On Japan's Shakotan Peninsula, cape offers views of crystal azure waters

by Koichi Saijo
The Japan News/Yomiuri

Cape Kamuimisaki is located on the northwestern edge of the Shakotan Peninsula in Hokkaido, Japan. I walked along a narrow path that looked like a mountain ridge, going as high as about 260 feet 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 color is known as “Shakotan blue.”

As the horizon appears slightly curved at both ends when observed from the tip of the cape, you can directly see that the Earth is round. Though it took about an hour to get there from the center 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 nama uni don (raw sea urchin roe topping a bowl of rice). I was there, however, just after the fishing season, which is limited to June through August.

Even so, a Japanese restaurant I visited for lunch still 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 percent of the town, which has a population of only 2,300 people. 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 Inc. began a 10-year project called JT Forest Shakotan to aid in the conservation of these mountains. JT subsidizes the costs of forest management 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.

“I hope they will collect enough data soon so that we can properly explain to children, who will be responsible for the next generation,” Matsui said.

Forests not only nurture the abundant sea, but also are helping the reconstruction of areas hit by the 2011 earthquake that wreaked havoc on eastern Japan. 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.

After my excursion to Cape Kamuimisaki, I visited a traditional-style fishermen’s lodge in the center of the town that was originally built for those involved in the herring fishing industry. Though its herring fishing had been the boast of the town, and there had been many houses that accommodated fishing boat owners, their families and crew members, these houses are almost all abandoned nowadays.

In 2008, Shakotan residents began to preserve these houses as sightseeing spots. Local volunteers, including Noriichi Bessho, 67, renovated the lodge and named it Yamashime Banya.

A public interest corporation subsidized the costs of renovation, such as replacing the flooring.

The facility opened to the public in late September, hosting events such as shamisen lute performances. It is currently closed in preparation for further restoration, but it is scheduled to reopen in about May.

“I feel regret if tourists just eat sea urchin roe and leave town,” Bessho said. “I want them to know the history of Shakotan, even just a little.”

Japan’s Shakotan Peninsula

Location

The Shakotan Peninsula, in western Hokkaido, juts into the Sea of Japan and forms a beautiful coastline full of variety and surrounded by clear water. The area from Cape O-gon to Cape Shakotan and Cape Kamuimisaki is Hokkaido’s only sea park.

Getting there

About 1 hour 40 minutes by plane from Haneda Airport 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 center of Shakotan. A sighteeing boat leaves from Bikuni Port, offering views of Shakotan’s deep blue sea from the boat’s underwater glass observation room.

Information

Visit the Shakotan tourism association at www.kanko-shakotan.jp.

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