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Facts about Shiretoko Travel


World Heritage

World Heritage sites on the World Heritage List based on the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted by UNESCO in 1972 are immovable properties of universal value that belong to all peoples of the world.

1960s

When the Egyptian government was building the Aswan High Dam and it became clear that Nubian remains would become submerged, UNESCO initiated an effort to save them.
Since then, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) was launched, the White House Conference on International Cooperation in the USA proposed making a World Heritage trust, and efforts to protect historical remains and structures of historical value gained momentum.

As a result, the Convention concerning the Protection of the World and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention) was adopted by UNESCO at their 17th General Conference in 1972, and the Convention came into force in 1975 when it was ratified by 20 nations.
As of 2012, 189 nations are parties to the Convention.
World heritages are classified into the following three types based on their content:

  • Cultural Heritage: Structures and remains of significant universal value
  • Natural Heritage: Areas of geological phenomena, fauna and flora, or exceptional natural beauty of significant universal value
  • Mixed Heritage: Areas with both cultural and natural heritage of significant universal value

One huge food chain in Shiretoko

The Shiretoko Peninsula located in eastern Hokkaido is an area at the lowest latitude in the world where sea waters freeze seasonally, forming a unique food chain among various lifeforms spanning the sea, rivers, and land.
Phytoplankton multiply and search for nutrients supplied by the seawater when it melts, and zooplankton in turn search for phytoplankton and multiply in great numbers.
Shellfish and mammals such as seals then gather at the seawaters around the Shiretoko Peninsula to feed on the zooplankton. On land, animals such as foxes and bears gather at the rivers to search for salmon that come up the rivers. This huge food chain operates throughout the year.
Between the seashore and the mountain tops exists a highly diverse vegetation that is untouched by human hands, and this environment is vital for internationally rare species such as Blakiston's Fish-Owl, Stellar's Sea-Eagle, and White-tailed Sea-Eagle who breed or winter here.

Shiretoko with its unique environment was designated a national park, and the adoption of a legal framework to protect its nature led at an early stage to Shiretoko becoming a candidate for World Natural Heritage listing.

Events leading to Shiretoko's listing as a World Natural Heritage

  • May 2003 : Japan's Ministry of the Environment selects Shiretoko as a domestic candidate site for World Natural Heritage listing.
  • January 2004 : The recommendation for World Heritage listing is submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Center.
  • June 2004 : The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) conducts local inspections.
  • May 2005 : The IUCN submits the results of its assessments of World Heritage candidate sites to the UNESCO World Heritage Center.
  • July 2005 : The 29th World Heritage Committee (meeting in Durban, South Africa) decides to list Shiretoko as a World Natural Heritage site.

The areas of Shiretoko that were World Heritage listed are the Shiretoko Peninsula facing the Sea of Okhotsk and the peninsula's seawaters along the coast.
Shiretoko was positively evaluated because it has a very rough coastline carved by the sea, it is the furthest point south in the world where drift ice flows, the drift ice brings an abundance of fish and shellfish that is fed on by White-tailed Sea-Eagles and Higuma bears, and it is possible to observe a food chain that spans the sea and land in this natural environment.

The Shiretoko Peninsula

The Shiretoko Peninsula, located in eastern Hokkaido, is a long narrow peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk. Cape Shiretoko is at its tip.
Along the center of the peninsula is the Shiretoko mountain range that consists of Mt. Shiretoko at the north end and continuing south with Mt. Shiretoko-Iwo, Mt. Rausu, Mt. Onnebetsu, and Mt. Unabetsu. The Shiretoko Goko Lakes, Kamuiwakka Falls, and Oshikoshin Waterfall are on the west side (the Shari-cho side) of the peninsula, and on the east side is Lake Rausu. Panoramic views of the Sea of Okhotsk and Kunashiri Island can be seen from Shiretoko Pass. The Shiretoko Peninsula offers numerous sightseeing spots that are popular among visitors.

Since the Shiretoko Peninsula is part of the Kurile chain of volcanic islands that extend from Kamchatka in the north to Kunashiri Island, alongside the Shiretoko Peninsula, in the south, the peninsula has a large number of high-quality hot springs.

Utoro, the largest base for Shiretoko sightseeing, offers a variety of accommodations including B&Bs (minshuku) and hotels, both large and small, and there are also large hot springs in the area.

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Shiretoko Sightseeing By Boat

You can basically choose from 3 courses for seeing Shiretoko by boat. (The names of courses vary slightly among boat operators.)

The outbound route passes along the coast where you can see cliffs and waterfalls, and the return route passes further out at sea where you can view the Shiretoko mountain range from the sea or search for dolphins.

Kamuiwakka Falls (approx. 1 hour r/t)

You can enjoy seeing the hot-water Kamuiwakka Falls that flows from Mt. Shiretoko-Iwo.

Higuma bear watching (approx. 2 hours r/t)

This course goes to Rusha Bay. There is a high probability of seeing Higuma bears, Ezo deer, White-tailed Sea-Eagles, and other animals. (Since these are wild animals, we cannot give you a 100% guarantee of seeing them.)

Cape Shiretoko course (approx. 3 hours r/t)

This is a long cruise to the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula. You can also enjoy the above 2 courses on this cruise.

Main sights that can be seen from a boat.

Frepe Waterfall
This waterfall is also known as The Virgin's Tears (Otome no Namida).
It is called The Virgin's Tears because the water pours out of a cliff into the sea from a height of 100 meters.
From the cruise boat, you can view the waterfall from the bottom of the cliff, whereas on land you can see The Virgin's Tears from a different perspective.

Kunnepol Cave
In Ainu language, Kunnepol means "black (dark) cave". This large hole of about 20 meters diameter was carved out by drift ice over many years.

Kamuiwakka Falls
The source of the hot water at these falls is at Mt. Shiretoko-Iwo, in the center of the Shiretoko Peninsula. It is a magnificent wide waterfall whose water mixed with hot water drops 32 meters directly into the Sea of Okhotsk.

Rusha Bay (an area where Higuma bears appear)
At the end of the Shiretoko logging trail is the Rusha River that flows into the Sea of Okhotsk. In autumn, Pink Salmon (Karafuto-masu) and Chum Salmon (Ahirozake) can be seen swimming upriver. Higuma bears are also often seen at the mouth of the river.

Kashuni Waterfall
The water of Kashuni Waterfall falls from directly above a large round cave. In Ainu language, Kashuni means "place of a temporary hut". It is said that Ainu people stayed overnight at this spot when they traveled between Utoro and the cape.

Cape Shiretoko
Cape Shiretoko is flat area of land of about 30-40 meters elevation with cliffs around its perimeter. Since it is a specially protected area, visitors are not permitted to land here. On a clear day, it is possible to see Kunashiri Island from the area.

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Enjoying Shiretoko Hot Springs

Due to its location on top of the Kurile volcanic belt, the Shiretoko Peninsula has plenty of hot springs.

Utoro Hot Spring Village

There are a number of accommodations, both large and small, such as hotels and B&Bs (minshuku) along the coast or up on a hill, that have hot springs. At some of them, you can enjoy views of the sunset while soaking in the bath.

Since these accommodations offer a variety of special services for customers, please choose the ones that seem attractive to you.

Kamuiwakka Hot Spring Falls

The pool at the foot of the waterfall itself is a hot spring. From the bus stop it is about a 20-minute climb up the river in ankle-deep water as you head to the pool. Please come wearing attire that is okay to get wet, and in footwear that will guard against slipping.

Iwaobetsu Hot Spring

At the entrance to the trail up Mt. Rausu is a lodging known as the Chinohate ("Edge of the Earth") Hotel where you can enjoy a hot spring in the wilderness of Shiretoko (open mid-April to October). Day trips to the hot spring are OK, too. There is also a free-of-charge outdoor hot spring in front of the hotel.

Kumanoyu Hot Spring

Kumanoyu Hot Spring is a free-of-charge outdoor hot spring surrounded by primeval forest along the road from Utoro to Rausu on the Rausu side of the mountain range. The changing rooms and baths for men and women are separate.

Seseki Hot Spring

Seseki Hot Spring is located about 20 km past Rausu along the road toward Cape Shiretoko. This is a free-of-charge outdoor hot spring created with large rocks to protect it from the waves. You can relax in this hot spring bath while viewing Kunashiri Island.

Aidomari Hot Spring

Aidomari Hot Spring is located on the shore past Seseki Hot Spring near the end of the same road. This is a wild hot spring as it disappears under water at high tide.
A bit of courage might be needed to use this free-of-charge bath as there is only a hut (banya) nearby.

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Enjoying Shiretoko's Nature

It is fun to experience Shiretoko's nature following a plan you make yourself, but . . .

