Enjoy the Culture of Japan's Indigenous Ainu People: A 5-Day Stay in Hokkaido's Akanko Ainu Kotan

Many may think of Hokkaido as a place cocooned in snow, ideal for winter activities and snowy adventures, but this vast northern region is also the birthplace of Japan’s indigenous Ainu people and the beating heart of their fascinating, ancient traditions. We, the editorial team of tsunagu Japan, recently got to visit one of Hokkaido’s natural wondersーLake Akanーwhere Japan’s largest Ainu village is located, and discover more about the unique way of life and history of these people. Read on to know more about this 5-day journey - you are sure to be enriched by a deeper understanding of their culture, warm hospitality, and profound appreciation of nature as much as we were!

釧路

Experiences

*This article was written in collaboration with Kushiro City.

Who Are the Ainu People?

The indigenous people of Hokkaido call themselves “Ainu,” a word that in the Ainu language means “human” as one of the many booklets we avidly collected upon our arrival in Hokkaido taught us. A befitting name for the kind-hearted, welcoming people who are deeply in touch with their humanity that we met during our 5-day journey in the Akanko area!

Ainu have been living in the unspoiled lands of Hokkaido for innumerable generations, millennia before the Japanese started expanding to the northern island at the end of the Edo period (1603 -1867). As the bounty of nature was fundamental to their lives, the Ainu strongly believed in the harmonious coexistence with it. By hunting in the luscious forests of Hokkaido and fishing in its pristine rivers and lakes without contaminating them, Ainu revered the natural world that provided them with food through the respect for the “Kamuy” (Ainu deities).

The Ainu people not only have their own unique system of beliefs but also treasure a rich tradition of oral literature, produce distinct, intricately embroidered garments and exquisite traditional crafts, as well as speak their own language which is still used today in traditional settings and events. You can learn all about them at the Lake Akan Ainu village, Akanko Ainu Kotan!

Akanko Ainu Kotan - Japan’s Indigenous Culture Center in Lake Akan

As we landed at Tancho Kushiro Airport, the nearest transportation hub to the Akanko Ainu Kotan, Hokkaido’s pleasantly fresh August greeted us with an almost 10°C difference in temperature from that of Tokyo. This was a welcomed change to the heavily humid weather of the Japanese capital during the summer months! Luckily, we didn’t forget to pack a few sweaters which proved to come in handy during our walks in the forests or when some sudden summer showers decided to pamper the already lush green surroundings of the village.

Being home to 36 residences and about 120 people, Akanko Ainu Kotan represents the largest Ainu village in Japan. It was made into the picturesque settlement it is today around the 1950s, when tourists started visiting Lake Akan and Ainu people from other cities decided to move there, attracted by the flourishing local wood-carving business. Today, the village still embodies the mission to preserve the Ainu’s invaluable cultural heritage.

Beloved through the decades as a center that witnessed the unique merging of Japan's indingenous culture, Akanko Ainu Kotan offers an occasion for sheer relaxation, personal enrichment, and learning for history buffs and nature lovers alike. Here, on top of facilities that grant you a glimpse into the local culture, you can find charming hot springs and magnificent wilderness.

Feeling refreshed thanks to the crisp, unpolluted air of Hokkaido, we got onboard a local bus that led us through misty woods to Akanko Ainu Kotan, ready to enjoy this new adventure! “Kotan,” or Ainu villages, were traditionally built in locations with easy access to food and water, such as near rivers, coastlines, and lakeshores, that were also protected from natural disasters. In this way, kotan built in nature using natural materials granted their inhabitants safety and nourishment, allowing the Ainu people to benefit from hunting and foraging in the surrounding forests and mountains, as well as fishing in the nearby sources of water.

Once we stepped out of the bus, we indeed found ourselves far from the cities, immersed in the majestic wilderness of Lake Akan. A group of quaint wooden buildings housing workshops and restaurants stands near the lake, looking like they were chiseled from the very forests that hug the village in their green arms and then crafted by the skilful hands of an artisan in a multitude of colorful woodworks. That first, brief glimpse of beauty left us wanting to explore more!

Akanko Ainu Kotan Homepage: https://www.akanainu.jp/en/about

[Day 1]

The Epic Story of the Fire God - Immersing Ourselves in Epic Ainu Folklore at Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor>

We were thrilled to know that the first stop on our journey to explore the Ainu traditions was Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor>. Living up to its name, which in the Ainu language means “treasure,” this theater works as a treasure chest for culture, with its main purpose being that of guarding the history and culture of the Ainu and passing it down to the next generation. It was clear to us that no place was more suited than this to connect with Ainu heritage for the first time!

The theater is located uphill, just behind the main square of Akanko Ainu Kotan. Adorned by elaborate wood carvings, the entrance was protected by a giant owl with its majestic wings wide open. We later learned that the owl is the Kamuy watching over the Ainu village. Therefore, its illustrious presence can be spotted around the village, elegantly perched on the arches that symbolize the entrance to the village center or inspecting visitors at the gate of Onne cise (an art museum that keeps Ainu tradition alive and creates new culture). We could feel its watchful eyes, as if we needed to pass its meticulous examination before we could enter the theater and with it, the world of Ainu legends.

Over the centuries, Ainu people have crafted their own unique literature, handing it down without the help of written characters. Generation after generation, the sequences of words that formed legends, songs, and prayers survived thanks to the power of the Ainu spoken language, just to reach us today in this theater. These stories teach about Ainu values and their way of life, such as their relationship with the Kamuy, the harmony with nature, and all kinds of social norms. In other words, watching the performances at this theater is crucial to gaining a better understanding of Ainu society.

Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor> currently presents 3 different programs, but we got to view their latest production, the “The Epic Story of the Fire God,” a “yukar” (epic poetry) about the legendary adventures of Apehuchikamuy (the god of fire). Centered around an “oina” (story about the gods) native to Lake Akan, this yukar is a display of Ainu traditional narrative, dances, and songs that vividly unfold with the help of light effects and digital art projections, presenting a series of animated backgrounds that follow the developments of the narration. 

Thanks to the English pamphlet we got at the entrance of the theater, there was no difficulty following along, as we could conveniently read through the plot beforehand! 

Captured by the engaging mix of tradition and technology, we were indeed awed by the projections decorating the theater with lights as beautiful as auroras, raging clouds, and delicate whirls of snow, while the gentle sounds of the Ainu language echoed powerfully, pulling the strings of the story in a way that was so captivating, we couldn’t look away for a second.

The Epic Story of the Fire God Homepage: https://www.akanainu.jp/en/fire_god

Hamakko - Grilling Our Dinner the Hokkaido Way at This Robatayaki Restaurant

By the time we emerged from the epic world set up by Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor>, the sun had already sunk below the horizon and the temperature dropped to that of a chilly Hokkaido night. We found shelter at Hamakko, hoping to warm up with a locally sourced, freshly grilled meal at this long-running “robatayaki” Japanese-style pub. 

A type of coal grilling that originated in Hokkaido, "robatayaki" is a rustic yet delicious style of cooking where the high temperatures preserve the natural flavors and juices of the food, as well as keep the room warm even in the harshest of Hokkaido winters. Ready to dive into the wonders of robatayaki, we proceeded to order anything that attracted our attention from the list of delicious dishes available.

From beloved staples like chicken or pork skewers coated with Hamakko’s secret robatayaki sauce for extra flavor, to juicy vegetables like shiitake mushrooms and fragrant asparagus, and even delicacies from Hokkaido’s bountiful sea such as “hokke” (Okhotsk atka mackerel) or “sanma” (Pacific saury), robatayaki is an ideal way to cook almost any type of food, making it the perfect texture to melt in the mouth. We were particularly impressed by the scallops seared in butter. They were a bite of pure perfection with their crispy outside yet succulent inside.

