Going to see Hokkaido’s “end of the earth” at the very tip of Rausu
by Shungo Hanaoka
Midway down the southern edge of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a place that is endlessly charming and attracting visitors, there is a small settlement–a tightly packed collection of people and buildings. This is the fishing village of Rausu. I went there and saw the furthest reaches of the earth. It was a truly poignant journey.
Rausu-cho is a narrow village about 60 kilometers north to south and eight kilometers east to west. The village’s name, “Rausu,” is an adaptation of the Ainu word “Raushi” (a place with animal bones). This name apparently comes from the fact that this entire area used to be an Ainu hunting ground. This photo was taken from the Rausu Kunashiri Observatory Deck, 167 meters from the roadside station at a height of about 2.2 kilometers. It commands a view of the Shiretoko Peninsula’s highest peak Rausudake (elevation: 1,661m). The village runs along the narrow space within the ravine down towards the coast.
Turning towards the ocean from the top of the observatory you can see that on the opposite side of the Nemuro strait stretching out before your eyes is Kunashiri Island, part of the northern territories. It sits almost directly adjacent and parallel to Rausu-cho. At its closest point it is only separated from the village by a mere 25 kilometers.
The viewing guide displayed on the observatory platform gave a clear and straightforward introduction to the related sights. It was apparent how Kunashiri Island was long and narrow with both high points and low points. Incidentally, the much farther Etorofu Island is not visible.
Let’s move from the center of the village and get a little bit closer to the edge of the Shiretoko Peninsula. At a section of high ground about three kilometers out stands Kujiranomieruoka Park (the whale watching hill park). The Rausu lighthouse is also here.
Rausu’s coast and Kunashiri Island as seen from the Kujiranomieruoka Park. It is a fantastic view. As the name of the park suggests, from here you can supposedly see sperm whales spouting water with the naked eye. This is a truly exceptional place unlike any other in the world.
A hill road leading to the ocean.
If you go along the coastal roads towards the edge of the Shiretoko Peninsula there is a point where the line of houses finally ends and a smattering of “ban’ya,” or small fishing huts, begins. There is construction work being done here and there on the slope of the mountain where there are absolutely no signs of human activity. Past that point there are signboards that say “Do not enter” and “Danger! No passage.” This is an area about 25 kilometers from the center of the village. As there are no roads that run around the Shiretoko Cape, this is closest you can come to it.
Across a small bridge there are large signs warning “those who proceed past this point.” They say that “Shiretoko is a habitat with a high density of brown bears,” “Exercise caution in all fishing activities,” “You are accountable for all your actions,” and “Take nothing at all except for pictures.”
This is the final point reachable by car, the Aidomari district. It is still 26 kilometers from the Shiretoko Cape, but it seems that there are no satisfying roads that run along the coast anyway. The origin of the name “Shiretoko” comes from the Ainu word “Shirietoku,” meaning “the edge of the earth.” This place truly lives up to that name.
Returning to the village and heading to the Rausu business center. It is a museum that gives a straightforward introduction to the nature of the Shiretoko National Park.
It has a diorama laying out the geography of Shiretoko and a massive Orca skeleton display, among other interesting things.
This 26-minute video introducing the nature of Shiretoko, titled “The Four Seasons of Rausu, Shiretoko,” is a must-see. It leaves nothing out in its account of the magnificence and wonder of the beautiful nature and lush flora and fauna of the area.
I’m feeling a little hungry. Where should I go for lunch? Upon hearing from the locals that Hamata Market is particularly delicious, I decide to pay a visit.
This is the recommended “Tokishirazu” special set meal. “Tokishirazu” consists of salmon that is outside the ordinary in that it was caught while still in the adolescent stage where it is not yet ready to lay eggs. As the fat and nutrients, etc., have not yet been consumed by the ovaries or testicles, they still permeate the meat. This is a truly exceptional piece of salmon with meat that is soft, tender, and fatty. The set meal includes sashimi with arajiru (soup made from boiling leftover fish scraps).
After buying some souvenirs I make my reluctant departure from Rausu. I’d love to come back during a different season.