About Shirakami Sanchi
Shirakami Sanchi is a collective term for a mountainous area that extends from southwestern Aomori Prefecture to northwestern Akita Prefecture and covers approximately 130,000 hectares. Of this, 16,971 hectares is a natural native virgin beech forest. This part was registered in December 1993 as Japan's first World Natural Heritage Site along with Yakushima. Beech forests in Shirakami Sanchi are precious forests that are preserved in their native state and are diverse in flora and fauna. These forests are typically found in East Asia and have been around since the Last Glacial period. It is an area that shows a museum-like landscape of deciduous broad-leaved forests of mostly Japanese beech, a native species of Japan.
The forest's richness preserves an ecosystem where a wide variety of animals and plants are able to coexist.
The World Heritage Site is divided into the core and buffer zones, they are undeveloped and are to be protected as they are. Particularly the core zone. From Aomori Prefecture, the core zone can only be entered with permission by 27 designated routes. However, entrance into the core zone from Akita Prefecture is prohibited. Since no roads pass through the core zone forests, one would need to have highly advanced skills and knowledge to enter the mountain.
Shirakami Sanchi was registered as a World Natural Heritage Site for having "one of the world's largest natural virgin beech forests that has hardly been affected by human influences." The beech forest and Shirakami Sanchi are called "natural water basins," and those living in the area have lived with the many blessings from its waters.
However, in the 1970s, a forest road - seishin rindo - plan was proposed to build a road across the Shirakami Sanchi mountains. Because completing the road was equivalent to losing invaluable water sources, people began to oppose the plan and eventually road planning was stopped. As a result, the protection of the beech forest being equivalent to the protection of the water led to the registration of Shirakami Sanchi as a World Natural Heritage Site.
About the people of Shirakami
Beech forests began to form approximately 10,000 years before the end of the Last Glacial period, and by the Jomon period, approximately 8,000 years ago, they were fully formed. Most of the ruins excavated from around Shirakami Sanchi are from the Jomon period. The people during the Jomon period are said to have collected beech seeds, chestnuts, walnuts, and mushrooms; in addition to salmon and trout that swam upstream of a central river that blessed the forest, and shellfish from around the sea.
During the Edo period, the Tsugaru clan governed the north side of the Shirakami Sanchi area, and the Akita clan governed the south. The writings of journalist and natural historian Masumi Sugae make the earliest references to the name 'Shirakami'. It is thought that by that time the Matagi were already hunting, but it cannot be known for sure when they began.
In the area surrounding the settlements, trees such as beech were used for fuel and building materials. Over a long period, other activities like the gathering of wild plants and nuts, and traditional Matagi hunting were also depended on by the locals for their livelihood.
Born through their relationships with the forest, the unique culture of the people of Shirakami Sanchi still lives on today.
This beech forest is a forest where a wide variety of plants coexist. The various animals found here also live off of these plants. Beech trees do not grow in a manner where a single tree grows past the others. It is thought that the trees grow at the same height because they know this will protect them from damage caused by strong winds, lightning, and such. For this reason, the beech trees of Shirakami Sanchi is often referred to as the "forest of harmony."
One of the characteristics of the beech forest is that you do not need an umbrella during light rain. The beech trees catch the rain with their leaves and pour the rain along the branches, down the trunks and into the ground. The water-soaked ground is mulch made up of dead leaves that have piled up over several decades, or even over hundreds of years. Water is very slowly filtered over a long period of time through the ground, becoming spring water, flowing into the river, and then finally pouring into the sea. This is why the beech forest is said to be rich with natural water. It is thought that a single beech tree can store about 8 tons of water.
Beech leaves are thin, especially during the season where the leaves are newly green. They are so thin that their shadow can appear green. Soft sunlight shines through the gaps between the overlapping leaves. As you enter the forest you will feel as if you are taking a green shower. The beech forest has a serene and calming atmosphere that cannot be experienced in a bustling modern life.
Natural virgin beech forests set the background for rare plants such as the Aomori catchfly, Veronica schmidtiana Regel, Ranzania japonica, and the Hylotelephium tsugaruense. These semi-endemic and limitedly distributed plants make up the over 500 species of plant life that can be seen stretching from the northern to southern limits of the Shirakami Sanchi zone.
