By Yuka Matsumoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterFUKAURA, Aomori — Blue makes people want to become travelers.
I was first fascinated by a poster I saw at a station: The deep blue of a forest pond on the poster sparked my interest to visit there.
The pond is called Aoike pond and it is part of Juniko — a collective name meaning “12 lakes” that represents the nearby 33 lakes and ponds — located in the town of Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture, at the foot of the Shirakami-Sanchi mountain range, which is registered as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.
The pond is not easily accessible from Tokyo. It was an almost three-hour drive from Aomori Airport using a rental car. However, the scenery on the way never bored me as apple farms spread over Mt. Iwaki, and scenic views of the Senjojiki coast and Oiwa rock came into sight once I hit the road along the Tsugaru west coast.
It might be good to take the popular rapid train called Resort Shirakami to Fukaura from the cities of Aomori or Akita.
I heard that a popular guide gives tours from Awone Shirakami Juniko, which offers a rest area for hikers, and so decided to go on the tour. It took about 15 minutes by car from the coastal line, after which we walked for about 10 minutes to arrive at Aoike pond, in the deepest part of the lakes.
Sunlight pours into the clear water, which runs 9 meters deep, allowing us to see deadwood resting at the bottom, as well as fish. Golden leaves were scattered over the surface. The scenery is often described as if the water is “tinted in blue ink,” but I thought the blue here was far from such an artificial coloring. Rather, it felt as though the color of the pond itself was emitting light. To me, it was just like lapis lazuli. I felt myself being drawn into the pond.
“What makes the pond so blue?” a tour participant asked.
Tour guide Masaharu Nishimaki, 76, said there were several possibilities but that the latest theory was that “the water in the pond is remarkably transparent, and the pure white volcanic soil at the bottom reflects the light.”
The red in sunlight gets absorbed, making the pond look cobalt blue, according to the guide.
Juniko, including Aoike pond, is believed to have emerged due to an earthquake in 1704. A long time ago, the area developed the fragile geological condition of volcanic soil being piled up by spewing magma. Rivers from the Shirakami mountain range covered with native Japanese beech flowed to the Sea of Japan, but landslides caused by the earthquake dammed up the rivers to create the current 33 lakes and ponds.
“The white bark of Japanese beeches is so beautiful when it’s exposed to sunlight,” Nishimaki said. “They’re the Madonnas (beautiful women) of the forests. You guys are all Madonnas, too, though.”
Entertained by Nishimaki’s jokes, I strolled around the lakes in the forest where various kinds of animals and plants can be seen.
Parting from the tour group, Nishimaki and I headed to the Kuzureyama mountain that overlooks Juniko, aiming for the 694-meter-high Okuzure point halfway up the mountain. We climbed a steep ramp for about two hours. When I stood on the point, I was taken aback by the breathtaking panoramic view of the lakes and ponds surrounded by the forest and the coastal line below.
We went further into an area destroyed by landslides at the foot of the mountain, which is called the “Japan Canyon.” The huge white, bare rocks are truly spectacular — the Shirakami-Sanchi mountain range juts straight up from the sea. Standing close to this rigid rock mountain structure, I felt like I could almost hear the ground moving beneath me.
Aomori’s old ‘Ginza’
“It looks shabby now, but the town used to [bustle like Tokyo’s] Ginza,” said Masaru Sato of Kazemachi-kan, a folk facility standing in the quiet town.
Fukaura once flourished as a port of call dubbed “Kazemachi” (Waiting for a favorable wind to sail) for “Kitabaebune” vessels that connected the Ezo area (now Hokkaido) and the Kansai region during the Edo period (1603-1867).
The gulf that opens toward the northwest forms a natural harbor. Even before then, the area had been a strategic location because the Engakuji temple near the port is said to have been built by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, a general in the Heian period (late eighth century to late 12th century).
The facility showcases a replica of a Kitamaebune at one-third the original size, and a golden Buddhist altar that was part of a ship’s cargo.
Stout Aomori hiba trees that were grown and preserved for a long time by the local Tsugaru clan are said to have been transported by the vessels to be used as building material for temples and shrines in Kyoto and Osaka prefectures.
There are several stories regarding the origin of the town’s name, in which phrases meaning “a gulf where wind blows” or “a gulf where the god of prosperity lies” were phonetically altered to the word Fukaura, according to Jiro Suzuki, 45, of the Fukaura municipal government’s tourism section. However, the gulf was undeniably created through repeated uplifts and erosion.
The unusual shapes of the rocks along the coast in the beautiful evening view of the Sea of Japan, and the nature created through the workings of the Earth, showed me the long history behind the geography here, which is as profound as the blue I saw at Aoike pond.
It takes 3 hours and 50 minutes from Tokyo Station to Akita Station by Shinkansen. From there, it takes 2 hours and 20 to 50 minutes to Fukaura Station via the tourist train Resort Shirakami.
For more information, call the town’s tourism section at (0173) 74-4412.
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