Having a Shiretoko nature guide, a professional who knows the area

This might be a way to make your experience of Shiretoko even richer as your guide takes you around.
The guide might tell you about Shiretoko from a personal perspective you could never learn about on your own. In Shiretoko you can choose from numerous programs led by such guides.

There are programs for all seasons, such as walking the trails of the Shiretoko Goko Lakes, wildlife watching, or drift ice walks. We invite you to experience the remarkable nature of Shiretoko through a program that looks good to you.

Popular nature experiences in Shiretoko

Walks around the Shiretoko Goko Lakes

Drift ice experiences

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Shiretoko Food Specialties

Natural food sources produced by the nature of Shiretoko, such as crabs, scallops, atka mackerel, and venison, can be enjoyed as is or combined to create an unforgettable Shiretoko flavor. These flavors of course change with the seasons.

These flavors of Shiretoko

Can be enjoyed in the town of Shari, gateway to Shiretoko, or at hot spring hotels, restaurants, the Michi-no-eki, and other locations in Utoro. We invite you to explore the area to see what is available during the season you are there.
In Utoro, places to enjoy a meal are generally located in the area around Godzilla Rock or the Shirietoku Michi-no-Eki, and in Shari, you can find places in the area around Shiretoko-Shari station or along national road 334. You can enjoy leisurely meals if you leave sufficient time in your schedule and decide the area beforehand.

What exactly is a Shiretoko flavor?

We recommend trying the "Shiretoko Shari Brand". The town of Shari has designated top-quality Shiretoko products as the Shari Brand, and these products are available throughout the town of Shari (Shari-cho, which includes Utoro and other areas).
As you can expect from designated products, they are all exceptional products that let you thoroughly enjoy the flavors of Shiretoko. When you come to Shiretoko, we hope you will try the different flavors of the Shiretoko Shari Brand.

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Shiretoko Souvenirs

When it comes to souvenirs of Shiretoko, the perennial choices are inevitably products from the Sea of Okhotsk. As you probably know, however, the fishing harbors are closed from January to March because of that great messenger of winter, the drift ice.

Drift ice stops fishing activities

While there are times when freshly-caught marine products cannot be supplied, freezing and storage technologies have been developed that now make it possible to successfully preserve the freshness of these products. These technologies are simply an extension of the wisdom of our Shiretoko forebears who came up with many ways to preserve the wide variety of marine products over long periods of time.

As a result, we can enjoy delicious fresh marine products in Shiretoko throughout the year.

For example . . .

Popular salmon (also called Akiaji locally) products include salt-preserved salmon (Aramaki), another type of salt-preserved salmon called Yamazuke, salmon roe (Ikura) and frozen raw salmon (Ruibe). These are delicious as is, or you can used them in prepared dishes. They also make good gifts. Another salmon product we recommend is Keiji, a delicacy that is said to appear only once in 10,000 fish that are caught.

Atka mackerel (Hokke) is as typical as herring (Nishin) in this part of the northern world, and it is also a good souvenir. Since Hokke loses is freshness fairly quickly (due to the oil in it) most of the Hokke being sold has been dried, but the meat is still fleshy and oily in a pleasing balance.

There are also plenty of seasonal marine products in Shiretoko, so we invite you to explore the shops to see what you can find at the time you are here.

Locations of shops

These shops are located mainly around the hot springs of Utoro or in Shari, the gateway to Shiretoko.
There are also many souvenir shops and restaurants around Godzilla Rock (Utoro) where you can enjoy shopping or eating. The Utoro Shirietoku Michi-no-Eki not only provides information about Shiretoko but also has shops that sell Shiretoko Shari Brand products. It is nice to get information and pick up some souvenirs at the same time.

In Shari, you can shop at the Michi-no-Eki there, not far from the station, or any other shops in the area that carry the Shiretoko Shari Brand products. Unlike the hot spring area of Utoro, the small towns of Hokkaido offer you the experience of shopping while imagining what life is like for people living on this expansive northern land.

Feel free to explore any of the stores that sell marine products or souvenirs, or normal food stores that sell fresh products.

Many shops also offer domestic shipping service for frozen or refrigerated products. Overseas shipping for non-perishable products may be possible. Please inquire at the individual shops if you wish to have them send your purchase overseas.

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Seasons and Attire

Shiretoko has four seasons. Below we provide some advice on what to wear for each season.

