01 6.5.13 Hell Valley Shikotsu Natl Park Hokkaido Japan
Looking over Hell Valley in Shikotsu National Park, Hokkaidom Japan
02 6.5.13 Hell Valley Shikotsu Natl Park Hokkaido Japan
Hell Valley in Shikotsu National Park
03 6.5.13 Shiraoi Hokkaido Japan
An Ainu local in the village of Shiraoi Poroto Kotan
04 6.5.13 Shiraoi Hokkaido Japan
An Ainu local in Shiraoi Poroto Kotan
05 6.5.13 Shiraoi Hokkaido Japan
An Ainu welcome in Shiraoi Poroto Kotan

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – Muroran, Hokkaido

Posted on June 5th, 2013

We awoke to much cooler temperatures and an assortment of local officials waiting for us on the pier. After a welcome ceremony, we headed off to explore Hokkaido, the northernmost major island in the Japanese archipelago.

Our first stop was Shiraoi Poroto Kotan, a cultural village featuring the Ainu people, an indigenous group from northern Japan, Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. Welcomed into the village, we went inside a traditional hut to watch a performance of music and dance. The Ainu’s beautiful chanting and dancing, not surprisingly, shared many similarities with other indigenous groups to the north and even into North America.

Following the performance, we roamed the grounds and wandered an interesting museum. Next to the museum was a kennel with about a half dozen Hokkaido dogs, the dogs historically used by the Ainu to hunt brown bears. There were four captive brown bears on site as well, which the Ainu traditionally hunted during the spring thaw. They consider the bear to be very special because they believe that the bear is the gods’ way of delivering the gift of bear hide and meat to humans.

We then visited Shikotsu National Park to visit Hell Valley, a spectacular area of volcanic activity. We approached an overlook where we could look out across fumaroles with steam and boiling water everywhere. The air was dominated by a sulfur smell, and the barren geothermal landscape contrasted sharply with the lush green mountainsides around it. Some of us walked along a boardwalk to a hot spot right out in the middle of Hell Valley.

We arrived back at ‘Clipper Odyssey’  for lunch, while the deck crew readied the ship to leave Muroran for our next port of call, Otaru. To get there, we sailed south and then west around the southern tip of Hokkaido; some of us went up to the bridge to enjoy the view of the sea in all directions. Fog came and went, but the sea conditions were very calm, and flocks of short-tailed shearwaters poured past us on the way.

During late afternoon, we grabbed a cup of tea before joining Naturalist Peter Zika for his lecture, “Island Biogeography.” We learned a traditional coal-mining dance from our Japanese guides before reconvening in the Main Lounge for Captain Luksa Plecas’ Farewell Cocktail Party, which was followed by a superb dinner.

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