When it comes to animals, species such as the Japanese macaque (also known to many as the snow monkey), Asian black bear, the Japanese serow and the Japanese dormouse (both of which are designated natural monuments of Japan) make up some of the 14 mammal species living in the region. Among the birds, the nesting of natural monuments, the Black woodpecker and Japanese golden eagle have been confirmed. As well as such other precious species such as the Hodgon's hawk-eagle and the harlquin duck can also be seen. With waterfronts such as the beautiful and pristine Lake Juniko, Shirakami Sanchi has also become a visiting place for wild birds from overseas, such as the Ruddy Woodpecker.
The Shirakami Sanchi range is considered to have been created by the uplift of the Japanese sea, which started roughly two million years ago. Even now it is still considered to be rising. The lands geological features are set on a base of granite formed over ninety million years ago, and consists of sedimentary and intrusive rock formed between about twenty to twelve million years ago. The lands topology is the result of erosion by rivers over the course of millions of years, which has led to the forming of steep cliffs and generally rugged terrain. Land with slopes of over 30 degrees make up over half of Shirakami Sanchi's total area. With the many deeply-cut valleys present, many mountain streams and rapids can also be found in this area. While the land is still continously rising, soil collapse and landslides occur often — a sign that the land is still undergoing changes to its shape.
Mt. Kodake's summit is 1,042 meters above sea level. Its summit is within the Shirakami Sanchi World Heritage Site. From the top, the west offers sweeping views of the core area, and Mt. Futatsumori, Mt. Mukai-Shirakami and Mt. Shirakami. Access to the trailhead is paved up until Lake Subari, but the road ahead of that is unpaved. So, accessing the mountain with a local guide is recommended. There are two climbing routes to the summit, both of which go through a rich beech forest.
With a summit altitude of 1,087 meters above sea level, Mt. Futatsumori is also included in the Shirakami Sanchi World Heritage Site. With its trailhead beginning at the end of Seishu road, this is one of the most easily accessible routes if one wants to enter deep into the Shirakami Sanchi range. From the summit, one can see Mt. Shirakami, Mt. Mukai-Shirakami, Mt. Kodake and other mountains making up the heritage site. It takes only a short 40 minutes to reach the peak of this mountain, and this ease of access makes it a popular mountain for climbing.
This mountain has a peak of 1,158 meters. It has two paths for climbing, and is known for having a summit ridge that is traversable. Among the two routes, the route from the Kuroishizawa mountain entrance passes through Tanashiro marsh, where one can enjoy seasonal flowers. This makes it a popular path up the mountain. From the summit, one can see Mt. Kodake, Mt. Futatsumori, and a great view of the Shirakami Sanchi World Heritage Site.
This mountain is popular amongst hikers as it can be accessed via the Tsugaru mountain pass, and includes a walk through a brightly lit beech forest where sunlight filters in through the leaves. In addition to the round-trip course to the summit, there are long courses to either the Aqua Green Village ANMON, or the Anmon Falls hike, which you can choose according to your skill and physical strength.
This mountain has a visible view of the famous Juniko Lakes from its peak. The start of the mountain trailhead is located next to the famous Aoike pond, 15 minutes from the final Juniko Lakes bus stop.
Adjacent to the World Heritage Site zone, this forest in particular is said to resemble the untouched forest of the World Heritage Site's core zone. The forest is famous for a gigantic beech tree, thought to be over 400-years-old. In addition, visitors can see with extreme clarity, the life cycle of beech trees within the beech forest, from the stage of infancy as seedlings, all the way up to elderliness. In the neighboring area there is also a famous tree nicknamed 'Mononoke Beech,' named after its mossy appearance being reminiscent of the fantasy world of Princess Mononoke (A Studio Ghibli film). It is a popular spot that boasts a bright-green shower of colors in spring, and falling yellow leaves during autumn.
Located about 15 minutes from Mt. Fujisato Komagatake, it is one of the few wetlands in the Shirakami Sanchi mountain range. With white lilies (Lysichiton camtschatcensis) in spring, daylilies (Hemerocallis esculenta) in early July, and vivid fall foliage in autumn, the many seasonal highland plants found in the expansive fields of Tanashiro Marsh, reward visitors that venture to see their beauty.
