Once upon a time, all of Northern Japan looked like this. As far as the eyes can see, untouched mountains, trees that saw life a lifetime before you; black bears and nearly a hundred different kinds of birds dancing above you. Imagine places where there are no other footprints. Imagine a place so large that you can get lost and not come out alive.
Today, you can experience this mystery, majesty and discovery just a few hours from Tokyo. Imagine having breakfast in Harajuku in the morning and then a few hours later, be surrounded by a cathedral of beech trees, as if you are the only human on this planet. This place is Shirakami Sanchi, a World Heritage Site between Akita and Aomori.
The steep mountains and remote forests have sheltered this paradise from mankind, and like nature's amphitheater, you can see the drama of nature play out its next act. Come face to face with the Japanese Black Bear or the Golden Eagle for the first time. Imagine what it is like to find communion with these beautiful creatures who are unspoilt by civilization.
For animals like the Black Bear, there is no natural enemy, so they thrive in this habitat. Everything is protected here, with carefully selected bear cullings by a group of hunters, known as Matagi, whose medieval traditions are likened to the Ainu.
This place is also a bird watcher’s paradise, with over 87 species recorded as living here, including the Black Woodpecker, Hodgson's hawk eagle, and the Japanese serow.
This place is kept pristine by its remoteness and the relative lack of public transport access, making the car the best way to get here on a flexible itinerary. At the same time, there are places that are not accessible by car, so walking and slowing down to nature’s rhythms are a great way to feel and start to appreciate the majesty of this place. On the other hand, Japan Railway’s Resort Shirakami sightseeing train gives a good contrast between the wild coastline and the mountains from Akita to Aomori.
As I am not usually a fan of the cold, spring to autumn is the best times to visit, the place like a Garden of Eden, watered by the spotless snow from the long winter. So pure is this spring water that the best cafes bottle it for the tea and coffee, like Café Sora at Akita Airport. Some of the summits in the Shirakami Mountains like Mount Komagatake are over a thousand meters tall, high enough to enjoy the freshness of high altitude air as well as Alpine scenery and flora, but not so high that you need an oxygen mask.