Kari Grohn's Home Page - Japan - Shiretoko












Kamuiwakkanotaki, Shiretoko National Park

Kamuiwakka-no-taki falls are located on the Shiretoko Peninsula, which is the easternmost shore of Hokkaido. In Ainu the word kamuiwakka means river of gods and shiruitoku the end of the earth. Kamuiwakka is one of the most unique rotenburo (open air hot spring). Actually, it is a cascading thermal river with a series of falls and outdoor pools. 
It took 20 minutes to climb in the river to the top pool, which is hottest and most picturesque. Water got hotter as I headed upstream. Some of the streams were boiling hot. Without straw sandals I couldn’t climb up the river. Finally I saw the bath. It was a large, deep basin carved out of rock by the waterfall behind. There I sat amidst the trees, listened to the relaxing falls and soaked my bones in the restorative water. The acidic water may sting any cuts or abrasions, but it is a little price for sheer ecstasy. The water might also be good for nervous disorders. Beforehand I fantasized about sharing the pleasure of rotenburo with beautiful girls. Funnily, I found myself enjoying the most extraordinary bath together with two ladies. Kamuiwakka is so popular among young Japanese that many of them visit Shiretoko just for this fantastic experience. 















Mashuko, Akan National Park
When visiting Lake Mashuko, the Ainu god smiled at me. I could admire the lake and Kamuishu Island, which are almost always fogbound. I shared the day’s good luck with Hiroshi from Kyoto. This round-faced student visited Hokkaido just to see Kamuishu, which is like a beauty spot on a woman’s face. The oval-shaped small island is the peak of the lava hill in the lake. 

In Ainu kamuishu means an old woman who became a god. According to an Ainu legend a strong tribe chief was killed in a war, and his mother was running about to escape in dark fields and mountains with her grandchild. But the mother lost the child and ranged through the woods looking for the beloved one. Finally she arrived at the shore of Mashuko, where she asked for Mt Kamuinupuri’s permission to rest. While taking a rest she transformed herself to an isle because of fatigue and sadness. 

ashuko is a crescent-moon crater lake with its steep encircling wall. Mt Kamuinupuri (Divine Mountain in Ainu) towers above the shore. The maximum depth of Mashuko is 212m. There are two inflowing streams, but no observable outlet. It is believed that water seeps out through porous bottom sediments, since the water level remains fairly constant. In 1931 the transparency of 42m ranked among the clearest lakes surpassing that of Lake Baikal. The clarity has, however, decreased substantially. It was no more than 18m in 2002. 

I walked along the shore and enjoyed the beauty of birch forests. When I returned, a thick mist surrounded the lake. It was a temporary good luck. 












Ainumura, Arashiyama, Asahikawa
When visiting Ainu-mura (Ainu village), an Ainu house was constructed. The village in the Arashiyama Park of Asahikawa provides an opportunity to learn about Ainu wisdom in the natural environment. The house was built by using natural materials found in surroundings. Walls were woven from broad leaves of kumazasa bamboo. Perhaps the Ainu house is not designed for permanent residence. Aboriginal nomad people (the Sami) in Scandinavia had such functional temporary houses. 

The indigenous Ainu were hunters and gatherers. The Ainu’s bear sacrifice festival (kuma matsuri) is held to calm down the mighty spirit of the hunted bear. The Finnish epic, Kalevala tells about same kind of feasts, and still villagers take part in similar feasts. In Finnish there are many substitutes for a tabooed word of bear.

Ainu means human in Ainu. Since the Ainu did not have their own written language, they have transmitted their epics, songs and stories orally. In Ainu stories heroes are animal gods or nature gods and humans with divine power. The performers tell the stories with melodies, inserting onomatopoeia of various sounds of nature. 

The gentle view of the weakest members of society is a basic part of the Ainu way of life. When the Ainu hear a baby bubbling they say that it has just come from the world of gods and is speaking divine language. Likewise, when a senile old person speaks incoherently, they say he or she is about to return to the divine world and is speaking with gods.




















Hagoromonotaki, Daisetsuzan National Park

Late May I was planning to climb to the peak of Mt Daisetsuzan and walk down to the Tenninkyo and see Hagoromo. However, due to snow the route was not available. Instead, I saw a Japanese cross-country skiing team practicing. Skiing in the end of May reminded me of Finnish Lapland. So I gave up climbing and travelled by bus to Tenninkyo. Hagoromonotaki was marvellous. Generally a waterfall has an aspect of masculinity but as far as Hagoromonotaki was concerned, no doubt it was feminine. Needless to say I fully enjoyed onsen in Tenninkyo.
Hagoromo-no-taki (Angel’s Robe Falls) cascades down 250m in the Daisetsuzan National park. The graceful appearance of the seven-tired waterfall trickling down the rock surface is just like a celestial maiden dancing with her heavenly robe streaming in the water. A local legend has it that a celestial maiden who came down to the waterfall has made Higashikawa River prosper as a rice producing area with the abundant water. 

The Hagoromo legend has tens of variations throughout Japan. In Shizuoka an annual festival is held based on a Noh play on Hagoromo. According to the legend a fisherman found a beautiful feather robe on a branch of a pine tree. He took the dress and decided to keep it as a treasure, but heard a woman's voice saying that she undressed the robe during her bathing and that it is an angel’s dress for flying. Without the dress she could not go back to heaven and would die. The fairy continued that if you give it back to me, I will show you a beautiful heavenly dance. The fisherman said that if I give the dress back, you would go heaven without showing the dance to me. The woman answered that heavenly creatures keep their promise. The ashamed fisherman gave back the dress and the heavenly being danced gracefully in the sky. Gradually she flew higher and higher, and finally disappeared among clouds upon Mt Fuji.