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Ainu Culture Tours And Fabulous Nature Scenery At Lake Akan, Hokkaido

Ainu Culture Tours And Fabulous Nature Scenery At Lake Akan, Hokkaido

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by MATCHA-PR

Hokkaido 2020.03.20 Bookmark

The Lake Akan area in Eastern Hokkaido is offering tour programs that introduce the culture of the indigenous Ainu people. Led by Ainu guides, the tours give participants the chance to learn about Ainu folklore and spirituality, and how to play traditional Ainu instruments.

Lake Akan - Discover Ainu Culture

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Lake Akan, known for its beautiful surroundings, is located in Kushiro, Eastern Hokkaido. It is also the place where the culture of the indigenous Ainu people has continued to thrive since ancient times.

The Fascinating Culture of the Ainu

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

The Ainu are an indigenous people of Japan. Their language had no written form, and they passed down their culture and traditions orally. They have a rich culture that includes dance, music, traditional clothing with beautiful patterns, and unique spiritual beliefs.

In the Ainu language, the word "Ainu" means human being. The Ainu lived a lifestyle of coexistence with nature, sustaining themselves through hunting, fishing, and gathering.

Living in Harmony with Nature

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

The Ainu believe that everything in this world has a spirit. Natural phenomena that cannot be controlled by man, the animals and plants that human life relies on, the tools used in everyday life-everything that is essential for human life is deeply revered by the Ainu as avatars of the Kamui (deities).

Living in harmony with nature while being thankful to Kamui-this is the fundamental ethos of the Ainu.

A Unique Culture and Language

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Traditional Ainu clothing is embroidered with beautiful patterns.

Ainu culture has been shaped and nurtured by the nature of Hokkaido. The Ainu people of today recognize the significance of their heritage and strive to keep their culture alive.

For instance, the Ainu language has been handed down orally from generation to generation. It is completely different from Japanese. Many place names in Hokkaido today, such as Akan and Kussharo, are derived from the Ainu language.

The Ainu people speak their own language, sing songs related to daily life, and practice traditional dances. They use unique musical instruments such as the mukkuri and the tonkori in their songs and dances. The sound of these instruments and the Ainu lyrics create a mysterious, mystical atmosphere.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Ainu culture thrives in various parts of Hokkaido, such as the Shiraoi and Biratori districts. But the largest Ainu village in Hokkaido is the Lake Akan Ainu Kotan. It has flourished as a center that introduces Ainu arts and crafts to the world.

This place is the stage for a new series of tour programs that let visitors learn about and experience Ainu culture firsthand.

Anytime, Ainutime! A Tour to Experience the Ainu World

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

"Anytime, Ainutime!" is a collection of tour programs that take you to the forest and shores of Lake Akan together with Ainu guides. It offers a chance to learn the wisdom and folklore of the Ainu people and how they coexist with nature. Participants can also experience the Ainu lifestyle by making traditional Ainu instruments and embroidery.

The tour guides are Ainu people living in the Lake Akan area. Through their deep knowledge of the nature and traditions of Lake Akan, they offer you a chance to experience authentic Ainu culture.

The tour programs are introduced in detail below. They are available with English-speaking guides.

1. Forest Time: Experience the Ainu Spirituality

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

In Forest Time (Mori no Jikan), you get to explore the Lake Akan forest and experience Ainu music.

The Lake Akan Ainu depended heavily on the forest. They picked edible plants and berries, hunted wild animals, fished from the lake and rivers, and gathered materials for their tools. The wisdom and beliefs born out of this lifestyle have been continuously passed down through generations.

As you walk through the forest, you can learn about the Ainu customs and traditions surrounding the area.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Every guide has their own approach. For instance, Kengo Takiguchi, a woodcarver by trade, has deep knowledge of the trees and will tell you their Ainu names as well as their uses. You can learn a lot about Ainu culture just by hearing his stories about trees. Kengo can also conduct the tour in English.

Before entering the forest, you will experience an Ainu ritual called Kamuy-nomi. This is a prayer for safe travels in the woods, and the Ainu perform such rituals at every turn.

After the ritual, you will go into the iwor (living territory) forest not far from the Akanko Onsen area. The trail is fairly flat and easy, so novice trekkers need not worry. Along the way, you will stop by a clearing with a great view of Mt. Oakan, one of Japan's One Hundred Famous Mountains.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

The mukkuri can be taken home as a souvenir.

Inside the forest, you can also try your hand at playing a musical instrument called mukkuri. The mukkuri is a thin piece of wood that produces sound by pulling a string and vibrating a reed.

The Ainu play it to express the sounds of nature such as the wind. It might be difficult at first, but the guide will teach you the proper technique. The sound of the mukkuri echoing in the quiet woods is alluring, and you will surely want to learn more about the world of the Ainu.

This tour program lets you experience the Ainu lifestyle of living in harmony with nature and is sure to be a unique, memorable experience.

Tour Season: From June to March
Minimum/Maximum Number of Participants: Two to ten
Age Restrictions: Elementary school children (seven years old) and above.
Tour Length: About one hour and a half.
Tour fee: 5,610 yen (with tax)

2. Lake Time: See the Sights of Lake Akan

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Lake Time (Mizuumi no Jikan) lets you enjoy the magnificent views of Lake Akan in addition to the forest, while also experiencing Ainu music and learning about their lifestyle. It is one hour longer than the "Forest Time" tour mentioned above and is recommended if you want a more in-depth understanding of the Ainu.

The Ainu have many legends about the lake and the mountains in this area. You can hear these stories from the Ainu guides as you enjoy the tour.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Lake Time begins with a workshop to make a mukkuri traditional Ainu musical instrument. The guides will show you how to carve a piece of wood into the proper shape and attach a string to it. This activity takes about 30 minutes.

After making your mukkuri, you will head into the woods along the lakeshore. The route will be longer than in the "Forest Time" tour.

In the depths of the forest, you will have a chance to play the mukkuri you made. Of course, you can take the mukkuri home as a souvenir.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Along the way, you can enjoy the scenery, learn about Ainu cuisine, and watch the pleasure boats on the lake.

You will finally arrive at a clearing with a magnificent view of Lake Akan backed by Mt. Oakan. Here you can take a rest while enjoying Ainu tea. Ainu tea is made from edible wild plants and will refresh and soothe your body.

The trek takes about one hour. This tour is sure to be a memorable experience that lets you learn about Ainu culture and take wonderful photographs of the Lake Akan area.

Tour Season: From June to March
Minimum/Maximum Number of Participants: Two to ten
Age Restrictions: Elementary school children (seven years old) and above.
Tour Length: About two and a half hours.
Tour Fee: 7,700 yen (with tax)

3. Craft Time: Experience Making Ainu Patterns

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Craft Time (Tsukuru Jikan) is a workshop that lets you learn about traditional Ainu patterns through embroidery and woodcarving.

Ainu patterns are designs based on forms found in nature and are used to decorate their clothing, tools, and other items.

You can experience making your very own Ainu embroidery or wood carving while learning about the beliefs and special meanings they hold.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

The embroidery making is taught by Kayoko Nishida. She runs a folk art shop in the Lake Akan Ainu Kotan, where she teaches Ainu embroidery to the younger generation.

Kayoko asks participants to think about a special someone when making the embroidery. She will teach you not just about Ainu embroidery, but also the cultural background and meanings behind Ainu patterns.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

For the woodcarving workshop, you can choose to make either a necklace or a keychain by carving out the patterns with an engraving knife. This workshop is open to children 7 years old and above.

Workshop Season: Year-round
Minimum/Maximum Number of Participants: Two to ten
Age Restrictions: Elementary school children (seven years old) and above for each workshop.
Workshop Length: About one hour for each workshop.
Fee: 4,290 yen (with tax) for each workshop.

Booking an Ainu Culture Tour

The tour programs require advance reservation. Registration starts from the end of April, and the tours will begin starting June 1, 2020. For reservations, visit the website listed below.

Note that the tour details are subject to change, so please check the website for the latest information.

"Anytime, Ainutime!" official website: https://www.anytimeainutime.jp

Sightseeing around Lake Akan

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Frost flowers can be observed at Lake Akan in the early morning in winter when certain conditions are met. Photo by Pixta

If you're going to visit Lake Akan, make sure to enjoy the fabulous sights around the area. One of the charms of this place is its rich natural scenery, with majestic mountains such as Mt. Meakan and Mt. Oakan as well as the surrounding forest. A walk around this beautiful area will surely refresh your mind.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Lake Akan is also famous for being the only place in the world where large colonies of marimo (ball-shaped algae) grow. The marimo of Lake Akan is a designated Special Natural Monument of Japan.

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

The Lake Akan Ainu Kotan is the largest Ainu village in Hokkaido, with a population of about 120 Ainu. It features many folk art and souvenir shops, and lets you appreciate the unique arts and culture of the Ainu.

Lake Akan Ainu Theater Ikor

View Map & Details

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Akanko Onsen is a hot spring area located right next to the Lake Akan Ainu Kotan. It features many foot and hand baths, giving visitors the chance to experience Japanese hot spring culture. The water here is clear and odorless, and has been called "Bannin no Yu" (a hot spring for everyone) as it is suitable for people of all ages.

Akanko Onsen

View Map & Details

Access to Lake Akan

The Lake Akan area is easily reachable from Tancho Kushiro Airport and JR Kushiro Station. From Tokyo, the most convenient route is flying to Kushiro Airport and then heading for Lake Akan by bus or rental car.

To Tancho Kushiro Airport

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

Tancho Kushiro Airport. Photo by Pixta

A flight to Kushiro Airport from Haneda Airport in Tokyo takes about one hour and 45 minutes. You can also fly from New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, with a flight that takes about 45 minutes. Fares vary by the season and airline.

There is a bus connecting Kushiro Airport to Akanko Onsen. The ride takes about one hour and fifteen minutes and the fare is 2,190 yen for adults. The timetable varies by season, so please check the bus company's official website in advance. Driving a rental car from the airport to the onsen will take about one hour.

To Kushiro Station

Lake Akan, Hokkaido: Ainu Culture Tour

JR Kushiro Station. Photo by Pixta

For those in the Hokkaido area, riding a train is another option. The ride on the Super Ohzora, a limited express from JR Sapporo Station to Kushiro Station, takes about four to four and a half hours. The fare for a regular reserved seat is 9,990 yen.

The bus ride from Kushiro Station to Akanko Onsen takes about two hours, and the fare is 2,750 yen for adults. Driving a rental car will take about one hour and twenty minutes.

Enjoy the Ainu Culture Tours!

The "Anytime, Ainutime!" tours offer a chance to come in contact with the culture and spirituality of the Ainu people. Don't miss this opportunity to learn about Ainu culture at the shores of Lake Akan.

Written by moet
Sponsored by Kushiro City.
Pictures courtesy of Sogo Printing, unless listed otherwise.

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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