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.

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Column: Best 3 reasons to visit Hokkaido forests in winter

A snowshoer heading to the forest walking on the snow-covered Ponhoro Marsh in Shiretoko in January

Have you ever stepped foot into a snowy forest?
Hokkaido winter forests offer you a refreshing, relaxing and intriguing time.
Here are three good things about Hokkaido winter forests.

Bewildering winter forest capturing the trees' amazing image in Shiretoko in February

1: Snow can heighten your observations
When the snow has piled up on the underlying bamboo grasses, you can explore places and see things you normally wouldn’t while using snowshoes.

The accumulated snow gives you opportunities to reach and discover high places that you would not see in the summer months. For example, tree branches will reveal interesting looking animal faces that will surprisingly turn out to be winter buds and leaf scars.

The snow also tells us about animal activities through their footprints and other traces. The prints of rabbits and foxes can often be seen, and these can show you how they wander the snowy field. You can even notice tiny mouse footprints and tail traces on the fresh snow! Under the evergreen conifers, you might find the traces of where a herd of deer rested, such as droppings and dents in the snow. Animal tracking is a unique activity for enjoying the presence of wild animals.

Deer waiting for the storm to subside in the woods in Shiretoko in January
A beautiful contrast of green conifers and bare deciduous trees in Shiretoko in February

2: Appreciate trees and forest composition
The most unique feature of Hokkaido’s natural forest includes the conifer-broadleaf mixed forests. They have an abundance of species, a well-developed hierarchical structure, and a thick bamboo grass floor, so you cannot see and get closer to the trees and forests in the summer season.

During winter, most deciduous trees stand bare having shed their leaves, but Hokkaido conifers such as Todo Fir and Yezo Spruce keep their green needles. Thanks to that, you’ll clearly see the beautiful contrast woven by conifers and bare trees.

Although there are several theories on how conifers can deal with winter stress, their thin and needle-like leaves are one of the keys. Their surfaces are covered with wax to prevent water evaporation and make them sturdy. Also, their tiny leaves prevent snow from accumulating on the branches and breaking them. These features make it possible for conifers to survive even in harsh winters.

Take the time to admire the tree structures and shapes. Some trees grow as if they are reaching for the sky, and shorter trees spread their branches to get as much sunlight as possible.

By paying more attention to the higher trunks and canopies, you might find interesting silhouettes of fungus, mistletoe or mysterious holes. The strategies for living in a mixed forest setting will fascinate you.

Clean and crisp air-filled with a conifer-broad leaf mixed forest in Shiretoko in March

3: Clean air and beautiful silence

The thing I would like you to enjoy most is the quiet and solemn space that only Hokkaido winter forests can create. They are filled with crisp, refreshing air, and the snow surface glitters in the sunlight. You can hear only the crunch of snow, chirping of birds, and even the breeze through the woods. On a really freezing day, plosive sounds of frost cracks of trees may echo. You might notice a slight scent of the forest with your five senses being stimulated.

If time allows, have a nice cup of coffee, and indulge in nature. Forests always help us to relax, but the atmosphere of the winter forest encourages you to let your imagination run wild.

A place where you can perceive, return to yourself and be centered – that is the Hokkaido winter forest.

My wish is for everyone to experience Hokkaido and its winter forests.
Why don’t you visit and try to find your home forest in Hokkaido? Just be sure to bundle up as it’s cold in the forest!

Shadow reflections of trees on the snowy field in Shiretoko in February
Written by MOUE Chie, Forest instructor, 30-year resident of Hokkaido, born in Fukushima Prefecture. Also works as an English teacher and a National Government Licensed Guide Interpreter.

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