Comforted by the crackling sound of the heated grill and the mouth-watering smell of the dishes still cooking, we could relax in the homey atmosphere of Hamakko and enjoy food that was so fresh and perfectly grilled, we could have easily continued ordering every item on the menu without being disappointed by the exceptional quality.

[Day 2]

Ryogoku - Taking a Closer Look at Lake Akan's Traditional Food Culture

We started our second day at the Akanko Ainu Kotan with a new culinary adventure at Ryogoku, a restaurant mainly serving Ezo venison dishes. Here, they skillfully prepare high-quality venison renowned for its tenderness and delicate flavor. 

We were served a delicious meal made with carefully selected ingredients from the Akan area that not only recharged our energy for a full day of exploration, but also encouraged us to learn more about traditional Ainu food culture which was once based on fishing and hunting.

As expected, our lunch at Ryogoku was all about premium local venison meat. Whether presented in the abundant bowl of “shikadon” (venison meat on top of rice) glazed with their secret hand-made “tare” (a soy-based sauce with an addition of fruit for an unexpected punch) or thinly sliced for some “teppanyaki” magic (a style of cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook), the finely prepared meat was so tender and savory that it would have conquered even someone new to venison cuisine with its incredible taste!

Ryogoku Homepage: http://www.ryogoku-akanko.com/ (Japanese only)

Onne cise - Coming in Contact With the Artistic Heritage of the Ainu People at This Unique Museum

After lunch, we headed back to the village center to stop by the Onne cise for another valuable chance to get closer to Ainu culture. Originally built as the theater of the kotan, Onne cise was replaced in its role in 2012 when Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor> was completed. But far from being forgotten, the building was entrusted with a new, important task, that of keeping the Ainu tradition alive while creating new culture and promoting progress. Today, Onne cise exhibits local Ainu artwork and crafts, such as wood carvings, garments and accessories, swords, pendants, and even sacred objects used for rituals and prayers. Everything on display offers an insightful glimpse into daily Ainu life.

Browsing through the many interesting artifacts, the traditional garments especially caught our eye, and we couldn’t help but stop in front of the case displaying them. Ainu traditional dress requires a skilful working of cloth and embroidery and, awed by that level of craftsmanship, we let our eyes wander across the intricate decorations that we learned are not there just for embellishment, but also to ward off evil spirits.

As though we weren't already lucky enough to witness the beauty treasured inside Onne cise, we even got the opportunity to speak with Debo-san, a director for Ainu artistic performances, as well as actor, dancer, and wood-carving artist. He recently directed the Ainu dances performed during the 2020 Olympics’ race walking and marathon events in Sapporo. He shared with us some of the values esteemed by the Ainu people as well as stories from the Ainu world that he has been supporting for decades. Among the many, we felt the Ainu saying “Nature exists, therefore we exist. We exist, therefore nature exists” was especially relevant as a reminder for modern society.

Towards the end of our chat, Debo-san also kindly unveiled the meaning behind the name Onne cise, a compound of two Ainu words that add further depth to the museum. While he was explaining that “onne” means “big” in the sense of something close to  completion and “cise” means “house,” we could already picture the museum as a place where culture can freely grow and, with the passing time, gain eminence.

Onne cise Homepage: https://www.akanainu.jp/onnecise/en/

Poronno - Tasting Traditional and Authentic Ainu Dishes in the Center of the Ainu Village

We still had one activity planned for the day, so we didn’t mind having an early dinner at Poronno, as it meant finishing just in time to attend the magnificent traditional Ainu dances performed at Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor> that day. Poronno is one of the wooden buildings that contributes to the quaint appearance of the village. The interiors are no less unique, as they are decorated with a multitude of colorful, traditional Ainu craftworks that set the vibe for a delicious meal.

Being in business for over 40 years, Poronno is a local institution that offers Ainu cuisine the way it was prepared for generations by the owners' grandmother as well as original dishes that incorporate the blessings of nature thriving along the shores of Lake Akan. Ainu people traditionally prefer to appreciate the freshness and real flavors of the food, so Ainu cuisine doesn't use much seasoning and takes advantage of flavorful seasonal ingredients.

We picked one of their most popular items on the menu, the “yuk ohaw” venison soup set, and as expected from the flavorful Ainu cuisine, we were wrapped by a cloud of delicious smells. The earthy yet mouth-watering venison soup was garnished with savory local mountain vegetables and came with a full bowl of fragrant “amamu” (rice cooked with beans) and a side of delicately spicy “mefun” (salmon kidney pickled in salt).

Out of curiosity, we also decided to order the “setaento” tea. We couldn’t have made a better choice - it climbed to the top of our personal favorite teas in a flash! This Ainu herbal tea has soothing properties and is suited for aromatherapy thanks to its incredible fragrance, which reminded us of a flowering meadow. We loved it so much that we asked the owners of Poronno if it was possible to buy some as a souvenir. They revealed that every year, they personally gather the amount of ingredients needed to prepare just enough tea for the restaurant (they do so for the herbs and wild plants used in their other dishes, too). Humbled by the information, we ended up slowly savoring every drop of the delicious tea.

Poronno Homepage: https://www.poronno.com/ (Japanese only)

Akan Traditional Ainu Dance - Witnessing the Beauty of a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Amazed by the superb dinner, we were looking forward to being even more amazed by the Ainu traditional dances. We were sitting in Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor> waiting in the darkness for the performance to start, when a brazier was suddenly lit at the center of the stage in a theatrical effect that caused general awe and marked the beginning of the performance. 

Ainu dances and songs play an indispensable role in the Ainu way of life. They are not only intended for entertainment, but also perceived as a way to physically express the joy and sorrow of life and one’s true feelings, as well as show gratitude and respect to the ancestors and Kamuy. We were extremely honored to witness such beauty and tradition.

With their high significance, uniqueness, and relevant social role, it’s no wonder these dances were first designated a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property and later recognized as a UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009!

The Akan traditional Ainu dance we were able to admire is centered around the “inau” (a wooden ritual tool used to connect the Ainu people with the Kamuy) and the five Kamuy (fire, water, earth, wind, and the sun) that are most cherished by the Ainu of Lake Akan.

Consisting of several different dances and songs—each one with its own characteristics—the performance included sections such as the Sitting Song, where dancers sit around a lid called “shintoko” and sing while hitting it, and the Ku Rimuse (arrow dance), where an Ainu hunter is touched by a beautiful bird flying in the sky. They were all impressive, but we were most moved by the Futtarechui (dance of black hair), where the dancers use their hair to mimic the movements of tall pine trees shaken by a storm, as well as by the Sarorun Kamuy Rimuse (crane dance), where dancers represent the elegant wings of a crane with their clothes and movements.

For more information on the dance performances: https://www.akanainu.jp/en/tr-dance

[Day 3]

Akan Sightseeing Cruise - Exploring the Natural Wonders of Lake Akan With a Relaxing Pleasure Cruise

As we didn’t get a proper chance yet, we decided to spend our third day exploring the pure source of water that nurtures this luscious land and its people, Lake Akan. The lake was formed by a volcanic eruption and today, with its rich wildlife and vegetation, it's a part of Akan-Mashu National Park.

Lake Akan can be best explored on a cruise, so we boarded one of the sightseeing boats for a 85-minute course that led us through the nooks of the lake and its superb nature. The cruise was a sequence of scenic panoramas, enhanced by the silky, silver waters of the lake and the deep green reflections on its surface that we could enjoy from the cozy interiors or the wide decks of the boat.

We also got to land at Churui Island in the northwest part of Lake Akan, where the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center is located, a place we wanted to visit since plans for this trip were made! If nature at Lake Akan wasn’t already amazing enough, the lake proved to be a premium spot for biodiversity, too. In fact, it is the only place in the world where giant marimo, or lake balls, grow into large spheres up to the size of a basketball. This type of algae needs pure, cold water to survive, and is extremely rare. Thus, it is a protected species that has also been designated as a Special National Treasure since 1952.

The exhibition center on Churui Island is a great occasion to learn more about the life of marimo and their importance as a symbol of the rich flora and fauna diversity of Lake Akan. The island is also covered with a virgin forest, so it is believed to be an incredibly spiritual spot capable of absorbing stress thanks to its natural energy. On our way back to the village, we indeed felt very refreshed!

Akan Sightseeing Cruise Homepage: http://www.akankisen.com/_eng/index.html

Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga Hotel - Trying Hokkaido’s Delicacies With a Premium Dinner Buffet

After a full day of exploration around the lake, we were enthusiastic about having dinner in the comfort of our hotel, Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga. The hotel stands on the shores of Lake Akan in the hot spring area of Akanko Onsen, just a few steps away from the center of the Akanko Ainu Kotan. We loved spending time in its refined rooms, which had a fusion of Japanese aesthetics and details inspired by Lake Akan and local culture such as wood carvings and wooden decor.

The best part about this hotel was not only the easy access to all the attractions of the area but also the fabulous “onsen” (hot spring) options it offered. We could choose from an onsen on the first floor with a garden open-air bath right on the shore of Lake Akan, or an onsen located on the eighth floor and rooftop with a view bath and sky bath, and we weren't disappointed by either. The panorama was so incredible and there were so many hot spring baths to try out that spending time there made us feel deeply rejuvenated. 

Dining at Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga gave us the chance to savor many of Hokkaido’s delicacies thanks to the buffet-style restaurant which takes advantage of fresh local ingredients for its dishes. The excellent selection included over 100 dishes - from Japanese, Chinese, and Italian cuisines - so the buffet is sure to satisfy any palate! As we couldn’t decide what to eat, we scooped small portions of every dish on our plates and ended up particularly loving the seafood that Hokkaido is renowned for as well as the vast selection of desserts.

Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga Homepage: https://www.tsuruga.com/en/

[Day 4]

Anytime, Ainutime!! - Unveiling the Secrets of the Forest With an Ainu Guide

We started our fourth day at Akanko Ainu Kotan in the forest. First by crafting our own “mukkuri,” or mouth harp, an Ainu traditional instrument used to reproduce the sounds of nature; and then by following the steps of our Ainu guideーTakiguchi-sanーfor an adventure along the shores of Lake Akan.

Ainu tradition teaches that spirits reside in all things, including natural elements such as mountains, lakes, and plants, all of which support the Ainu livelihood by providing food, clothing, and tools. For this reason, being knowledgeable about nature and knowing how to take advantage of its blessings while respecting them is a key point in the Ainu way of life that has been carefully passed down through generations.

So, when we approached the majestic living being that is the forest of Lake Akan, we felt grateful for the wise guidance of our chaperon, as we got to experience it through the eyes and wisdom of the local Ainu people. The deeper we ventured into the forest, the more Takiguchi-san taught us about the secrets of the surrounding nature: which plants are edible, which ones were useful as medicinal plants or to produce shampoo, what type of wood they use to carve religious tools or traditional instruments, and much more. He even told us how nature inspired the Ainu people, pointing at some cavities chiseled by woodpeckers that might have influenced the shape of Ainu traditional boats.

Our tour into the depths of the forest and some of its hidden scenic spots was not only an opportunity to find out more about Ainu folklore and beliefs, but also a chance to take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life while remembering the importance of the simple, yet precious, things surrounding us. During our time there, we were even so lucky to meet a lovely family of deer munching on some fresh plants! We ended the tour thinking that the Ainu way of life is full of valuable lessons and encounters which we’ll make sure to bring back home to enrich our own lifestyles.

