarize yourself with the region’s natural environment. In the afternoon, join a guided tour to observe salmon swimming upstream, learning about the close relationship between these fish and the local environment. After enjoying this unique experience and witnessing the life cycle in nature, head to your accommodation to settle in and relax for the night.

Day 2: Night Safari

In the morning, take a bus from the Utoro bus terminal to Shiretoko Five Lakes to participate in a guided tour that will introduce you to the pristine ecology of the area, including observing brown bears and the region’s native flora. Enjoy lunch at your own pace, then visit the Shiretoko Nature Center to expand your knowledge about the park through the latest videos and exhibits available. In the afternoon, take another tour that will lead you to the impressive Furepe-no-Taki Falls, where water cascades from a crack in a 100-meter cliff. You will also learn about local efforts to reclaim former farmland to restore the forest around the falls. Return to your hotel to rest and dine, and prepare to join a night safari by car. This nighttime adventure will show you a completely different side of Shiretoko National Park.

Day 3: Shiretoko Cruise

Enjoy an exciting boat trip to see whales, dolphins, and birds in their natural habitat.

During a two-and-a-half-hour cruise, you will sail through the waters in search of the impressive variety of wildlife that inhabits Hokkaido. This trip departs from the charming town of Rausu and offers panoramic views of the majestic Shiretoko Mountain Range and other points of interest along the Hokkaido coast.

The crew on board the cruise will be vigilant and alert passengers to any wildlife sightings through a speaker, sharing valuable information about the habitats and characteristics of the creatures encountered along the way.

Immerse yourself in nature like never before, enjoying intimate observations of dolphins, sperm whales, petrels, and other native wildlife of northern Japan. It is a unique experience to connect with the beauty and biodiversity of this region.

Shiretoko Cruise Details
Available in spring (March to May), summer (June to August), and autumn (September to November)
Duration Approximately 60 minutes
Cost Adults:
– 5100 yen (1 person)
– 3400 yen (2-5 persons)
– 3000 yen (6-10 persons)
Children (6-12 years): 1700 yen (including snowshoe rental)
Contact Sarobetsu NGO Ecological Network
Phone: (+81) 0162-82-3950 (JP)
Email: [email protected]
Address 6-6 Nishitoyotomi, Toyotomi, Teshio District, Hokkaido
Website http://sarobetsu.or.jp/program/spring/ (JP)

Shiretoko Goko Lakes Lodge

The Shiretoko Goko Lakes Lodge and the Park Service Center are ideal starting points to enjoy the stunning alpine lake scenery and explore the brown bear habitat in the Shiretoko Five Lakes area.

The Shiretoko Goko Lakes Lodge marks the beginning of an 800-meter-long elevated wooden walkway, providing a safe and accessible way to admire the lakes. From here, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the majestic Shiretoko mountain range reflected on the surface of the Shiretoko Goko, which were formed hundreds of thousands of years ago due to an eruption of nearby Mount Io.

For those who wish to explore the Shiretoko Goko further, there is the option to follow the Ground Pathway, offering 1.6-kilometer and 3-kilometer circuits respectively. Before embarking on the trail, it is recommended to visit the lodge to receive a brief orientation on how to avoid encounters with brown bears and how to protect the local flora.

The park implements restrictions on the number of visitors who can access the lakes to protect both plant and animal life. During the months of May to July, when bear activity is higher, visitors are required to participate in guided tours. These tours offer deeper insight into the Shiretoko Goko lakes ecosystem and cost approximately 5,000 yen. Reservations can be made through the official English website of Shiretoko Goko.

On the other hand, the Park Service Center serves as a rest area, offering a variety of souvenirs and light meals, including its popular lingonberry ice cream. Parking is available for a fee, though it is recommended to arrive by public transport, especially during the summer peak season when parking tends to fill up quickly.

Place Hours
Lodge Open from 7:30 am – Sunset (closing hours vary throughout the year), late April – late November
Park Service Center Open from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (also applies to facility kiosks)
Picnic Sites Open daily while the Shiretoko Goko Lakes picnic site is open

 

Details Additional Information
Price Free (some trails and services may charge a fee depending on the season)
Languages Guided tours available in English
Address Iwaobetsu, Onnebetsu Village, Shari Town, Shari County, Hokkaido
Phone (+81) 0152-24-3323
Website https://www.goko.go.jp/multilingual_eng/index.html

Mount Unzen Volcano

The volcanic landscape that feeds the hot springs of Unzen inspires awe and admiration and has long been integrated into the lives of local residents. Experience the vibrant culture that thrives in the Unzen-Amakusa National Park through activities and excursions that showcase all aspects of volcanic power.

Itinerary Highlights:

  1. Making yusenpei wafers: Participate in a guided workshop where you will learn to make yusenpei wafers by hand. This experience will allow you to appreciate local craftsmanship and the connection to the region’s history.
  2. Learning about volcanic power: Explore the mountains surrounding Unzen-Amakusa National Park and learn about the volcanic power that has shaped the landscape over the years. Discover the unique geology of the area and its influence on the lives of local inhabitants.
  3. Enjoying local crafts and storytelling: Relax in the welcoming atmosphere of the Unzen Onsen tourist area, where you can enjoy local crafts such as pottery and textiles and listen to fascinating stories about the region’s history and culture while soaking in the hot springs.

The 5 Lakes of Shiretoko

Explore the 5 Lakes of Shiretoko, an impressive collection of small lakes formed by the eruption of Mount Io, fed by underground springs. These lakes are a natural treasure offering spectacular scenery in Shiretoko.

A wooden boardwalk leads from the parking area to the first lake, providing a peaceful and picturesque experience. From the elevated trail, you will enjoy panoramic views of the lake, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the majestic mountains that surround the region.

The natural trails around the lakes offer the opportunity to explore this unique environment further. However, access is restricted to protect the delicate ecosystem and limit the number of visitors, ensuring the preservation of this beautiful natural landscape.

Waterfalls in Shiretoko

Just a 20-minute walk from the Shiretoko National Park Nature Center, you will find the impressive Furepe Falls. From an observation platform, you can enjoy magnificent views of the towering cliffs and the sea. In winter, this waterfall becomes even more fascinating when the water freezes, creating a unique spectacle.

The Oshinkoshin Falls is another popular stop for tourists, with a height of 30 meters and a split into two streams that fall from a height of 50 meters. Stairs near the waterfall allow you to climb and get even more impressive views of this natural spectacle.

Additionally, don’t miss other notable waterfalls in Shiretoko National Park, such as Kamuiwakka Hot Falls and Shiretoko Pass. Each of these waterfalls offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience amid Shiretoko’s natural beauty.

Kamuiwakka Hot Falls

Kamuiwakka Hot Falls is a favorite destination among hot spring enthusiasts. As the name suggests, these falls offer a unique experience: a hot spring waterfall flowing into the river, creating what could be considered one of the best outdoor hot baths in all of Japan. However, reaching this thermal paradise requires some effort, as visitors must climb the river gorges.

It is essential to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for this adventure. Additionally, it is important to note that mobile reception may be nonexistent in this area, so it is recommended to go with a guide, especially since there may be bears in the area depending on the season. While shuttle buses are available from the Shari bus terminal, the area can also be accessed by car. However, there may be restrictions for vehicles on certain occasions, so it is generally preferable to use the bus to reach the destination.

Furepe Falls

Furepe Falls (フレペの滝), located within the park’s mountain range, is known as the "Maiden’s Tears" due to the way the water drips from the cliffs of Cape Puyuni into the Sea of Okhotsk from a height of approximately 100 meters. Although not technically a monumental waterfall, it offers an impressive view both from the walking trail and from the sea aboard a boat. You can access it on foot after a roughly 20-minute walk from the Shiretoko Nature Center, available year-round, or on a cruise departing approximately every hour and a half from Aurora to Utoro Pier. These cruises operate from late April to late November.

