Amazing Adventures in Hokkaido
The abundance of the natural environment, the lifestyles and culture of the people who live there – Hokkaido has many incredible stories that are as yet unknown.
In this column, we learn about the appeal of Hokkaido’s four seasons from the people who guide adventure tours there. We hope such stories enrich the time spent in Hokkaido, the next time you visit.
Column: 100 things that Hokkaido kids should experience: Tobogganing in summer and seeing alpine flora in Daisetsuzan National Park
Written by Kazu Arai. Was born and educated in Hokkaido. He is a nature guide and founder of Daisetsuzan Nature School providing environmental education and ecotours. He is also the president of Hokkaido Adventure Travel Association and GSTC trainer for working on sustainable tourism in Hokkaido.
At the Daisetsuzan Nature School, we provide environmental education for local children. As I covered in my last article, we are putting together a list of 100 things that all kids in Hokkaido should experience.
In this article, I’d like to explain two natural experiences that – during summer – draw people to Daisetsuzan National Park, located in the middle of Hokkaido: snowball fights and discovering Daisetsuzan “at the intersection of alpine flora.”
Tobogganing（Sledging） in summer
What kind of activities would you expect in Daisetsuzan National Park in July? In Higashikawa, at the base of the mountain range, July’s average temperature is 20 degrees Celsius, with average daily highs of 26 degrees and lows of 19 degrees. However, even with these temperatures in town, you can still find snow in the mountains.
The Kanji characters used to write “大雪山:Daisetsuzan” give you a hint as to why the snow lasts into summer. The three characters literally mean “Big Snow Mountain”. The mountains get vast amounts of snowfall from October to April. In some deep valleys, over 10 meters of snow accumulates over the winter. These are the places to aim for when you are looking for some summer snow.
Speeding down a long snow slope is fun and exciting. It’s a thrill that many of us know, but perhaps haven’t experienced for a long time. However, it’s a lot of work to carry a sledge out to the snow, so here is a top tip. As the snow is firm, a thick plastic bag works perfectly as a sledge. I recommend one left over after buying 10 kg of rice. Remember to also bring gloves and to stay warm and dry, as you still have to hike home amid the harsh mountain environment.
There are many creative ways to play on the remaining snow. Easy ones are snowball fights, making a snowman or chilling your drinks, but I am sure kids’ imaginations will conjure up an activity much better than these.
To protect this unique environment, make sure you never step on the soil at the edges of the snow. The erosion caused by your feet destroys the natural soil wall. Walking off the trails in the national park is strictly prohibited and monitored. Please be aware of where the trail is and stay on it when coming and going.
The Daisetsuzan Mountains are often described as the “intersection of alpine flora” from three different directions. One direction is from Sakhalin, located north of Hokkaido; one is from the Kuril Islands, stretching north east from Hokkaido; and the last is from Honshu, Japan’s main island located to the south. As a result, you can find a huge variety of alpine plants in a relatively small area. This is one of the things that makes Daisetsuzan geographically unique from other parts of Japan.
Mt. Asahidake is an ideal spot to bring your children to see the various plants. The ropeway lifts you from 1,100 metres to 1,600 metres in just 10 minutes, much quicker than the 2 hours it takes to walk up. At the top of the ropeway there is a 1.7 km circular trail which takes about an hour and a half. The flowers bloom from Mid-June to early-August, with the peak usually coming early in that period. Mid-August is the berry and nut season. But don’t worry if you are late for the flower season, you can still enjoy the course.
Besides the flowers, there is lots of other things to see, such as caldera tarns and steam vents, as well as a sulphur smell produced by volcanic activity. Various birds can be seen flying around the shrubbery, while salamanders can be found in one of the tarns. Bring warm clothes and a rain jacket even if the weather is forecast to be fine all day. The weather in the high mountains is unstable and you can find yourself shrouded in cold mist or heavy rain in an instant. While it can be disappointing when the weather changes for the worse, remember that it is this harsh weather that shaped these unique mountains.