The Kushiro River is a Class-A river, which flows out of Lake Kussharo in Akan National Park in the eastern part of Hokkaido. Among the numerous rivers in Japan, most of which have rapid streams, the flow of this river is gentle and sublime, running down the shallowly sloping ground, whose vertical interval of the contour between the headstream and the river mouth is only 120 meters.
The Kushiro River boasts unparalleled affluence of nature. Running through the upstream areas covered with deep snow in winter and fresh green in summer, it feeds the famous lakes of Akan and Mashu, while in the downstream area it provides water for Japan’s largest wetland, Kushiro Shitsugen. Though taking different forms according to where it runs, the flow of the river is always gentle and magnificent.
This river is also a popular water sport ground. As there is no dam constructed from its headstream to the river mouth, which is rare for Class-A rivers in Japan, people come to enjoy canoeing from all over the country. Also, as the habitat of the Sakhalin taimen known as “the visionary fish,” the main stream and its tributaries are the longed-for place for anglers.
Bekanbeushi Marsh is located between the cities of Kushiro and Nemuro in the eastern part of Hokkaido. “Bekanbeushi (bekanbe-usi)” means “the place with a lot of water chestnuts” in the Ainu language.
The marsh is about 8,300 ha in total area, and is the 3rd largest wetland in Japan. Located only about 50 km away from Japan’s largest wetland, Kushiro Shitsugen, it hadn’t been paid attention to until 1993, when it was designated to be a Ramsar Site. This is one of the few places where the environmental conditions lay untouched by human hands since the ancient times.
The marsh is the paradise of wildlife. Especially, it is a large-scale breeding ground for red-crowned cranes. They build nests and breed in every part of the marsh. Across the street from the marsh stands the Akkeshi Waterfowl Observation Center, where you can observe what is happening on the marsh via a large screen whose image is relayed by observation camera. From the observation corner, you will be impressed by the spectacular sight of red-crowned cranes and many seasonal birds breeding.
Cape Shirepa is located at the eastern end of the coastline extending in the further east direction from the town of Kushiro, which is the easternmost town in Hokkaido. The name Shirepa derives from the Ainu word “shir-pa,” meaning “the place where the head of the land projects.”
Its attraction is sheer cliffs eroded by rough waves of the Pacific Ocean. If you see this cape from the sea, you may imagine that desolated land spreads on the cliff. On the contrary, there is a different world on this flat plateau. In the early summer, alpine flowers such as Yukiwarikozakura (Primula modesta var. fauriei) and Hakusanchidori (Orchis aristata) are in full bloom. The view of Daikoku Island, which is a paradise for seafowl, and Akkeshi Bay is superb.
If you have time, why don’t you look down at “the Sail Rock” under the cliff? You may be able to see harbor seals sunbathing around the rock.
The cape amidst the dense virgin forest? If you don't understand it, I don’t blame you. Cape Miyajima is a well-known viewing location of Japan’s largest wetland, Kushiro Shitsugen. The wetland was part of the Pacific Ocean about 10,000 years ago. After the water level began to drop 6,000 years ago, peat moss accumulated at the bottom of the sea and formed a vast wetland. Therefore, the cape was actually a “cape” protruding into the ocean in the prehistoric periods. As the area around the cape is a designated National Natural Monument, entry to the cape without permission is prohibited today.
Getting the permission is all right, but another hardship awaits you. The trail to the cape is steep and rough. You will have to go along the rolling path in the dense virgin forest for about two hours. But if you get close to the cape, you will notice the landscape has drastically changed. Just at the moment you go out of the jungle-like forest, the exquisite panoramic view of the wetland suddenly come into sight, which includes the vast extent of green land with the meandering stream of the clear blue Chiruwatsunai River. This is nothing but a cape protruding into the vast green sea.
Lake Shirarutoro is located to the north of Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland, which is the largest wetland in Japan. The whole area covering Kushiro Shitsugen used to be the sea about 10,000 years ago, so Lake Shirarutoro is said to have been formed when the coastline retreated inward and the sea water remained in the depressed part of the land. It is a small lake with a circumference of 7.5 km and a maximum depth of 2.3 m. The lake is a wild bird paradise and a good bird watching spot, where various species of birds come flying from season to season. There are some points that do not freeze even in winter, at which swans, sea eagles, and red-crowned cranes come clustering. You can stay at the camping sites or pensions in the vicinity of the lake and enjoy viewing the natural features or wild bird around the lake to your heart’s content. The lake is also known for “Okami-watari (the sound of footsteps of the god).” If you are lucky enough, you may be able to the sound of the god’s footsteps, which resonant all over the lake. After listening to Okami-watari sounds, you can view the setting sun, bending your ear to the calls of red-crowned cranes. How about spending a winter day like this?
Moshiriya Chasi located in Shiroyama Kushiro City, Hokkaido was a fort built by the Ainu people. “Moshiriya” means “a fort on the river with an island” in the Ainu. It is said to have been built in 1751 by an Ainu named Tomikara Ayano. The ruin is the elliptical hill with a major axis of 170 m and a minor axis of 70 m. The fort had three terraces on the northeastern side and two on the southwestern side. The fort area was divided into the two compounds; the inner compound and the outer one. The inner compound was surrounded by a dry moat and earth from the moat was piled up along the moat to form the earthwork. The fort was also used for a festival and meeting place. At the present time, the ruin is surrounded with a fence and preserved as a National Historic Site (designated in 1935). This is a precious cultural property left by the Ainu people.
Tsurugadai Charanke Chashi was a fort constructed by ancestors of the Ainu, Japan’s native people. It is a designated National Historic Site. “Charanke” means “a conference” and “Chashi” means “a fort” in the Ainu language. However, although this place had been considered as a holy island (“tomosiri” in the Ainu) where “tokorokamuy” (the god of the lake) had a relaxing time, the Ainu people themselves had not known that there was a fort at this place until it was discovered in 1916. Thus the name was presumably given by the people from the mainland at that time. The chashi was in elliptical shape with 30 m from east to west and 18 m from north to south and enclosed by double moats. The place used to be an island in the lake, but is connected to the surrounding land now. This is an ancient Ainu sanctuary lost in oblivion.
Akan Lake is located near the city of Kushiro, in eastern Hokkaido. The entire lake is a part of the Akan National Park, which is a representative sightseeing spot of eastern Hokkaido. The volcanic mountain Mount Akanko is located on the eastern side of Akan Lake. This lake formed in the crater of the mountain caldera, and is not fed by any river nor has any river leading out of it. Later, the lake divided into two parts following the eruption of Mount Akanko. The present Akan Lake is one of these. It is internationally famous and is registered in the Ramsar Convention as an important wetland. The lake is the habitat of flora and fauna that have been recognized as special national treasures, such as marimo, a rare algae that forms into balls,and the Japanese crane. Also, the lake is where fishes like blue-black salmon and kokanee spawn. The lake freezes in winter. People come here to ice-skating and fish for a species of local smelt (Hypomesus olidus). Furthermore, near by is the largest settlement for Ainu people, where you can see traditional culture. It is also famous for hot pools, and 1.6 million tourists visit the lake every year.