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Canoe and Forest Trekking Experience

Discovering Shibetsu - Canoe and Forest Trekking Experience

Shibetsu is a small town on the Nemuro Strait with a rich history of fishing influence and industry. When exploring the local history of a place, a lot of tours will take you in the direction of the town museum - and Shibetsu does also have a wonderful Salmon Museum that is worth visiting. But if you are interested in the ancient story of Shibetsu, one of the most immersive tours that you can experience brings you to the expanse of nature found at Po River Historical Nature Park. This guided tour combines an easy-level hiking trail, a canoeing expedition on the Po River and an immersive explanation of the history and nature that this area proudly boasts.

Po River Historical Nature Park is a huge site at the centre of what is known as Shibetsu Archaeological Area. This collection of historic sites consists of the Ichani River and the Po River basin, and includes around 4,400 crater-like hollows that are the sites of pit dwellings stemming back as far as the Jomon period 10,000 years ago. The park is a phenomenal place that aims to preserve these ancient ruins and the surrounding natural environment in an integrated manner. There are two nationally designated cultural properties preserved - the historic Ichani Karikariusu site and Shibetsu Wetland, as well as a visitor’s centre that introduces the nature, history and culture of Shibetsu town. It is a town known for its salmon and the pit dwellings help to paint a picture of how people have dwelled in this region, fishing for the salmon, for a span of thousands of years.

The ruins of these ancient dwellings remain in the hollows of the landscape and are spread throughout a rich natural environment. It’s an incredible combination to get to see this real and tangible history within such a beautiful natural setting. A gentle hiking tour with a guide takes around 2.5 hours, and leads you firstly along the wooden path of Shibetsu Marsh, where your local guide can explain the flora and fauna found in the area - about 80 kinds of alpine plants bloom from May to August. The views from the path within the marshland are extraordinary, and despite the boardwalk offering easy access, the surrounding views allow you to feel like you are truly in the midst of untouched nature. You will then enter the Ichani Karikariusu site, where ruins and wildlife are united, and within this place you can feel deeply connected to the ancestry and history of the Shibetsu area. At the ruins, you can see about 1,500 sunken pit dwellings exposed on the ground surface, as well as numerous historical and natural heritage sites such as Ainu Chashi ruins, huge Quercus crispula trees, and rare luminous moss.

People lived in the dwellings at these prehistoric sites continuously from around 10,000 years ago up until the 17th century. It is also believed that the series of Ainu ruins were used from the 13th - 18th century for various purposes, and as sacred places shared by the village. When these pit dwellings were excavated, large amounts of salmon bones were unearthed that spanned from every era. It’s amazing to think that even with the transitions between Jomon, post-Jomon, Tobinitai and Ainu cultures - through until the present day - the people of this region have gathered here every autumn in celebration and search of the salmon.

It’s possible to explore the Po River Historical Nature Park throughout the year, but walking trails or cycling paths are most easily accessible in the spring, summer and autumn seasons - between late April and early November. In the snowy winters, some snow shoe tour options in the area are also possible. Although you can enter the park without a guide, I highly recommend making the most of a tour with one of the local team here in order to really appreciate the area and all there is to offer. There is such a wealth of information to hear and discover that it truly makes it worth taking the time for a real adventure.

As well as exploring on land, The Po River meanders its winding path approximately 10 km north of Notsuke Peninsula, directly through the centre of the Historical Nature Park. The Ichani Karikariusu ruins can be found on one side of the river, with Shibetsu March to the other. Following a morning on foot, a canoe tour is the perfect way to take in the area from a different perspective. Exploring by canoe takes approximately 2 hours, and you will see some of the most incredible nature and wildlife from your place on the river. Canoe tours are available between late April and November each year.

Canoeing through the forest, you can learn about the ecology of the river, as well as the plants and wildlife that are seen along the shoreline. Your guide will take their time to explain and instruct about the nature around you and intertwine the historical context with the present day. The Po River flows like an ancient road that the people who lived in this area over the hundreds and thousands of years prior would have used to travel. You can literally sail your canoe and follow the trail of the ancient people of Shibetsu. The river itself is peaceful and calm, and with sunshine filtering through the trees and the chirping of birds overhead, you can’t help but feel such a connection to this place and its history.

Shibetsu is a warm and welcoming community of people who are proud of their heritage and understand the influence of their history upon the present day. This is an area that boasts not only incredible nature, but a landscape rich in celebration, where you can merge adventure and activity with something more than that. Where else can you hike in a forest or canoe on a river, and know that you are literally sharing these routes and experiences with a community of people that have continued for thousands of years?

If you are visiting Shibetsu and interested in a guided gentle hiking tour in Po River Historical Nature Park, a canoeing tour on the Po River - or as I would recommend, a day that combines the two activities - you can find out more at https://www.heritage-of-salmon.com/en/