Friday, 7 May 2010

Shirakami Sanchi

A trip to the onsen, and early night and we woke bright and early to Hiro's mother's breakfast mostly on the table.  Mountain vegetable picking season has begun and we feasted on local foods  that aren't found in Tokyo..... I really should have made a better note of them...Mountain veges can be quite bitter, but prepared well they are a treat.

We were up early to go to Shirakami sanchi mountain area  and beyond, up the Tsugaru peninsula of Aomori province. Shirakami is the triangle on the south west (BLHS) of the map. Tsugaru is the large peninsula in the north west (TRHS).Odate is off the map, just south of the dotted yellow line that shows the border between Akita and Aomori.
Shirakami Sanchi is pristine beech forest, and without doubt the most natural nature i have seen in Japan. It is also Tohoku's only UNESCO World Heritage site. It's somewhere I have been wanting to go for years, but had only made it as far as the visitor centre on a cold and wet day on a trip back from Hirosaki....  Looking at pictures of trees isn't really the same as walking through them.

We took a back road  to avoid holiday traffic, and passed through countryside, where the roads were straight and the farming paddocks large. Quite unusual in most of Japan - and indicates relatively recent agricultural settlement.  Traditionally most roads in the countryside are narrow and windy and trace the edge of rice paddy borders and rivers.    I assumed it was because the winters there are so severe - utterly vile in fact. Blizzards, snow,  blizzards,  snow, inaccessible roads... Much of the the 1800mm or so rainfall each year comes in blizzards....   According to Hiro that's unlikely to be the reason - much of the settled parts of  the Japan Sea coast have similarly severe winter - rather it was more to do with lack of a year round water source to enable rice cultivation.    

Possibly in the past it was an area inhabited by semi-settled bear hunting clans.

We took the turn  off the coast road to Juuni ko (12 lakes) though actually there are more than 30 lakes there...It was really pretty.  Much of Tohoku used to be beech trees - their leaves are cope well with heavy snow falls - but cedar trees, the staple of the plantation industry, now dominate.  Shirakami sanchi area was too remote, too inhospitable, and too far from a port to make planations feasible. Surprisingly though the beech tree forest is only 800 years old, a product of the thawing of the last mini ice age.

I would like to go back in different seasons, in part because it looks remarkably different depending on season,  and in part because the Shirakami skyline road was still untrafficable due to snow making it impractical to go through to the other side of the forest.  This is a link to a video made by Japan's national broadcaster, NHK,   showing the park at different times of the year.

One of the Juuniko lakes
Aoike (the blue lake... rather aptly named)

Beech forest of shirakami coming into spring
Beech forest of shirakami
We were lucky enough to see a wild monkey!  It had no fear of humans at all.  It stayed there quite happily, aware that there were people there.  In more heavily touristed areas / areas closer to human settlement monkeys can become very unpleasantly aggressive in demanding food.
A lake
Better not miss the bus! Train connection information is indicated in the right hand column.   The bus timetable on the Konan Bus company website.  a blog with beautiful autumn pictures of shirakami

No comments: