Travel Diary: Shiretoko Pass (知床峠), Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido is full of untouched natural flora, and the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Shiretoko National Park located on the Shiretoko Peninsula, the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, is probably the prime location from which to witness Hokkaido’s beauty. There’s something about Shiretoko, something about it that’s so innocent, so special – I can’t quite put a finger to what it is.

Hokkaido is a fantastic place to drive about, and I don’t think there’s any better way to go about it besides renting a car and doing just that. Shiretoko, in particular, gave some of the most scenic, beautiful drives – its wide cement roads gently folding over the undulating landscape, with the most beautiful views of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Driving on mountain roads Shiretoko Hokkaido

They said the Shiretoko-tōge (known as the Shiretoko pass) would be quite a sight, and they were right. It wasn’t uncommon for us to suddenly slow to a crawl because there were deer standing right on or next to the road gazing at us, doe-eyed. Not with trepidation, however, but with more, oxymoronically, of a sort of disinterested curiosity – and the humans in the car starred right back. After all, we don’t see many deer from where we come from.

At the highest points of the pass, the scene was still blanketed in white snow. Winter in Spring time, is what I’d called it. We’d pulled to the road shoulder and had a mini snowball fight, after which I hopped farther into the winter wonderland and busied myself with recreating Olaf.Winter Snow in Shiretoko National Park UNESCO Hokkaido Japan

The pass was also the first place where I encountered a fox (featured picture). We spotted it walking on the edge of road and slowed to a gradual halt. I was seated in the front seat next to the driver, and so I saw it approach in the side mirror. With green eyes, it eyed our MPV, came closer, sat, and waited. Everyone was fascinated – a bunch of humans staring right back at a little red fox. We gathered it was hoping for some food (which our car was full of), but decided against it. I stuck my head out of the window to get a better look, and it turned to look straight at me before proceeding to walk along the length of the vehicle, its ears tilted forwards, alert, until it was right under my window. After a while, we drove on. I looked back, and the fox, disappointed, turned and walked off, with its thick bushy red tail swaying into the distance.