Located in a scenic spot along the road that connects Fujisato Town in Akita, and Nishimeya Village in Aomori, this trail takes you through some of Shirakami Sanchi's breathtaking valleys and ravines, such as Hibarazawa Gorge. In particular, the autumn palette of colors is wonderful -- the contrast between the hardwood reds, yellows and oranges and the coniferous greens are a delight to the eyes.
Mase Keikoku 'Mase Valley' (Sanjugama Gorge)
Spawned from within Shirakami Sanchi, the stunning valleys created by the Mase River are best represented by the Sanjugama Gorge. Not only great for enjoying the refreshing breeze and bright green colors in spring, it is also famously known as a spot for viewing the autumn colors. Start your walk to the valley at the Hachimori Bunakko Land.
Tsugaru Quasi-National Park Juniko Lakes ('Twelve Lakes')
On the western edge of Shirakami Sanchi in the Aomori town of Fukaura, lies the famous "Twelve Lakes." The landmark gets its name as out of the 33 small lakes making up the group, only 12 can be seen from the lookout point atop Mt. Kuzure. One of these ponds, Aoike (meaning "blue pond"), is named after its water's mystical and visually striking deep blue color. Also famous for its similar shining blue water is Wakitsubo Pond. Similar to the heritage zone, expansive beech forests surround the lake, and from spring to autumn one can experience its changing landscape while trekking through the area. In addition to the lakes, the contrast of the white bare rock of the Nihon Canyon and the blue skies make for an abundance of visually vivid scenery.More
The most famous of the Juniko Lakes, Aoike Pond's unbelievably deep and mystical blue color makes it look as if it has been dyed by ink. The depth of the lake's blue color changes with the surrounding lighting conditions. Therefore, the lake will take on a different appearance depending on the time of your visit. The lake is nine meters deep, and if you look carefully, you can see fish swimming in it.
Just as popular as Aoike is Wakitsubo Pond, whose beautiful waters are also sparkling and deep blue. Water from nearby springs flow into this lake, and Japanese green tea made with this water can be enjoyed at Juniko-an tea house. While absorbing the sounds of distant flowing water and breathing in the crisp forest air, yield yourself to the beeches and enjoy the forest therapy.
Caused by erosion and collapse, the precipitous faces of these cliffs have been exposed and left bone-white. Due to its resemblance to America's Grand Canyon, it was named "Japan Canyon." While enjoying the picturesque contrast of the surrounding green canopies and blue skies, take a quick detour from your walk through Juniko Lakes and give this canyon a visit. It's a 15-minute walk from Higurashi Bridge's nearby car park to the base of the cliffs.
A three-tiered waterfall, the tiers are numbered, with the "Third Fall" beginning at the bottom. This course is popular because it is accessible by following the walking trail along the Anmon River. It is located within the buffer area of World Heritage Site Shirakami Sanchi and is surrounded by a large native beech forest.
At this spot there is a magnificent view of the Shirakami Mountains. There is also a walking path in the area where visitors can come in contact with a 300-year-old giant beech tree.
Shirakami no Mori Promenade
A forest that has been carefully protected by the local people -- it has not been planted in or felled for a long time. Here, you can experience a beech forest similar to the forests of the World Heritage Site's core zone. Roughly 30 minutes by car trip from Ajigasawa Station, it is easily accessible. There are two courses that can be selected according to the length of your stay, but you will need to pay a fee to enter the trail. Please pay at “Kuromori kan" located at the entrance of the course.
Named one of the 100 best waterfalls in Japan, this majestic waterfall is approximately 85 meters high and 15 meters wide. People say that the shape of the fall looks like the Bodhisattva, Kannon's clasped together in prayer. Because of this, it has been treated as a spiritual place for a long time. The walking path from the parking lot will lead you to the waterfall in about 15-minutes. Passing through the beech and Mizunara forests, you can encounter many wild birds.
Shirakami-Sanchi World Heritage Conservation Center
Located in Fujisato Town, here, you can learn about the World Heritage Site Shirakami Sanchi through dioramas and displays. In addition, a nature observation advisor stationed at the center can give first time visitors more information about the different aspects of Shirakami Sanchi. This center also serves as a good meet-up point for those planning to hike nearby Dakedai and Mt. Fujisato-Komagatake.
