Become one with nature at Shakotan
KAMUIMISAKI cape is located on the north-western edge of the Shakotan Peninsula in Hokkaido. I walked along a narrow path that looked like a mountain ridge going as high as 80m above sea level. I proceeded for about 20 minutes amid the ocean wind and then came to the tip of the cape, which overlooks the crystal-blue Sea of Japan. This beautiful colour is known as Shakotan blue.
As the horizon appears slightly curved at both ends when observed from the tip of the cape, you can see that the Earth is round. Though it takes about an hour from the centre of Shakotan by car, the spectacle is worth the trip.
The sea offers not only this impressive view but also a variety of seafood. The town is famous for its nama uni don (raw sea-urchin roe topping a bowl of rice). I was there, however, just after the fishing season, which is only from June till August.
Even so, a Japanese restaurant I visited for lunch offered steamed sea-urchin roe and I enjoyed the kaisendon sashimi bowl decorated lavishly with northern shrimp and seasonal salmon roe. The sea urchin roe melted in my mouth and I could taste its subtle sweetness. I felt a sense of the abundance of the sea.
Forests account for 80 per cent of the town. The rains that fall on the highlands are soaked up in the mountain areas and the nutrient-laden rivers flow into the sea. This process is believed to help the growth of seafood and seaweed.
In 2010, Japan Tobacco (JT) began a 10-year project called JT Forest Shakotan to help the conservation of these mountains. JT subsidises the costs of forest thinning, weeding and afforestation over 350ha within the reach of three rivers running through the town, including the Bikunigawa river.
"Ill-maintained forests are recovering," said Shakotan Mayor Hideki Matsui, 68. "I want to scientifically prove that mountains foster the ocean."
Experts on forests, rivers and seas have already started investigations in their various fields.
"I hope they will collect enough data soon so that we can properly explain to children, who will be responsible for the next generation," Mr Matsui said.
Forests not only nurture the abundant sea, but are also helping the reconstruction of areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. About 2,000 trees, including Japanese larches, were cut down, sent to disaster-hit areas such as Miyagi Prefecture and used as foundations for temporary housing units in May 2011. The workings of nature help human beings, highlighting the importance of protecting nature.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The next day, I visited a traditional-style fishermen's lodge in the centre of the town that was originally built for those involved in the herring-fishing industry. Its herring fishing was the boast of the town and there were many houses that accommodated fishing boat owners, their families and crew members. But these houses are almost all abandoned nowadays.
In 2008, residents in the town began activities to preserve these houses as sightseeing spots. Local volunteers including Noriichi Bessho, 67, renovated the lodge and named it Yamashime Banya.
The two-storey wooden house has a total floor area of about 420 sq m. A public interest corporation subsidised the costs of renovation, such as those for replacing the flooring.
The facility was opened to the public until late September, hosting events such as shamisen lute performances. It is currently closed in preparation for further restoration work but its reopening is planned for around May next year.
"I feel regret if tourists just eat sea-urchin roe and leave town. I want them to know the history of Shakotan, even if it's just a little," Mr Bessho said.
Though the town has a population of only 2,300, many local people I met love their home town.
It takes about 1 hour 40 minutes by plane from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to New Chitose Airport. Then, 1 hour 15 minutes by train from the airport to Otaru Station and 1 hour 25 minutes by bus from the station to Bikuni, the centre of Shakotan.
For more details, contact the Shakotan tourism association at (0135) 44-3715 (English inquiries accepted only on weekdays) or visit http://www.kanko-shakotan.jp.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK