Walk in a beautiful river valley of a primeval beech forest
Shirakami-Sanchi is the location of the world’s largest primeval beech forest. Beeches are known as “Nature’s Dams” as they are trees capable of retaining high amounts of water. One 200-year-old beech can store about 8 tons of water per year. The water that comes forth from the beech forest creates spring water in Shirakami-Sanchi, supporting the lives of animals and plants living there.
Amongside the spring water flowing in Shirakami-Sanchi, there is a “Sawa Walking” tour that takes a zigzag walk among the pristine water brought forth by the beech forest. The landscape of the beech forest viewed from the pools of water will impress you, the cool, clear water will amaze you, and you will discover the animals and plants living there. By joining the tour, you can expect to experience first-hand the mystery of Shirakami-Sanchi that can only be done on foot.
“Sawa walking,” a popular activity for repeat visitors in Shirakami-Sanchi
The Mizusawa River, flowing through the southern part of Shirakami-Sanchi, is one of the rivers where you can experience a “Sawa Walking” tour. The tour is conducted by Shirakami Communications, whose guides share with visitors the beauty of Shirakami-Sanchi, along with their protection and conservation activities. Chiharu Goto, who is a tour guide and photographer, represented Shirakami Communications on the tour.
Among the tours enjoyed by visitors to Shirakami-Sanchi, “Sawa walking” appears to have many repeat visitors.
Goto: After enjoying a mountain climbing tour overlooking the World Heritage registered forest (the core area) from the top of the mountain and a tour to a 400-year-old giant beech tree, there are many people who say, “I want to experience the different charms of the Shirakami-Sanchi area again.” It can be described as a tour for advanced hikers, but if you have basic climbing and trekking experience, there is no problem.
The popular season is from June to September. While bathed in the sunlight, it feels good to soak your feet in the cool water or take a leisurely walk alongside the water.
The tour has a limit of about 10 people, but it can also be conducted for 1 to 3 people. “Sawa walking” is conducted at several points on the north side (the Aomori Prefecture side) and the south side (the Akita Prefecture side) of the Shirakami-Sanchi, says Mr. Goto of Shirakami Communications. “The Mizusawa River has beautiful water and you can walk alongside it and see the beauty of the water in the shining rays of sunlight.”
Goto: Although we cannot enter the World Heritage Site (the core area), I think by walking around we can get a sense of how the plants, animals and we humans can live through the use of the water coming from these primeval beech forests.
Swim in the river, take a nap on a rock, or enjoy the sense of unity with nature
Let us take you on a walk. When walking among the mountain streams and the splashing water, it is essential to wear clothing that is fast-drying and easy to move in.
Shirakami Communications can provide non-slip outsoles, gloves and helmets for rental, but aside from that, the only thing you will need is an attitude of “Let’s have fun!” You’ll head to the trailhead by car with the guide, and from there, it’s on to the stream.
Taking a first look out across the beautiful beech forest, the sight is beyond what you would expect. Take in a deep breath of the forest air, exhale and you’re on your way. From here, it is a 2-3 km walk, taking 3 to 5 hours depending on your pace.
It is an extraordinary experience to walk among the streams surrounded by primeval beech forest. On the way, the route may be blocked by huge boulders about 3m in diameter. I climbed them this time, but the wet rocks are slippery, so don’t rush and use your own discretion.
Goto: While choosing your route and where to place your feet, always using your head while proceeding is the epitome of Sawa Walking, and positive thinking is important. It is also an important experience to change your route when faced with a course that cannot be followed.
The Mizusawa River Tour is focused on walking, playing and learning in the mountains, so there are no hard activities such as climbing a dangerous waterfall, but you can swim in an area of deep water, or take a nap on a rock that sits on the river, or simply enjoy the sense of unity with nature.
Learn nature from the life of “Matagi” who coexisted with the Shirakami-Sanchi
In this active yet quiet tour, you can become fully proficient in the enchantment of the Shirakami-Sanchi and learn various things about nature and human beings.
Goto: For example, the kanji character “water” carved on the surface of beech trees. This was carved by the mountain people called “matagi,” who once lived and hunted animals in this area, and the markings indicate that there is spring water nearby.
Goto: The Matagi, who built a simple hunting huts in the primeval beech forests and who were provided with the blessings from the mountains, obtained all the necessities of life from nature.
The hut is made of material from the Sawagurumi tree, and the young leaves of mountain grapes were used as toilet paper. These were sourced from the mountains. The rough rope used to prevent their footwear from slipping was made from rice straw.
The primeval beech forest is a treasure trove of creatures. During Sawa Walking tours, large animals such as Asiatic black bears, Japanese Serow, and golden eagles rarely appear, but birds such as Asian dippers, wagtails and others do appear.
Some of the aquatic organisms we can see in the waters are chars, salamanders, ephemera and the mayflies and stoneflies that they prey on. You can feel the preciousness of nature when seeing creatures in the primeval beech forest, a place that almost nobody can enter.
Goto: “Shirakami Communications” conducts the“Shirakami Experience School” for children as part of its conservation activities in the Shirakami-Sanchi.
We believe that children who experience Sawa Walking and mountain climbing will have direct contact with nature in the Shirakami-Sanchi. We think this will lead to them having a symbiosis with the animals and plants living in this area and will lead them to protecting the precious natural environment.
In recent years, it has been confirmed that plants not native to the area have been brought in by tourists. Feeding the wild animals has also been a factor in damaging the ecosystem, so please refrain from these practices in order to protect the abundant nature of the Shirakami-Sanchi.
Eating “Mountain Gohan”after Sawa Walking is an exceptional experience
There is no set goal for “Sawa walking,” and it would be decided based on the number of participants, the time, the weather, and other conditions of the tour.
Many of the tour participants look forward to eating “Mountain Gohan” in the mountains after a long walk. In early summer, it’s possible to pick wild plants while walking around in the mountains and cook these plants to make a dish for lunch. The most popular is wild vegetable tempura.
Goto: Tempura made from freshly picked fresh wild vegetables is exceptionally delicious, and there are customers who participate every year looking forward to this “mountain gohan.”
In the chill of autumn, “Kiritanpo Nabe,” a local dish from Akita Prefecture is made by wrapping mochi rice around cedar sticks and then cooking them with vegetables in chicken broth soup. The mountain climbing guide will cook it with the utmost devotion.
The hidden taste offers a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. After enjoying the delicious “Mountain Gohan” in the great outdoors, the “Walking” tour is complete.
Many participants seemed to have some anxiety before starting out, but when they came back, they spoke with smiles saying “I had fun,” “I went back to my childhood,” Goto says.
Why not experience the overwhelming beauty and excitement of participating in an “adventure” that walks through the Shirakami-Sanchi where primeval nature remains untouched by humans?
|Shirakami Communications Corporation
Address:9-3, Motomachi, Noshiro City, Akita Prefecture
|Shirakami Mountain Guide Association
Address:1-12-1, Fujishiro, Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture