At Japan’s northern tip, East Hokkaido – known as Land’s End – boasts lush and untamed landscapes home to fascinating animals and one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in the world. By sea and by land, immerse yourself in this lesser-visited region to see a side of Japan beyond the stereotypes.
- When to go
- From Price
- £10,800 PP*
- Ideal Length
- 5 Nights
- Witness one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in the world in Shiretoko National Park in the company of an expert local guide.
- Discover Akan-Mashu National Park’s two caldera lakes, kayaking the pristine Lake Kussharo and marvelling at Lake Mashu (one of the clearest lakes in the world).
- Explore the lush, green woods of the Teshikaga area to discover one of Japan’s wildest and least-explored landscapes.
- Learn about Japan’s indigenous Ainu culture and sample local dishes that can only be tasted here, created from this diverse background of nature and culture.
For those looking to unearth the real Japan, beyond the cherry blossoms and bustling Tokyo streets, venture to East Hokkaido to discover some of the country’s wildest and least-explored landscapes. This isn’t like the Japan celebrated in popular culture. Instead, you will be based in Teshikaga, a beautiful town surrounded by deep forests and glistening water. Home to some of the clearest lakes in the world, historic hot springs, and the volcanic Mount Iō, you’ll experience it all from TAPKOP – a newly opened private villa. Made using salvaged larch wood, you’ll feel fully immersed in nature, setting the scene for your trip.
Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park – meaning ‘end of the world’ in the indigenous Ainu language – is the definition of untouched nature. This staggeringly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site is so protected that it’s only accessible by foot or boat (or not at all), but the latter is the best way to take it all in.
The driving force behind any visit here is higuma – the Ussuri brown bear – as the area has one of the highest brown bear population densities in the world, with an estimated 300-500 bears living in 1000 square km of land. By boat, you’ll cruise the shores passing several waterfalls in the hopes of catching sight of a bear fishing or ambling with a cub in tow, with glimpses of the Shiretoko mountain range and the active Mount Iō volcano in the distance.
Hop off board and explore the National Park now by foot as you hike the popular Five Lakes walk. Mesmerising scenery unfolds as you traverse the landscape, with unique flora and fauna including indigenous deer that roam the park.
After a day exploring, come back to your villa and unwind in the sauna or the outdoor bath in the forest air, soaking in underground water from the Kushiro River.
Penned as ‘one of the least visited parts of Japan’, Teshikaga is a small town in Hokkaido surrounded by deep forests and picturesque waters. Much of the town is located in Akan-Mashu National Park, a sprawling landscape home to caldera lakes, active volcanoes, and plenty of opportunities for adventure.
Spend the morning on a trekking excursion up Mount Iō (meaning the ‘naked mountain’ in Ainu). An active volcano that continues to spew volcanic gas even today (we promise, it’s completely safe!), it was once mined for its sulphur which built the foundation for the modernisation of Teshikaga.
After a replenishing lunch, explore the Land of Lakes. Caldera lakes form after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcanic eruption and are incredibly clear. The first – Lake Mashu – is a mist-shrouded reservoir surrounded by sheer cliffs and is one of the clearest lakes in the world. The second, Lake Kussharo, joins the Kushiro River which winds through the forest. Meander down in kayaks, keeping your eye out for ‘Kusshi’ – their take on the Loch Ness monster – before you come across the magical Kagami no Ma (‘mirror room’). This crystal-clear water remains cool all year round thanks to the cold spring water that flows through it, and is completely captivating.
After your kayaking escapade, relax in wild onsen hot springs on the shores of the lake. Kotan Onsen (Kotan means ‘village’ in Ainu) is heated courtesy of the volcanic activity and plays host to whooper swans in the winter. Soak in the therapeutic waters as the swans swim within touching distance for a relaxing alternative to Japan’s better-known monkey hot springs in Nagano.
You’ve spent the day with feet firmly on the ground (mostly), but now turn your attention to the sky. Thanks to Teshikaga’s remote locale, visitors can look up at the star-studded sky all year round. Visit the Mashu Observatory which boasts panoramic views of Lake Mashu, with a glass observation space and specially angled sofas from which to enjoy the night sky. And, if it’s a clear night, you’ll even be able to catch sight of the Milky Way.
Throughout your experience so far, you will have come across various Ainu translations which will lay the foundation for your introduction to their indigenous culture. About 700 years ago, the Ainu were a collection of hunters, fishermen and gatherers who were trading partners with the Japanese. But, in the 1800s when Hokkaido was formally annexed and resettled, the Ainu found themselves discriminated against and their way of life – from their language (which is nearly extinct) and traditions even to their unique tattoos – was banned. Whilst they have stubbornly preserved and protected their way of life despite these centuries of oppression, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Japanese government formally recognised the Ainu as indigenous people.
Learn about their traditions and way of life from artefacts and informational displays on hunting and gathering, housing, clothing, and religion at the Kussharo Kotan Ainu Museum, and take part in a craft workshop with members of the Ainu community.
Experience the nature and culture of Teshikaga through its distinctive food culture, with a range of dishes that can only be sampled here. The Northern seas are well stocked with salmon, uni (sea urchin) and crab, so expect seafood to feature strongly and be exceptional. There are also deliciously juicy Mashu melons and other fruit that are grown in the heat of the hot springs, as well as Mashu beef and Teshikaga pork (the soil is ideal for grazing livestock). Our top tip: remember the word oishii (it means ‘delicious’) as this is one word that we can guarantee will be well used during your stay.
Images © Co Eastside Ltd, Teshikaga Town, Tanveer Badal
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