Shirakami Sanchi Mori no Eki
This community market is adjacent to the Shirakami-Sanchi World Heritage Conservation Center, and serves as both an information center and gift shop for visitors of the Shirakami Mountains. Along with souvenirs and local agricultural products, you can also rest and enjoy a meal here. Items on the menu include things such as a lamb and watercress rice bowl and soft serve ice cream.
Hachimori Bunnako Land
A good base facility for those planning to climb Mt. Futatsumori and/or explore the Mase Valley. In addition to the Forest Science Museum where you can learn about Shirakami Sanchi and the beech forests, there are also reception services for the nearby barbecue areas and a small shop.
Juniko Eco-Museum Kokyokan
Learn about Shirakami Sanchi's nature and the flora and fauna found around the Juniko Lakes through videos and dioramas at this exhibition facility. From here there is also a trekking path that you can take to reach the Juniko Lakes.
Kyororo Souvenir Shop
Located at the walking base of the Juniko Lakes, this facility sells souvenirs as well as light meals and snacks. It can be accessed by bus from Juniko Station. Parking is also available for 500 yen for those that choose to drive. From Kyororo, it is an approximately 15-minute walk to Aoike Pond. Along with that, there is a popular walking course that winds through the natural beech forest, and also passes the famous Wakitsubo Pond.
Shirakami Sanchi Visitors Center
A facility in Nishimeya Village (Aomori Prefecture), where you can learn about the charm of Shirakami Sanchi. Inside the center, you can experience the nature of Shirakami Sanchi through a video and exhibits on beech trees, animals, and plants found within the area. In addition, learn about the coexistence of people with the forests, through stories of the Matagi. This center is a great place to visit before entering World Heritage Site Shirakami Sanchi.
Aqua Green Village ANMON
A village that provides facilities for trekking to Anmon Falls, Tsugaru Pass, and Takakura Forest. Here you can take a break, have a meal, shop for souvenirs, or take a bath in a natural hot spring. There are also cottages and auto campgrounds where you can stay overnight with reservation.
Lake Subari (Subari Dam)
A man-made lake created by the construction of a dam, the water is supplied throughout the Shirakami area where various vegetables are grown. There is a park nearby, along with a campsite and restaurant where you can relax. In the restaurant, you can eat Fujisato Town's special Suffolk lamb. This spot is also famous for its autumn leaves.
Lake Tsugaru Shirakami
You can enjoy an amphibious bus ride at this dam lake located at the entrance of the Shirakami Mountains in Nishimeya Village.More
This waterfall is located on the way to Dakedai Forest and Mt. Fujisato-Komagatake. It is known for being a spot where people can swim in the summer, and admire the vivid colors in autumn. It is close to the Shirakami Sanchi World Heritage Conservation Center and Hotel Yutoria Fujisato, making it an ideal destination for a morning walk.
There is a waterfall at the far side of Yunosawa hot spring village in Fujisato Town (where Hotel Yutoria is also located). Its drop is about 18-meters. A unique waterfall where you can see the back face of the waterfall as you walk around its basin, it is named after the eroded shape of the rocks that surround it.
Iwadate Coast and Takinoma Coast
A scenic coastline with cliffs of various sizes. Also a popular spot for beautiful sunsets. In summer, you can enjoy swimming in the natural “Iwadate Seaside Pool" that is sourced from the sea and looking for sea creatures in the rocks. It is also a famous place for hata-hata (Japanese sand fish) fishing, which takes place in winter.
The steep cliffs of this shore boldly contrast with the cobalt blue sea. The cliffs, having been shaped by the rough waves of the Sea of Japan, are said to resemble an elephant's face. In the evening, the sun setting beautifully between the rocks makes this a popular photo spot.
This coast was formed from bedrock that was raised by an earthquake that occurred in 1792. Its name derives from its wide spreading and flat shelf-like surface resembling "a thousand laid tatami mats" (English translation). It is also a famous sunset spot.
The abundant water gifted by Shirakami Sanchi is used to operate various thriving businesses in the area including, a mineral water company and cosmetics company. In recent years, the natural yeast “Shirakami Kodama Yeast," which was discovered in the mulch of Shirakami Sanchi, has gotten the reputation for producing rich sweetness and aroma when used in baking. Attempts to discover new bacteria from the Shirakami Mountains, such as the lactic acid bacterium Sakuraku, are also ongoing.