Discover Shirakami Sanchi with the JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)


2021.05.23

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Straddling the Akita and Aomori Prefectures, Shirakami-Sanchi's incredible natural beauty earned itself the title of being one of Japan's first UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Sites. Spread across 130,000 hectares the region is one of the largest-scale untouched virgin beech forests in the world. In order to maintain its natural untouched beauty, there are a few areas with restricted admission, but that doesn't at all mean that there isn't plenty to explore.

  • 01

    Untouched Natural Beauty

    What draws countless visitors to the area is its relatively untouched natural beauty. Known by many as the biggest natural forest of East Asia, the area is home to a variety of native animals including Asiatic black bear and Japanese monkey. Given its natural beauty, the area has become a must not miss tourist destination for all those adventitious types keen to explore a different side of Japan. In early summer, if lucky, visitors may be able to encounter ruddy kingfishers in one of the twelve lakes/ponds (juniko), especially around Nagaike pond.

    Ruddy kingfisher spooted in Shirakami Sanchi

    Ruddy kingfisher spooted in Shirakami Sanchi

  • 02

    Anmon Fall Hiking

    Hiking through the trails that weave through the forest and hug the Coast of the Japan Sea are a great way to witness how the seascape harmonises with the rich waterfalls that crash through the area’s heart. The most popular hike leads to the Anmon Falls on the northeastern side of Shirakami Sanchi.

    There are three sets of Anmon Falls that lie about 90 minutes into the valley from the trailhead (not accessible from late November to late April). From the trailhead to the second waterfall, simple walking boards have been installed at river crossings to facilitate passage. However, the second waterfall to the first waterfall which is located in the furthest point of the valley is not maintained or managed as a trail. This is for advanced hikers. There are many rockfalls and dangerous places and wearing a helmet is highly recommended.

  • 03

    Beech Forest Hike

    Made up of the last virgin beech forests in Japan, there is a trail that lets the visitors go on a leisurely stroll inside this forest. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour and a half for a round trip.

    Trailhead of beech forests

    Trailhead of beech forests

    The lifespan of a beech tree is usually about 200 years, but it is not uncommon to find huge trees here that are estimated to be 200 to 300 years old, and you can observe beech trees of all ages, from young trees to mature trees, old trees, and fallen trees. Previous research has shown that beech forests had already appeared in this area about 8,000 years ago. The primeval beech forests that color the Shirakami peaks from season to season are the largest in the world, and have formed a nature of great academic value since prehistoric times. In addition to beech trees, there are many large deciduous broad-leaved trees such as katsura, harigiri, and asada, and a wide variety of plant communities can be seen living together in the forest.

  • 04

    Popular 12 Lakes “Juniko”

    Another popular destination for many visitors is the Juniko ‘twelve lakes’ area. This collection of small ponds, pools and lakes are connected by trekking trails that weave through the western side of Shirakami-Sanchi touching the coast of the Sea of Japan. This area is perfect for those wanting to enjoy a little fishing, boating and camping as there are plenty of facilities on offer. While you are exploring the ponds, be sure not to miss Aoike pond, which boasts the most incredible, almost spooky deep blue water. For more information you can pop by the Juniko Eco-Museum Center Kokyokan, where guides are ready to help you out with any questions you may have about the area.

  • 05

    Nihon Canyon

    Nihon Canyon, Japan’s miniature version of the Grand Canyon, is a U-shaped canyon situated in Fukaura Town, Aomori Prefecture, on the Japan Sea side of Shirakami Sanchi. Any visitors who witness it will surely agree that Nihon Canyon got its name from Grand Canyon as both have rugged rock formations. It is located about 1 km from JR Juniko Station along the Nigori River, and it takes about 15 minutes from the parking lot of Higurashi Bridge through a walking path to the bottom of the cliff.

    This is a scenic spot with towering white tuff rock faces. The white rock surface was formed by the erosion and collapse of the mountain slopes. In good weather it’s rather easy to access as there is a walking trail connecting Juniko to the canyon. If you do plan on going, be wary though that from late November through March, roads to the Juniko and the Nihon Canyon are closed making the area inaccessible.