Anytime, Ainutime!! Homepage: https://en.anytimeainutime.jp/

Lost Kamuy - Learning the Touching Story of the Ainu Deity that Disappeared from Hokkaido

After our energizing walk in the forest, we were thrilled to return to Akanko Ainu Theater <Ikor> to view a completely different type of performance. In fact, Lost Kamuy—the performance which we were about to admire—beautifully blends elements of Ainu ceremonial dance, contemporary dance, and digital art to tell the touching story of one of the most revered Ainu gods, “Horkew Kamuy.” “Horkew Kamuy” is the hunting god and takes the form of the Ezo wolf which is revered for its superior hunting skills. Thanks to the captivating sequence of moving backgrounds that were so beautiful that they looked like paintings and the charming movements of the dancers, we found ourselves immersed in the story from the very first moment.

The theater made full use of its two backdrops (one of which is semi-transparent) to weave together the moving digital art and the dance moves and create a very engaging show. We were holding our breath every time the main dancer, who was playing the role of the Ezo wolf, changed her human figure into that of the wolf and vice versa, thanks to some incredible projected stage effects.

From the music to the choice of colors, and from the poignant live performance to the magical animated sections, everything was so well realized that we were saddened once we learned the meaning behind the title of this theatrical work. After a particularly harsh winter in 1879 cut down Hokkaido’s deer population and led Ezo wolves to attack livestock, Japanese settlers from Honshu (mainland Japan) started poisoning and hunting them down until there were no wolves left. Lost Kamuy unfolds like a dream sent to us from the Ainu gods who want to remind us of our past mistakes and warn us not to repeat them lest we end up losing more of the treasures of this Earth.

This performance entrusted us with some important teachings, but our time at the theater was made even more special once we got to meet the dancers after the performance and learn about how they stepped into the world of Ainu dances and the different messages they want to convey with their dance to the audience.

Lost Kamuy Homepage: https://www.akanainu.jp/lostkamuy/en/

Kamuy Lumina - Experiencing an Enchanted Interactive Night Walk Along the Forested Shores of Lake Akan

As discovering the forests of Lake Akan seemed to be the theme of the day’s explorations, we concluded our day with a night walk along the forested shores of the lake. We had never explored a forest after dark, so we were extremely thrilled about this experience, especially because Kamuy Lumina is no normal night walk! Part of Lumina Night Walks by Moment Factory, a world-famous multimedia entertainment studio specialized in immersive environments, we knew we had to drop our image of a camping-like jaunt into the woods and prepare for a true adventure into the land of the Kamuy. Thus, we equipped ourselves with some warm outfits and as soon as the night fell, we headed to the entrance of the enchanted walking path.

Once we set foot through the gates, we were immediately absorbed by the world of Kamuy Lumina, where human disrespect for nature has been punished by the Kamuy with scarcity of deer and fish. Accessorized with a rhythm staff - a magic tool to interact with the forest and necessary to advance in our quest - we followed the guidance of the Owl and the Jay Bird in order to complete our mission and convince the Kamuy to grant humans a second chance.

Passing through a number of mesmerizing environments inside the forest, we had to challenge ourselves to keep the rhythm by synchronizing our rhythm staff with the digital art incorporated in the nature of Lake Akan in order for our message to reach the Kamuy. Step after step, the silent forest came alive thanks to the exceptional work of lights, sounds, scenography, and projections that used trees, plants, and even ponds as their canvas. At the end, we felt like we had just lived an exciting adventure inside the enchanted forest of some Ainu folktale!

Kamuy Lumina Homepage: http://www.kamuylumina.jp/en/

[Day 5]

Lake Akan Canoe Tour - Having a Floating Breakfast on the Surface of Lake Akan

After the exciting night walk of the previous day, we wanted to be sure to spend our last hours at the Akanko Ainu Kotan by experiencing something unique. We also wanted to say a proper goodbye to the majestic panorama that kept us company during our five-day stay in the north: Lake Akan. So, we woke up at dawn and followed our guide for the morningーYasui-sanーinto dew-covered woods and then along the shores of a tranquil branch of Lake Akan with shallow waters, to a group of canoes waiting for us.