Oshinkoshin Falls

Oshinkoshin Falls (オシンコシンの滝) is the largest waterfall on the Shiretoko Peninsula, offering a spectacular view that has earned it recognition as one of the 100 best waterfalls in Japan. Also known as the "Twin Beauties Waterfall" due to the way the stream splits into two, this waterfall is a highlight of the region. A platform at the top of a staircase serves as a viewpoint to enjoy the impressive views of the waterfall, as well as the Sea of Okhotsk and the Shiretoko mountain range. Buses connecting the city of Shari and Shiretoko National Park stop here, making it an easily accessible destination even by public transport.

Shiretoko Pass

Shiretoko Pass (知床峠) is a road that connects the eastern coastal town of Rausu with Shari on the western edge along National Route 334. It is a very popular driving route due to the impressive landscapes it offers year-round, except in winter when the pass is closed from November to mid or late April. During this period, a path opens between the snow walls, which is also a spectacle worth seeing.

Located about 740 meters above sea level, Shiretoko Pass is one of the first places where the colors of autumn can be appreciated as early as the beginning of October. During the summer, some buses run between Utoro and Rausu, providing an excellent alternative for those who prefer not to drive and want to enjoy the landscapes without worries.

Cape Puyuni

Although it is said that Puyuni can be translated as "hollow place" in the Ainu language, the meaning of this word has little to do with reality. Located facing the Utoro port and the Sea of Okhotsk, Cape Puyuni (プユニ岬) offers an impressive visual spectacle, especially during sunsets. It is not surprising that it is a very popular destination for both professional and amateur photographers, especially during winter, when drifting ice can also be seen from here.

The actual tip of the cape is not accessible to visitors; however, the furthest point they can reach is at the Miharashi Bridge, approximately 1 km from the Shiretoko Nature Center.

Oronkoiwa Rock

Near the port of Utoro is the impressive Oronkoiwa Rock (オロンコ岩), which rises about 60 meters above the ground. This rock is named after the Oronko, the indigenous tribe that inhabited this area in the past. It is an impressive landmark that stands out even when viewed from afar, but it also offers an exceptional panoramic view for those willing to climb the approximately 170 steps to the top.

From the top of Oronkoiwa, you can enjoy incredible views of the surrounding area. Access to this attraction is free, as is the nearby parking at the Utoro port. However, during the summer, due to increased demand, a parking fee is charged.

Sunset at Yuhidai, Shiretoko

Yuhidai (夕陽台) is an observation platform located at the Shiretoko campground, near the Utoro port. "Yuhi" literally means sunset or setting sun in Japanese. Therefore, this place is famous for offering spectacular sunset views throughout the year, making it a popular choice for romantic dates for obvious reasons.

The site is open daily, and access is free; however, on clear days, it is advisable to arrive a bit early as it can get quite crowded. The nearest bus stop is the Utoro bus terminal, about a 15-minute walk away. Additionally, there is parking available on the opposite end, across from the Yuhidai hot springs.

Boat Tours

In the area, you will find a variety of tourist services available:

  1. Aurora Tourist Boat
  2. Godzilla Rock Sightseeing
  3. Shiretoko Sightseeing Boat Dolphin
  4. Shiretoko World Heritage Cruise Fox

Exploring Ainu Culture and Traditions

Since ancient times, the Shiretoko region has been home to a deeply rooted culture that values and respects the rich surrounding nature while engaging in hunting, fishing, and plant gathering. Indigenous peoples, such as the Ainu, have cultivated this connection with the land and sea over the centuries, developing sustainable hunting and fishing practices in harmony with the natural environment. Fishing, in particular, has been and continues to be the backbone of the local economy. Fishermen sustainably utilize marine resources, relying on the ocean’s abundant waters to catch species such as chum salmon, pink salmon, pollock, and seaweed. This conscious approach reflects the commitment to preserving the region’s abundant biodiversity for future generations.

