The Shirakami-Sanchi mountain range is a fabled UNESCO World Heritage Site straddling Japan's northern prefectures of Akita and Aomori. The untouched primitive beauty of nature here and the sheer scale of it all continues to mesmerize countless visitors to its lands, making it a prime destination for adventure tourism.
Here we'll provide a comprehensive guide that will help you make the most of a 2-day trip to Tohoku's Akita and Shirakami-Sanchi, including details on how to get there from Tokyo, what exciting foods to try out, and must-visit hotspots within the region.
More About Shirakami-Sanchi in the Tohoku Region
Tohoku refers to the northeastern tip of Japan's Honshu island, the Japanese archipelago's main and largest. Full of luxuriant nature that is beautiful all year round, the region is home to many hot spring areas, traditional festivals, and countryside cuisine, giving it a special allure that can't be found in modern cities. No wonder it came in third for Lonely Planet's Top Regions in its Best in Travel list for 2020!
As for Shirakami-Sanchi, this refers to a mountain range with an approximate surface area of 130,000 hectares (502 square miles) that stretches from Akita to Aomori. Also found within is the world's largest old-growth beech forest. Due to the untouched nature of the forest here and the unique ecosystem it houses, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
Fun-filled 2-day Tohoku tour with Cassie, who's visiting the region for the first time!
Cassie, who hails from the U.K., will be following our 2-day Tohoku tour itinerary. This is her first time in this region! "I'm a huge fan of wildlife and nature, so I can't wait to get started!" she exclaims.
Day 1: Take a flight from Haneda Airport to Odate-Noshiro Airport, then travel to Akita/Shirakami-Sanchi
The Tohoku region is easily accessible via plane or train from Tokyo. For this trip, we chose to fly from Haneda Airport to Akita Prefecture's Odate-Noshiro Airport. The flight takes about an hour. There are two round-trip flights every day until October 24, 2020, after which a third will be added. (Please note that the status may change depending on circumstances; please check with the airline for details before your flight.)
The best way to get around once you reach Tohoku is via rental car, and this service is available right in the airport itself. Once you rent the vehicle of your choice and load all your luggage in, drive out to Shirakami-sanchi’s gateway, Fujisato town.
Start your tour from the Shirakami-Sanchi World Heritage Conservation Center (Fujisato Hall )!
This conservation center was established with the goal of protecting, promoting, and educating others about the value of Shirakami-Sanchi as a world heritage site. It's about a 40-minute drive from Odate-Noshiro Airport.
Several exhibits on display here will shed more light on flora and fauna of Shirakami-Sanchi, as well as the various world heritage sites in Japan and around the world. There is a lot of useful information a visitor to the area may appreciate knowing before gearing up to explore the region proper, including free maps.
Mr. Suganuma, a well-known expert of the local area, will be our guide around Shirakami-Sanchi for this trip. Having a savvy local guide take us around will surely make our adventure to the region a lot more fun and fulfilling!
Shirakami-Sanchi World Heritage Conservation Center白神山地世界遺産センター
- Address 63 Satoguri Fujikoto, Fujisato, Yamamoto-gun, Akita-ken
- Phone Number 0185-79-3001
・Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (December to February 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
・Closed: Tuesdays (the next day if Tuesday is a public holiday)*Mondays and Tuesdays from December to February (Tuesdays and Wednesdays during public holidays)
After Mr. Suganuma shared more about Shirakami-Sanchi's history, general scene, our destinations, and flora and fauna in the region, we couldn't help but feel even more excited about the trip ahead!
Visit Dakedai Nature Observation Woods for easy walking trails along beautiful natural sights
There are plenty of hiking trails in the region, but our recommended one is in the Dakedai area. This little-known secret spot allows you to easily access a forest that's practically indistinguishable from the one designated as a world heritage site, which is unfortunately off-limits to regular visitors.
Few people trek on this trail, making it a peaceful and serene place to enjoy nature at leisure. The path is also relatively flat. People of all ages will find it a pleasure to stroll along this easy track.
