Beauty in shades of blue

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  • Kamui Misaki cape at the edge of Hokkaido’s Shakotan Peninsula offers a wonderful view of the sea.

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Kamuimisaki cape juts out from the northwestern edge of the Shakotan Peninsula in Hokkaido, Japan. Visitors are able to enjoy a panoramic view of the horizon at the tip of the cape.

REACHING THE tip of Kamuimisaki cape on the north-western edge of the Shakotan Peninsula in Hokkaido, can only be achieved on foot and involves walking carefully along a narrow path that looks and feels like a mountain ridge, rising as high as 80 metres above sea level. Buffeted by the wind, it takes me a full 20 minutes to reach the cape, which looks out over the crystal-clear Sea of Japan, a beautiful shade of azure that has become known as “Shakotan blue”.

From this viewpoint, the horizon appears slightly curved at both ends testifying to what we already know – that the Earth is round. And even through it took about an hour from the centre of Shakotan by car, the spectacle is well worth the trip.

The sea offers not only this impressive view but also a variety of seafood. The town is famous for nama uni don (raw sea urchin roe atop a bowl of rice). I was there, however, just after the fishing season, which is limited to June through August.

Even so, a Japanese restaurant I visited for lunch still offered steamed sea urchin roe, and I enjoyed the kaisendon sashimi bowl decorated lavishly with northern shrimp and seasonal salmon roe. The sea urchin roe melted in my mouth, and I could taste its subtle sweetness.

Forests account for 80 per cent of the town. The rains that fall on the highlands are soaked up in the mountain areas, and the nutrient-laden rivers flow into the sea. This process is believed to help the growth of seafood and seaweed.

In 2010, Japan Tobacco Inc began a 10-year project called JT Forest Shakotan to help the conservation of these mountains. JT subsidises the costs of forest management within the reach of three rivers running through the town, including the Bikunigawa.

“Ill-maintained forests are recovering,” Hideki Matsui, the 68-year-old mayor of Shakotan tells me.

“I want to scientifically prove that mountains foster the ocean.”

Experts on forests, rivers and seas have already started investigations in their various fields.

“I hope they will collect enough data soon so that we can properly explain to children, who will be responsible for the next generation,” Matsui continues.

Forests not only nurture the abundant sea, but also are helping the reconstruction of areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. About 2,000 trees including Japanese larches were cut down, sent to disaster-hit areas such as Miyagi Prefecture and used as foundations for temporary housing units in May 2011. The workings of nature help human beings, showing the importance of protecting nature.

The next day, I visited a traditional-style fishermen’s lodge in the centre of the town that was originally built for those involved in the herring fishing industry, once the pride of the town. The streets are littered with the houses, now abandoned, that once accommodated fishing boat owners, their families and their crews.

In 2008, residents in the town began activities to preserve these houses as sightseeing spots. Local volunteers including Noriichi Bessho, 67, renovated the lodge and named it Yamashime Banya.

A public interest corporation subsidised the costs of renovation such as for replacing the flooring.

The facility was opened to the public until late September, hosting events such as shamisen lute performances. It is currently closed in preparation for further restoration work, but should reopen around May next year.

“I feel regret if tourists just eat sea urchin roe and leave town. I want them to know the history of Shakotan,” Bessho says.

Source: The Nation

Japanese food

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