Spring (April, May, June)

Average temperatures April: 4.4°C May: 8.3°C June: 14.5°C

It is too easy to become excited about sunshine in spring and forget to bring a coat. It's a good way to catch a cold. In May, there are many warm days when temperatures rise above 10°C, but when the weather deteriorates, it is not uncommon for the temperature to drop to around 5°C. And you get even colder when the wind is up.

Clothes

It is best to keep a spring or autumn jacket with you at all times.
If you also have a light sweater or sweatshirt that you can wear under the jacket, that would be even better in case it gets colder than expected. In May, the sun is warmer during the day, so if you have a jacket with you, a normal shirt will probably suffice.

Footwear

Normal shoes are fine if you're walking at the usual sightseeing spots, but on the trail past the 2nd lake at the Shiretoko Goko Lakes, your shoes can get dirty due to snowmelt, etc. We recommend trekking shoes or boots when you walk these or other trails.

Notes

Data in recent years indicate that rainfall has been increasing in May and June compared with April, so it is probably a good idea to bring a folding umbrella or poncho with you, too.

Summer (July, August)

Average temperatures July: 18.3°C August: 20.8°C

In summer, the wind is refreshing and carries with it the scents of our natural surroundings.

In the first half of July and after the middle of August, the weather is relatively calm, but it is less stable from late July to early August, and when the weather deteriorates, the temperature can drop to less than 10°C. Mists can also appear at the lower elevations.
When the weather is good, temperatures can rise to 25-30°C and the humidity is low. For people from Honshu, where Tokyo and Osaka are located and humidity is high, Shiretoko must be delightfully refreshing.

Clothes

A long-sleeved jacket would be good to have with you in case the temperature drops.

Autumn (September, October)

Average temperatures September: 17.6°C October: 10.6°C

The wind feels cool and the autumn sky is clear. Before the onset of the long winter, the trees display their final beauty in red and yellow colors.
The temperature differences between daytime and early morning or evening are getting bigger, so it is wise not to give in to the temptation to dress lightly just because the temperature is warm now; you can catch a cold. The clothes you wear at this time are similar to spring, but because we are moving from a warm season to a cold one, you will probably feel colder than in spring.

In September, if the daytime weather is good, short sleeves are okay, but you will start to feel cold in October and temperatures drop quickly from early to late October, so you should take along a jacket.

Clear autumn skies make you feel good, but the skies are also changeable. While there are few typhoons compared to the rest of Japan, warm lows still cause rain to fall and it will be good to have a folding umbrella or poncho with you.

Clothes

Bring a long-sleeved jacket and umbrella.

Winter (November, December, January, February, March)

Average temperatures November: 4.3°C December: -2.3°C January: -5.9°C February: -6.1°C March: -2.6°C

February is the coldest month in Hokkaido. The temperature is below 0°C even during the day, and if it is windy, you will feel even colder.

Clothes

Multiple layers of clothes is basic. A good style would be to wear long-sleeved underwear or heavy tights, and over a shirt wear a sweater and an overcoat. Since body heat escapes through the head and neck, you also need to have a hat, scarf or muffler, and gloves.

Footwear

It is good to put on footwear that is above ankle-height. The tread at the bottom should be deep to prevent slipping on snow or ice. To keep your feet warm, we suggest wearing two layers of socks which might mean selecting sizes that are larger than your normal size.
Another idea is to get rubber belts with spikes that you can easily put on or take off your shoes. You can buy these at the airport or souvenir shops.
You should be aware, though, that these spikes eventually do break off the rubber belt.

Notes

Walking Tips
The roads in Hokkaido are generally covered with snow that has been packed down by cars or pedestrians. This packed snow sometimes melts and freezes again, causing the surface to become quite slippery. When you walk, for each step you should place your weight on the entire foot to guard against slipping.

Thermal Goods
You could also try using a disposable body warmer (kairo) or a thermal slip-sole in your shoes.

Cold Prevention
In the reverse of the situation where Hokkaido people who go to Tokyo during the hot summer and tend to catch cold when they go into air-conditioned buildings, people from other parts of Japan who come to Hokkaido during the cold winter tend to catch cold when they exit heated buildings. If you go back outside into the cold after having perspired in a hot building, your body chills. If you perspire, it is a good idea to quickly change into dry clothes.

Driving Tips
The scenery is completely white and the sun is out in a beautiful blue sky. This is the way Hokkaido looks in winter, but the snow is very bright and the eyes get bleary, making it hard to see. When you are out driving, the bright snow makes it hard to see the edge of the road. Please wear sunglasses while driving in very bright weather like this.