The Ainu are indigenous to the Shiretoko region in Hokkaido, Japan, and have a rich culture and traditions that have been maintained over the centuries. This culture, deeply rooted in the reverence of nature and sustainable living practices, is reflected in their respect for animals, rivers, and mountains, considering many of these natural entities as deities or kamuy. The Ainu have inhabited areas including Hokkaido, northern Honshu, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands, developing a way of life that coexists harmoniously with their environment.

The Ainu believe that everything in the natural world harbors spirits and that the kamuy (deity-spirits) visit the human world in the form of animals and natural phenomena, to whom they offer gifts such as meat, furs, and other valuable resources. These gifts are received with gratitude, and in return, the Ainu perform worship rituals that include songs and dances to thank and communicate with the kamuy. These rituals reflect a deep spiritual connection with nature and underscore the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.

Traditional Ainu settlements were located near lakes and rivers and along the coasts in small villages known as kotan. The houses, built with natural materials, were designed around a central hearth, and each aspect of their construction and layout had cultural and spiritual significance. The window near the hearth, called Kamuy Puyar (god’s window), allowed the kamuy to enter and leave the house.

Hunting, fishing, and gathering were central activities for the Ainu, who respected each catch as a gift from the kamuy. They practiced sustainable resource management, ensuring that nothing was wasted and that the natural balance was maintained. The relationship with animals, especially with the bear, which was considered an important kamuy, reflects the Ainu worldview of respectful and symbiotic coexistence with nature.

Ainu cultural expression also encompasses art, such as wood carving, the creation of clothing with unique and symbolic designs, and traditional music and dance. Ainu clothing, for example, is adorned with patterns that have protective and spiritual meanings, and their dances and music are not only forms of art but also spiritual practices that connect the community with the world of the kamuy.

Gastronomy of Shiretoko

Fresh Seafood

When exploring the best of nature in Shiretoko, we not only refer to its stunning landscapes but also to its exquisite culinary offerings. The seafood found here is unmatched in freshness and flavor, and your visit will not be complete until you try the local delicacies. For example, in Utoro, you must try the raw sea urchin rice bowl from Ezogashima or the varied sashimi at Kaninoya. If you are in the Shari area, we recommend visiting Shiretoko Satomi and indulging in their delicious sushi. Or perhaps you prefer the experience of cooking for yourself; in that case, head to the Utoro/Shirietoku Road station. There you will find a rest area with a market where you can purchase fresh local seafood and a variety of souvenirs to take with you.

Ezogashima Sea Urchin

In Utoro, the raw sea urchin rice bowl from Ezogashima is a must-try for its freshness and unique flavor, standing out in the local culinary offerings.

Sashimi at Kaninoya

A variety of fresh and high-quality sashimi is available at Kaninoya in Utoro, offering an authentic culinary experience of Shiretoko.

Sushi at Shiretoko Satomi

Shiretoko Satomi in Shari is the ideal place to savor exceptional sushi, prepared with the freshest seafood from the region.

Utoro/Shiretoko Road Market

For those who prefer to cook, the Utoro/Shiretoko Road station offers a market where you can purchase local seafood and souvenirs, allowing you to take a piece of Shiretoko home.

Accommodations in Shiretoko

Here is an appendix with some great hot spring accommodations to complement your experience in Shiretoko:

  1. Yuhi no Ataruie Onsen Hostel: An excellent affordable option for travelers, conveniently located a 15-minute walk from the Shari Utoro bus station. All rooms offer magnificent views of the Sea of Okhotsk.
    • Official website of Yuhi no Ataruie Onsen Hostel: Link
  2. Kitakobushi Shiretoko Hotel & Resort: A luxurious resort with all the usual amenities expected from a top-tier accommodation, located just a 6-minute walk from Oronkoiwa Rock.
    • Official website of Kitakobushi Shiretoko Hotel & Resort: Link

My top choice from this Shiretoko wish list: As an avid onsen lover, a natural outdoor onsen like Kamuiwakka Hot Falls is the natural choice. Walking outdoors is also one of my favorite activities, so there’s nothing better than a hike in a wonderful setting and ending the experience with wonderfully relaxing hot springs.