Have you ever seen the Japanese alternative to campgrounds? While we were staying at a crowded autocamp site on the outskirts of Utoro, with kids running around making noise until late, the adult alternative was happening at the Michi-no-eki (roadside rest area) just a kilometre down the road. All sorts of vehicles from kei-jidosha converted for camping, to massive campervans/coaches were lined up in the carpark. The drivers had their chairs out, BBQ grills sizzling, folding bicycles at the ready, TVs tuned in, cool boxes stuffed with beer, and even portable showers. The only unwritten rule appeared to be no tents.
Upon arrival at the Rausu trailhead, cars and coaches were already disgorging hikers, so I quickly bundled the dog under my jacket and ran off into the woods before attracting attention. It was 4 am, and I was first up the trail on this fine morning.
Shiretoko Peninsula is a World Heritage Site, famous for its rugged nature and brown bears, the higuma. Signs warned of the danger and reported an encounter with a hiker just 3 weeks ago: “Bear spray strongly recommended. Make a noise on blind corners!” Soon thereafter, I heard unmistakable powerful grunting from a couple of hundred metres toward the river and found pawprints in the mud on the path. Apparently, when the matagi hunters of the olden days chanced upon a bear, their valiant hunting dogs would attack the bear, and by sacrificing themselves, give their master sufficient time to take aim or flee. I could not rely on Hana to do the same…
The risk at Meakandake is not the wildlife, but the raw active volcano that must be climbed.