The Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido is dominated by the Shiretoko mountain range of peaks rising 1,200–1,600 meters, including Mt. Rausu, which towers in the center of the peninsula. Visitors can see various strangely shaped rocks, precipices, and other scenery connected to the geological origins of these mountains. An area covering about two-thirds of the northern part of the peninsula has been designated as Shiretoko National Park, and in 2005 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed Shiretoko as a World Natural Heritage Site.
The peninsula is about 70 km long and about 25 km wide. Because of the steepness of the terrain, a third of the northern part, centering on Mt. Shiretoko, is extremely difficult to access by land. In winter the peninsula is surrounded by ice floes, which generate an affluent food chain. This is because when the ice floes melt in spring, a vast amount of plankton is produced. This plankton attracts vast numbers of fish, which in turn attract seals, Steller’s sea lions, white-tailed eagles and other birds, and, on land, brown bears and Yezo sika deer breed as well. In addition to its stunning scenery, therefore, Shiretoko is also home to abundant flora and fauna. As for human beings, they are concentrated in the communities of Utoro in the northwest and Rausu in the southeast. The climate of these two towns differs a lot. Utoro, which has a population of about 1,200 people, has many fine days, which is probably why agriculture and tourism thrive there. Rausu, with a population of about 4,000 people, gets more rain, snow, and mist; fishing is the main industry there.
The eastern part of Hokkaido is said to have many tourist spots. The nearest airport to Shiretoko is Memanbetsu, but the peninsula can also be accessed from Kushiro Airport if you also want to take in such places as Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, and Kushiro Wetland. Shiretoko attracts 1–1.3 million visitors a year from inside and outside Hokkaido to see its unique nature. The local governments and Shiretoko Nature Foundation engage in various activities to address the problems faced in protecting this abundant nature, as well as such issues as the coexistence of humans and other animals and the overbreeding of animals on the peninsula.
In June, armed with my photography equipment, I headed north to refreshing Hokkaido, which, unlike the rest of Japan, has no rainy season at this time of the year.