The vast primeval beech forest, which is home to a precious population of animals and plants, is just like a forest museum.

A range of mountains reaching an altitude of around 1000m extends east and west over an area of 130,000 ha that straddles the prefectures of Aomori and Akita. The central area (16,971 ha) in these mountains was registered as a natural heritage site in 1993. This is one of the last natural beech forests left in East Asia.

One of the main features of the Shirakami-sanchi area is the rough mountainous landscape cut through with deep gorges by its numerous rivers. The area is peppered with valleys and waterfalls including the Mase Valley, Anmon Falls and Daira-kyo Gorge and attracts many anglers and trekkers. It is also home to some of the most unique plants in the world, as well as rare animals including a protected species of dormouse, the black woodpecker, Japanese serow and golden eagle.

Blur Pond, Shirakami Sanchi

The best season to visit this area is in the summer when there is plenty of water in the rivers or in the fall when the mountains turn red with tinted leaves. The fall colours in the valleys viewed from the top of a gigantic bridge are breathtakingly beautiful. The course taking in the Anmon Falls that form a 3-step waterfall (approx. 1 hr 10 mins one-way hike up a well-tended path) is extremely popular with people who enjoy walking. There are also full-fledged climbing courses to reach mountain summits such as Shirakami-dake and Tengu-dake, so why not try one of these if you are a keen climber.

The Shirakami-sanchi Visitor Center, which operates as a tourist information office, also has much to offer. The wildlife and ecosystem of Shirakami-sanchi are presented in 3D models, and the charms of Shirakami-sanchi can be viewed on a huge screen in a 30-minute film shown 5 times a day in the visual experience hall. There is an entry procedure that must be followed before you are allowed into the core part of the Shirakami-sanchi World Heritage Area (on the Aomori prefecture side), so you need to inquire at the Aomori office of the Tohoku Regional Forest Office (T: +81 (0)17-781-2117 E-mail: [email protected]). However, there is no need to apply beforehand to enjoy the hike up to the Anmon Falls.

Shirakami Sanchi

Many beech forests around the world lost much of their ecological diversity due to the formation of continental glaciers some 2 million years ago; however, the beech forests and primeval plant population survive in Japan because continental glaciation did not occur here. Beech trees are extremely resistant to the weight of heavy snow, allowing these trees to survive the huge snowfalls on the Japan Sea side of the islands.

There used to be many beech forests in Japan, but because this wood is not particularly useful as lumber, the trees were cut down after World War II and many beech forests were lost. However, this situation threatens the well-being of Asiatic black bears and black woodpeckers, and now there is an active conservation movement to preserve primeval beech forests.

When visiting Shirakami-sanchi, please follow the rules of good hiking etiquette such as taking all garbage home, visiting the toilet before going to the mountains and not feeding the animals, in order to protect this precious wilderness.

Access: From Tokyo - 5hrs via Hachinohe (JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line) to Hirosaki Station by JR Tohoku Line, and 50 min from Hirosaki Bus Terminal to Tashiro by bus. Or, 3hrs 55 mins from Tokyo to Akita Station by JR Akita Shinkansen Line, 50 min from Akita to Higashi-Noshiro Station by JR Ou Line, and 33 min from Higashi-Noshiro to Akita Shirakami by JR Gono Line.

Further information: Aomori Prefectural Government