  • 06

    Visitor Center

    The best place to begin your exploration through Shirakami-Sanchi is by visiting the local visitor centres which are ready to arm you with everything you need to know. When traveling from Hirosaki the closest one is the Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center tucked between Hirosaki and the Anmon Falls. This centre has plenty of English information about the beech forests of Shirakami and other major ones around the world. Laid out as a museum, a visit here ends up being enlightening and perfect especially on rainy days when entering the actual forest might be impossible. The centre also features an impressive IMAX theatre, which regularly screens a 30 minute documentary on the surrounding forests.

    If you’re hungry for more knowledge there’s also the World Heritage Conservation Center located in Fujisato, Akita which is well stocked with information about the region and also houses an exhibit on the forests.

  • 07

    Access

    Highly recommended to rent a car at Hirosaki or Akita Station which both can be easily accessed by using JR Akita Shinkansen using the JR East Pass (Tohoku area). One way takes about 4 hours. From there, it's about 2 hours by car to most of the areas in Shirakami Sanchi.

    However, by using the following way which JR passes are not available, these public transportation from JR Akita or Hirosaki station can take the visitors to major sightseeing spots in Shirakami Sanchi. But, it is very limited and only runs during specific seasons.

    Beech Forest & Anmon Fall
    1) 15 minutes by car from JR Juniko Station on JR Gono Line

    Take the rapid train, Resort Shirakami which runs 3 to 4 times during the high season, and once per day on weekends during the off season from either Akita and Hirosaki via the Gono Line. Get off at Juniko station and it's about 15 minutes by car.
    All seats are reserved for this train. It takes about two hours from Akita or 2.5 hours from Hirosaki and costs about 2500 yen one way from either city.

    2) 1 hour 30 minutes by bus from Hirosaki Station Bus Terminal to Aqua Village Green Anmon stop where the trailhead for Beech Forest is. (only available during limited seasons so check the Konan Bus webpage here and look for Shirakami Line for operation seasons.
    Once getting off the bus, it's about an hour walk to the beech forest and also, to Anmon Fall.

    3) About a 1 hour 30minutes car ride from Akita Station or Hirosaki Station.


    12 Lakes (Juniko)

    1) 15 minutes by car from JR Juniko Station on JR Gono Line

    Take the rapid train, Resort Shirakami which runs 3 to 4 times during the high season, and once per day on weekends during the off season from either Akita and Hirosaki via the Gono Line. Get off at Juniko station and it's about 15 minutes by car.
    All seats are reserved for this train. It takes about two hours from Akita or 2.5 hours from Hirosaki and costs about 2500 yen one way from either city.

    2)10 to 15 minutes by bus from JR Juniko Station on JR Gono Line.

    After arriving at Juniko station using the rapid train, Resort Shirakami, take the Konan Bus and get off at Oku Juniko Parking (Chushajo) stop. From there, it's a nice hike around the lakes and ponds. For detail on the bus operation hours and time schedule, see here.

    3) About a 1 hour 30minutes car ride from Akita Station or Hirosaki Station.


    Nihon Canyon

    1) 15 minutes by car from JR Juniko Station on JR Gono Line

    Take the rapid train, Resort Shirakami which runs 3 to 4 times during the high season, and once per day on weekends during the off season from either Akita and Hirosaki via the Gono Line. Get off at Juniko station and it's about 15 minutes by car.
    All seats are reserved for this train. It takes about two hours from Akita or 2.5 hours from Hirosaki and costs about 2500 yen one way from either city.

    2)10 to 15 minutes by bus from JR Juniko Station on JR Gono Line.

    After arriving at Juniko station using the rapid train, Resort Shirakami, take the Konan Bus and get off at Oike stop. From there, it's about 5 minutes to the observatory of Nihon Canyon. For detail on the bus operation hours and time schedule, see here.

    3) About a 1 hour 30minutes car ride from Akita Station or Hirosaki Station.

    Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center
    place
    Aomori Pref. Nakatsugarugunnishimeyamura Tashiro Kanda 61-1
    phone
    0172852810
    opening-hour
    8:30-17:00[11/1-3/31]9:00-16…
    View Allarrow

Click here for a summary article including this article