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Ainu Cultural Tours at Lake Akan in Hokkaido

Get in touch with the spirit and wisdom of the Ainu people

In the Lake Akan area of Eastern Hokkaido, you can join various tour programs that let you experience the culture of the indigenous Ainu people. Under the guidance of Ainu guides, you can learn about Ainu folklore and spirituality, and get to play traditional Ainu musical instruments.

The Fascinating Culture of the Ainu

The Lake Akan area in Eastern Hokkaido is known for its beautiful nature and hot springs. It is also a place where the culture of the indigenous Ainu people has thrived since ancient times.

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

The Ainu speak their own language, sing songs related to daily life, and perform traditional dances. In their songs and dances, they use unique musical instruments such as the "mukkuri" and the "tonkori". The sound of these instruments along with the Ainu songs create a mystical atmosphere.

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

Living in Harmony with Nature

The Ainu believe that everything in this world has a spirit called "Kamuy". From natural phenomena that cannot be controlled by man, the animals and plants in nature, to the tools they use in everyday life|everything that is essential for human life is deeply revered by the Ainu as Kamuy.

Living in harmony with nature while showing gratitude to the Kamuy. This is the fundamental ethos of the Ainu.

The culture of the Ainu has been 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 future generations.

Anytime, Ainutime! Tour Programs to Experience the World of the Ainu

Anytime, Ainutime! is a collection of tour programs that take you into the forest and shores of Lake Akan together with Ainu guides. These tours let you learn the wisdom of the Ainu and how they coexist with nature. You can also experience part of the Ainu lifestyle by making traditional Ainu instruments and embroidery.

The tours are led by Ainu guides who live 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.

Below, we introduce the details of the Anytime, Ainutime! tour programs.

1. Forest Time: Experience the Spirituality of the Ainu

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

The Ainu of Lake Akan 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 their life with the forest have been passed down through generations.

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

Every guide has their own approach to the tours. For instance, Kengo Takiguchi, a wood carver by trade, has a deep knowledge of the trees, and he likes to tell guests their Ainu names as well as their uses. You can learn a lot about Ainu culture just by listening to his stories about the 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 in many occasions in their daily lives.

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

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

The Ainu play the mukkuri 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 to play it. The sound of the mukkuri echoing in the quiet woods is enchanting, and it will make you want to learn more about the world of the Ainu.

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

Available period: June to March
Number of participants: 2 to 10
Age limit: Elementary school children (7 years old) and above
Duration: Approx. 1 hour 30 minutes
Tour fee: 9,000 yen per person (tax inclusive)

2. Lake Time: See the Sights of Lake Akan

Lake Time (Mizuumi no Jikan) lets you enjoy the magnificent views of Lake Akan and its surrounding forests, while also experiencing Ainu music and learning about their lifestyle. It is longer than the "Forest Time" tour mentioned above by 30 minutes, and is recommended if you want a more in-depth understanding of the Ainu.

The Ainu have many legends about Lake Akan and the mountains in the area. You can hear about these legends and folklore from the Ainu guide as you enjoy the sights in the tour.

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

After making your own mukkuri, you will head into the woods along the shore of Lake Akan. The route you take 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 also take it home as a souvenir.

As you walk through the forest, you will arrive at a clearing with a magnificent view of Lake Akan backed by Mt. Oakan. Here you can take a rest while enjoying some Ainu tea. This tea is made from edible wild plants, and will soothe and refresh your body.

Available period: June to March
Number of participants: 2 to 10
Age limit: Elementary school children (7 years old) and above
Duration: Approx. 2 hours
Tour fee: 12,000 yen per person (tax inclusive)

3. Craft Time: Experience Making Traditional Ainu Patterns

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

Ainu patterns are modeled after forms found in nature. The Ainu use them to decorate their clothing, tools, and other items. In this tour program, you can experience making your very own Ainu embroidery or wood carving while learning about the beliefs and meanings behind them.

The embroidery-making workshop is led by Kayoko Nishida. She runs a folk art shop in the Lake Akan Ainu Kotan, where she often teaches Ainu embroidery to younger generations.

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

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 limited to participants aged 10 years old and above.

Available period: All year round
Number of participants: 2 to 10
Age limit Embroidery-making: 7 years old and above
Age limit Woodcarving: 10 years old and above
Duration: Approx. 1 hour 30 minutes
Fee: Embroidery-making: 6,000 yen / Woodcarving: 5,000 yen (tax inclusive)

Booking an Anytime, Ainutime! Cultural Tour

All tour programs require advance reservation.

For reservations, please visit the following website. Note that the details of each tour are subject to change, so please check the website for the latest information.

Anytime, Ainutime! English website

Access to Lake Akan

The Lake Akan area is conveniently accessible from Kushiro Airport and the JR Kushiro Station. If you are coming from Tokyo, you can fly to Kushiro Airport then head to Lake Akan by bus or rental car.

There is a bus that travels between Kushiro Airport and Lake Akan. The ride takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Note that the bus schedule may vary by season, so please check the bus operator's website in advance. Driving a car from Kushiro Airport to Lake Akan takes about one hour.

Visiting from Kushiro Station

If you are already in Hokkaido, taking the train may be a convenient option. From Sapporo Station, you can ride the JR Ozora limited express train to Kushiro Station, which takes about four and a half hours.

You can then ride a bus from Kushiro Station to Lake Akan, which takes about two hours. Driving a car from the station to Lake Akan takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes.