Straddling the Akita and Aomori Prefectures, Shirakami-Sanchi's incredible natural beauty earned itself the title of being one of the Japan's first UNESCO recognised 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's isn't plenty to explore.
Depending on your preference, how much time you have, and how adventurous you’re feeling, there are a number of courses open to the public. From single hour road trips to full day, eight-hour mountain scaling courses there’s something for everyone. For seasoned mountain climbers Mount Shirakami is available to climb. Hitting about 1,232 meters high, it’s the high point of Shirakami-Sanchi and the best place to view the surrounding area and the Japan Sea.
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.
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.
So you’ve gathered the facts at Shirakami Visitor Centre, explored the deep blue lakes and ponds of Juniko, now it’s time to visit Nihon Canyon, Japan’s little version of the Grand Canyon. Actually named after the Grand Canon, Nihon Canyon is U-shaped canyon situated on the Sea of Japan-side of the mountain. 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.