Shiretoko (World Heritage)

The almost 390 km² national park is located on the northeastern tip of the island of Hokkaido and can only be reached by boat or on foot. It is a sanctuary for whales and sea lions, for rare fish species and numerous endangered sea bird species.

Shiretoko: facts

Official title: Shiretoko
Natural monument: National Park on the Shiretoko Peninsula (of volcanic origin) on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido; 700 km² of land and water, partly inaccessible; diverse and extraordinary fauna and flora, especially in the marine areas, which are endowed with extensive nutrients due to seasonal glaciation; Protected area for marine mammals, including seals and sea lions, as well as rare fish species and sea bird species threatened with extinction, such as sea eagles; largest bear population in the country
Continent: Asia
Country: Japan
Location: Shiretoko, northeastern tip of Hokkaido Island
Appointment: 2005
Meaning: Extraordinary, species-rich and largely untouched nature area; outstanding example of the mutual influence of marine and coastal ecosystems

Remote natural paradise in the far north

“The end of the world” or “place where the land stands” – this is the translation of the word Shiretoko, which comes from the language of the Ainu, the Japanese indigenous people. In fact, Shiretoko is a peninsula in eastern Hokkaido that extends into the Sea of ​​Okhotsk as a narrow wedge for around 65 kilometers. Short summers and long winters determine life in the remote region. Snow lies on the high peaks of the peninsula all year round, and the sea around the Shiretoko Peninsula is the southernmost place in the northern hemisphere where the sea freezes over in winter. These climatic conditions and the remoteness of the peninsula meant that an extraordinarily rich flora and fauna could develop there.

Original forests, remote areas without a trace of human civilization and large populations of wild animals are the special features that this national park has to offer. Cape Shiretoko is located at the tip of the peninsula, and a series of dormant volcanoes cross the peninsula, of which the Shiretoko Sulfur Mountain (1562 m) and Rausu (1660 m) are the highest. Due to the volcanic activity, there are also several hot thermal springs, Japanese onsen, on the peninsula, which are used as baths by the Japanese. According to pharmacylib, one of these onsen is the Iwaobetsu onsen, and the Kamuiwakka waterfall is also fed by a hot spring. Also worth seeing are the beautifully situated five lakes Shiretoko-goko, from which you can enjoy wonderful views of the lake landscape with the volcanic mountains.

The Shiretoko Peninsula is very isolated, many places can only be reached on foot or by boat. Only a single paved road between Utoro on the west coast and Rausu on the east coast leads through the national park, two thirds of its area even have no paths at all and are therefore untouched. Hikes to the tip of the peninsula are now prohibited because the path is exposed to heavy wear. For visitors, a boat tour is the only way to see the spectacular cliffs of Cape Shiretoko. This remoteness made a decisive contribution to the fact that nature remained untouched and that many rare animal and plant species could assert themselves.

About 600 brown bears still live on the peninsula, the largest bear population in Japan. You can see Master Petz most often – from a safe distance – at the five lakes of Shiretoko and around the Kamuiwakka waterfall. The shaggy park residents feed on the trout and salmon that swim up the rivers inland from the sea to spawn. There are also many endangered seabirds to be found in the national park, and migratory birds also like to stop there. The rare wandering warbler breeds in the higher elevations of the volcanic mountains. A rare species of owl, the giant fish owl, prefers to be found in old trees in the dense forests.

At least as impressive as life on land is life in the waters around the Shiretoko Peninsula. Freezing winds from Siberia ensure that the Pacific freezes over there in winter and is covered by a thick layer of ice for months. Phytoplankton, the food source of krill and other tiny aquatic animals, is formed under this layer of ice. Krill, on the other hand, is the food source of many small fish, but also of large marine mammals such as the blue whale. A total of 223 fish species are at home in the waters around Shiretoko. There are also 28 marine mammals, including orcas, sperm whales, blue whales and white-striped dolphins. Because of this, whale watching is a popular activity among tourists visiting the national park. The endangered Steller sea lion can also still be found there.

The Shiretoko Peninsula is to form a cross-border World Heritage Peace Park of UNESCO together with the Kuril Islands. Indeed, relations between Japan and Russia in this region are strained. The point of contention is, among other things, the island of Kunashir (Kunashiri), which lies off the coast of Hokkaido at the southern end of the Kuril archipelago and was Japanese territory until 1945. At the end of the Second World War, Kunashir was occupied by Soviet troops and has been part of Russian territory ever since. But Japan claims sovereignty over the island, which can be clearly seen from the Shiretoko Peninsula on a clear day.

Shiretoko (World Heritage)