//By Keith Ikoma//
Shirakami Sanchi and Aomori’s West Coast
On the border between Aomori Prefecture (青森県) and Akita Prefecture (秋田県) is a sleepy little section of the world called Shirakami Sanchi (白神山地). While it is listed as World Heritage Sight (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/663), it does not seem busy at all. Perhaps the secluded location is the reason for the area’s ability to retain a large area of forest and today remains out of reach of many tourists. The inner area is protected because of its virgin beech forests, but there is plenty to do in the area.
This summer, I had the chance to climb Futatsumori, which is on the west side of Shirakami Sanchi. It was a short 45-minute stroll up a path thanks to roads that lead through the forest, up the mountain, and to a secluded trailhead. The view from the top is incredible.
Amazingly, in the middle of August, I ran into only one family during my two hours on the mountain – other than a couple sitting at the bottom of the trail enjoying their time in the forest. This west section of the park is easily accessibly by car, but guided hikes are also available (http://www.town.happou.akita.jp/taiken/2015093000019/ might be a good place to start, but it’s all in Japanese).
Further Inland and the Visitor’s Centre
Approaching the park from the south through Fujisato (藤里町), there are plenty of roads (many unpaved) that lead throughout the park. I had a chance to visit this area in November of 2015. Being later in the season, our activities were somewhat restricted, but generally things were accessible. It also meant that there were more monkeys than people in many places we visited.
There is also a visitor’s centre (http://www.shirakami-visitor.jp/), which is probably helpful in some ways and it has a video about the region, but it is also suffers from low production value (by contrast, the centre’s website is beautiful and full of useful information).
Anmon Falls (暗門の滝)
Although the path to the Anmon Falls has now been dismantled, the area itself provides some beautiful walking paths. Also, nearby to the falls is a great little camping area, which includes a full Japanese-style communal bathhouse (http://www.kumagera.net/).
Juniko (Twelve Lakes) (十二湖)
One of the more well-visited areas of region is a place called Juniko. The lakes are beautiful and have a variety of colours. The blue pond, for example, is really, really blue. When I was there in November two years ago, the paths were covered with the coloured leaves that had fallen to give an amazing contrast to the grey skies, coloured lakes, and green undergrowth.
Near Juniko is an area called the Japan Canyon (日本キャニオン), supposedly Japan’s version of the Grand Canyon – although it is not really fair to compare the two. Still, it is beautiful.
The Aomori West Coast
I’ve now had the chance to visit this area in both late-autumn and mid-summer. In the very south part of Aomori (only minutes away from Akita) is a rock formation jutting out into the water called Gangara (ガンガラ穴).
Just a little north is a small peninsula called Fukaura (深浦), which seems to specialize in beautiful coastal views and onsens (hot spring centres) with baths that have high iron content and beautiful ocean views. Koganezakifurofushi Onsen (http://www.furofushi.com/, pictured below) has a bath that sits on the beach, so you can look directly out into the sea from the bath. There are also camping areas, one of which I used, although it seemed that some people just tented on the coast without a reservation or payment.