Step inside a mysterious fantasy-like world of lush greenery!
The entrance to the trail is about a 40-minute drive from the World Heritage Conservation Center, where an expansive forest of nothing but lush greenery will be greeting you.
It was sprinkling on the day we visited, and the rain actually made the wildlife easier to observe. What's more, it added a layer of unusual mystique to our photographs of the area! The beech leaves acted as a canopy shielding us from the droplets, so the rain didn't bother us at all as we hiked.
Behold a 400-year old beech tree that serves as the symbol of Dakedai (a beech tree's typical lifespan is about 200 years). Its commanding presence sets it apart from the other trees around it.
Mr. Suganuma kindly shared interesting facts about the plants here with us, including how they would adapt to extreme natural conditions. For example, during winter, the beech trees curve their trunks to avoid breaking from the weight of heavy snow as the trees remain hidden underneath. That's why you'll see that their roots are also curved!
Shirakami-Sanchi's spring water, filtered through mulch, is one of Japan's best-tasting soft water.
Indulging in the tranquility of a forest – in a way known to the Japanese as "forest bathing" – in a land far away from the hustle and bustle of modern city life, was an excellent way to recharge our batteries. Cassie remarked about how pleasant the air in the forest was, and how much it refreshed her as well. Now we're all set for the next leg of our adventure!
Dakedai Nature Education Forest岳岱自然観察教育林
- Address Fujisato-cho, Yamamoto-gun, Akita-ken
Tenyo Liquor Store: The best local liquors Akita has to offer and more
While Shirakami-Sanchi is a fantastic place, don't forget we're here to explore Akita as well! After that revitalizing nature walk, drive towards the town of Noshiro, which faces the Japan Sea. Akita is known as a rice-producing prefecture, and that naturally means nihonshu (Japanese rice wine) is one of its local specialties! The town's Tenyo Liquor Store is a homegrown shop that deals with alcohol made in Akita itself.
Inside the shop, you'll only see alcohol brands from sake breweries the shop owner has vetted with his sharp, connoisseur senses. More than merely selling bottles, it is shop owner Mr. Asano's sincere wish to help customers find sake breweries they can feel a connection to while having a taste of the alcohol these breweries are dedicated to crafting.
Mr. Asano is also happy to share more about the history and features of each brewery featured in his shop. You're bound to find something that suits your drinking palate!
Tenyo Liquor Store天洋酒店
- Address 8-16 Omachi, Noshiro-shi, Akita-ken
- Phone Number 0185-52-3722
・Hours: Weekdays 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.; Sundays/Holidays 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
・Closed: Every third Monday of the month
Sakedoko Berabo: For tasty local food and warm hospitality
With its abundance of nature and close distance to the sea, Akita is a treasure trove of fresh and tasty food ingredients of all sorts, from meat to seafood and vegetables. You don't want to miss the region's local specialties, so get ready and head to Sakedoko Berabo, located near Noshiro Station.
This is a local izakaya (Japanese-style pub)that proudly offers great-tasting Noshiro cuisine, and the shop is very popular among both residents and visitors because of that.
Shop owner Mr. Narita was born and bred in Akita but has had the opportunity to travel around various countries in Europe due to his work in the past. The friendly personality and approachable character he developed because of that has become one of the biggest selling points of the shop!
"I opened the shop because I just wanted to drink, you know," said Mr. Narita. As we watched him check on the shop guests and personalize his service to each, however, it became abundantly clear that he ran the shop with love despite his initial assertion of simply wanting to drink! "I do try to make it so that those who came from another prefecture or overseas can still relax and have a good time here as well!" he mentioned.
Although the menu is not yet available in English, and there are no English-speaking staff on hand, it's clear the shop communicates a language that goes beyond words. Enjoying local food and drinks in this restaurant will be the perfect way to end the first day of your Akita trip.
Sakedoko Berabo酒どこ べらぼう
- Address 2-39 Yanagi-machi, Noshiro-shi, Akita-ken
- Phone Number 0185-54-4066
・Hours: 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Day 2: Head to popular Shirakami-Sanchi attraction Juniko (Twelve Lakes) to pet some Akita dogs!
Start the second day of the trip by heading to the Juniko lake area in Aoike (Blue Pond), one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Shirakami-Sanchi.Beforehand, meet a well-known icon of Akita Prefecture - Akita dogs! Book a time slot in advance via Voyagin to enjoy a one-hour petting experience with these charming canines.
Mr. Motose, an experienced breeder of Akita dogs, selects the dogs in the best form that day for the petting experience after considering all factors, including how familiar the visitors already are with dogs.
The experience starts with holding an adorable puppy with fluffy fur and cute round eyes, and you simply can't help but have a huge grin plastered on your face the entire time.
The next part of the experience has you taking an Akita dog out for a walk! Although Akita dogs are large and strong, they're also known for their intelligence and docile temperament. Mr. Motose will give valuable tips on how to hold the leash and walk the dog properly.
"They're so adorable!" exclaimed Cassie after the experience. "I love animals, so this activity was made for me!"
Many other places offer petting experiences with Akita dogs, but this is the only one where you can hold them and take them for walks, a testament to how well-treated these precious dogs are, and the stress-free way they were raised!
Making memories with Resort Shirakami on the way to Juniko
The next destination is Juniko on the Aomori Prefecture side, which can be reached by taking a sightseeing train called Resort Shirakami on the JR Gono Line. The train slows down whenever it passes by an impressive-looking landscape for passengers to enjoy the sights at leisure. Events are sometimes held on board, and local items are available to be bought as souvenirs as well.
Trail towards Aoike, a must-visit attraction of Juniko!
Juniko, which literally translates to "twelve lakes," is the collective name for 33 lakes in Aomori and Shirakami-Sanchi. The name has the number "twelve" in it because 12 lakes can be seen from the mountain in the area.
Start from Ketoba Lake and stroll at a leisurely pace for about 1.5 hours.
Once you arrive at Aoike, which literally means "blue pond," you'll understand why it was named that way. The vibrant blue sheen it has will be like nothing you've ever seen before. What's more, depending on the season, weather conditions, and time of day, the face of the pond undergoes subtle changes as well!
Climb up a set of stairs to come face-to-face with a natural beech forest, clad with a thin veil of cool and crisp mist. The calm and clean surroundings gives it an air of sanctity that seems to purify everything to the core.
"It's almost like I've stepped into a movie scene," commented Cassie. "This place is simply otherworldly!" We couldn't help but stay for a while to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere here.
These verdant woods turn a warm shade of yellow during autumn.
Fallen trees and thick moss work together to paint naturally beautiful work of art.
Appreciating nature by following appropriate etiquette at this world heritage site
It's not easy to find untouched greenery in this ultra-modern world, so please follow proper etiquette and DO NOT attempt to pick up any parts of the trees, grass, or fallen fruit as a souvenir to bring home. Instead, be satisfied with the unique memories imprinted on your mind and captured in your camera. Also, DO NOT leave behind any litter or deviate from the marked pathway during your walks, so as not to disrupt the ecosystem in the forest.
After fully appreciating what nature has to offer, it's time to leave Juniko. Head towards the Aomori side this time and either take a flight from Aomori Airport or train from Shin-Aomori Station on the JR lines for your trip back home.
A fulfilling trip to Tohoku Akita's Shirakami-Sanchi awaits
"There are many natural places here that can't be seen anywhere else, along with exciting secret spots that haven't been explored by many people yet," said Cassie of the trip. "If you're a fan of world heritage sites, you'll be a fan of this place too! Not to forget how cute the Akita dogs were. I'll definitely be visiting again if I can!"
Our trip to Shirakami-Sanchi was an eye-opener. Lovely landscapes, a deep-rooted unique local food culture, and warm hospitality await anyone who dares to step out of their comfort zone and venture into this region. Try something new today and let the power of Akita's natural sights and sounds reenergize both your mind and body!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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