Path through Shiretoko Peninsula History
This winter I did a good deal of traveling to the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido—before COVID-19 turned into a pandemic. The purpose of my trips to the remote north varied from filming my first movie to preparing an exhibition. And in spare moments from work, I busied myself walking in the forest, admiring the sea, and climbing the mountains. Now after spending much time in the area, I have been to remarkable places on the peninsula. Yet every visit is intriguing, because the forest and sea and mountain always offer a new discovery.
A short way from Utoro district, perched on a hill, is the Shiretoko National Park Nature Center. This is my go-to stop during each stay and my base for further exploration. From here, I trek either west to the Sea of Okhotsk or east to the mountain. The sea trail leads to the top of a 100-meter-high cliff with a view of Furepe Waterfall from above. The spectacle never fails to amaze first-time visitors, and I make it a rule to recommend it to friends planning a trip to Shiretoko.
The mountain trail heading inland has fewer people. It opened in the autumn of 2017 and was named the “land reclamation hut course.” Despite the lack of sights like Furepe Waterfall, I am quite a fan of this trail. In the winter I often follow it wearing snowshoes.
The coasts of Shiretoko were originally home to the indigenous Ainu people. Twentieth-century modernization brought small groups of settlers seeking to reclaim the land for agriculture. But the sites were eventually abandoned, and the area between Utoro and Cape Shiretoko, at the tip of the peninsula, was never settled. Fearing this vacant land might attract rampant development, volunteers launched in 1977 the 100 Square-Meter Forest Movement. They collected funds through a nationwide drive to buy up and reforest the land. Efforts to restore the forest to its original condition are still in progress today.
The “land reclamation hut course” is a quiet path through the history of the woodland. The trees that have been planted stand in neat lines today, but will eventually grow and form buds and create a diverse environment in 50 to 100 years. Along the route is the actual hut used by the settlers. I like to imagine what life was like back then—how they fetched their water, where they did their farming. Farther on is a hill with a rewarding view of the Shiretoko mountain range.
The slightly higher elevation means the weather can quickly change. But on a clear, still day, I can see the snow sparkling and hear it rustling as it falls from the trees, or find the footprints of wild animals and picture their lives in this secluded place. Above all, I like the general absence of tourists.
After a moderate two- to three-hour trek here, the seaside atmosphere back in Utoro district feels very different. But the sight of drift ice along the coast is a powerful reminder of the connection between the sea and the forest I left moments ago. I recommend the trail to anyone who has the chance to visit easternmost Hokkaido in mid winter. After the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it will draw out your inner wild side and give you hope for the future.
1977 Born in Tokyo, Japan
2002 Waseda University, Tokyo, B.F.A.
2005 Tokyo University of the Arts, M.F.A.
2008 Tokyo University of the Arts, Ph.D.
Lives and works in Tokyo