For a long time, I have been obsessed with Shirakami Mountains – known for its dramatic mountain ranges, colorful seasonal changes and hiking trails catering for various levels. Finally, my kids enjoyed watching ‘Princess Mononoke’ by Miyazaki Hayao referencing Shirakami Mountains, so I took this as the perfect chance to visit and discover more. As we only had a few nights to stay and explore the surrounding attractions, below is a quick guide to Shirakami Mountains.
Located on the border between Akita and Aomori Prefectures in northern Japan, Shirakami Mountains are the primeval forests of the region. 2 million years ago, part of the Japan Sea elevated and from 6000 B.C, Japanese beech forests were formed. People hunt bears and animals and collect plants, maintaining the rich ecosystem of the forest. As the first designated World Natural Heritage Site in Japan in 1993, Shirakami Mountains are understandably one of the most popular hikes in the country. Hikers don’t need to reach the summit in order to enjoy the hike, as there are many trails on offer for a variety of fitness levels. For any level, flat shoes are strongly recommended.
Juniko (Twelve) Lake
Juniko (Twelve) Lake is highly regarded by locals as offering the best views on the entire site all year round. Juniko Lake is a series of small lakes and ponds with clear blue water. It is called twelve lakes, but in total they are comprised of 33 large and small lakes and ponds. The most popular pond is Aoike, producing natural blue water near Ketoba-no-Ike pond. It offers various shades and graduations at different times. You can approach here from the souvenir shop Mori-no-Bussankan Kyororo (40-minute-walk). The basic trail is paved and flat, but if you go further it becomes elevated and narrow, so mountain gear is needed.
Another one of my favorite hikes near the Shirakami Mountains is to hike Oirase Keiryu – one of the most popular riverside walks in Japan. A two-hour drive leads to Oirase Stream Museums from Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center. The trail starts from the crossing point of Oirase River and Tsutagawa River and the views are incredible throughout. The water which flows out from Towada Lake is really worth your while. The trail is about 14 km from Oirase Stream Museums to Towada Lake with easy-to-hike trails.
Located just below the Southern border of Aomori and Akita prefectures, Towada Lake is the 12th-largest lake in Japan. Does it not impress you? The lake is still impressive in size and views. You can cruise the lake by boat or join a canoeing tour to enjoy the stunning natural environment.
Hiroto Station on Gono Line
We love trains. I hesitate to declare it but we couldn’t resist taking the Gono Line and visiting the no-guard train station, Hiroto Station. We parked at Fukaura Station, one station before, to take the Gono Line to visit Hiroto Station. We had to wait for the next train going back to Fukaura Station for one hour though.
On the first day, get on the Shinkansen Bullet Train from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (3.5 hours). Drive to Oirase Keiryu (1.5 hours) and spend a day for hiking. Next, head to Towada Lake to take a tour boat and drive to visit Shirakami Visitor Center (less than 2 hours). Spend a day or two there hiking Shirakami Mountains. When you are done, drive back to Shin-Aomori Station (1.5 hours). By plane, it is just one hour and 15 minutes from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Aomori Airport, followed by a 75-minute drive to Oirase Keiryu.