The west side of the lake is far from other attractions as well as from the routes of the sightseeing boats, so paddling across its waters during these early hours was like having the lake all to ourselves!

The peaceful surface of the lake worked as the most perfect of mirrors and while we gradually made our way across it in our canoes, we were gifted with stunning views of the surrounding landscape, from the sky to the forest.

We quietly explored that morning vista, slowly rowing through reeds and emerald green waters in a moment of pure peace, until we stopped in the middle of the lake for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a floating breakfast time on the surface of Lake Akan.

Yasui-san had already prepared everything needed for a perfect breakfast. As if his bag was Santa’s red gift sack, he started lining up a bag of coffee beans, a coffee grinder, a kettle, a small camping stove, and even hand-made scones to go with the coffee. Little by little, he grinded the beans, piling up the fragrant coffee grounds inside the filter. Once the water in the kettle started rumbling, he proceeded with the meticulous brewing process, filling the cups with immaculate coffee. While holding tight the smoking cups, we felt like the entire lake was our living room, the paddle as our table, and the horizon as our window, and thought how great it would be to always start the day like that, with a cup of coffee on a canoe!

Early Morning Lake Akan Canoe Tour: http://www.akan.co.jp/privatecanoeenglish.html

Ainu Traditional Crafts - Shopping for Souvenirs at the Many Ainu Workshops in the Village

We would have gladly remained on that canoe forever but unfortunately, we had a bus to catch at noon to go back to the airport. Thus, we returned to the village center and decided to cheer ourselves up with some souvenir shopping, touring around the many traditional workshops dotting the village and further increasing the memories of our incredible stay there.

There were over 20 folkcraft shops to choose from, most of which were centered around the most renowned of Ainu traditional craftsーwood carvingーbut each one with its own charm and unique take on this form of art. They displayed everyday items such as solid wood cups, accessories, decorations, and even artwork from famous wood carvers.

Some of the most unique souvenirs that caught our eye included little wooden statues of “korpokkur” (dwarves from Ainu folklore) that make for the perfect decoration and “utoman nipopo” (wooden dolls that grant one’s wishes), which are carved from the same tree with their arms crossed. As one tree represents one mind, they are thought to bring good luck to couples.

We were also surprised by the vast selection of beautiful hand-made Ainu embroidery offered by the workshops, from smaller yet marvellous coasters to intricately embroidered purses and “matanpushi” (Ainu traditional headbands). We ended up buying more than a few of these little masterpieces!

Access - How to Get To Akanko Ainu Kotan

Akanko Ainu Kotan can be easily accessed by plane from Haneda Airport, with the flight to Tancho Kushiro Airport only taking 1 hour and 40 minutes. From Tancho Kushiro Airport, the village can be reached by Akan Line local buses bound to Akanko Onsen Bus Center. The bus ride costs 2,190 yen one way and takes around 70 minutes.

All the attractions mentioned in this article are conveniently located within walking distance both from the Akanko Onsen Bus Center and the center of the village. The canoe tour includes a bus ride from the reception office to the departure point of the tour.

Enrich Yourself With a Journey Through the Ainu Way of Life

After spending five days in the Akanko Ainu Kotan, we went back home full of great memories and life lessons we want to treasure for the rest of our lives! We got the chance to see the world around us from a new perspective, focusing on the simple things that are part of our routines while replenishing our energy thanks to the unspoiled nature of Lake Akan. From their history to their unique traditions, we were honored by the chance to experience such a rich culture like the Ainu one. So, we can’t wait to come back to this part of Hokkaido and immerse in the deeply enriching Ainu way of life again!

 

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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