Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Mt. Shirakami and the World-Class Virgin Beech Forest

Mt. Shirakami or Shirakami Sanchi (白神山地) is a vast mountain area of 130 hectares that spans from the north of Akita Prefecture to the south of Aomori Prefecture. Mt Shirakami has been listed as a world heritage site as of 1993. It is also a Pilgrimage site for Studio Ghibli fans as the forest in the movie “Princess Mononoke”, is inspired by Mt. Shirakami!

This 8,000-year-old mountain area is the home of the world’s largest virgin beech forest. Because this area is almost untouched by human activities, you will find a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna here (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

This precious natural treasure can be roughly divided into two areas for tourism purposes. The first area is around the Aqua Village ANMON (アクアグリーンビレッジ ANMON), close to Hirosaki City (弘前), and the other area is closer to the coast of the Sea of Japan, which can be accessed by the joyful train, Resort Shirakami (リゾートしらかみ).

Things to Note When You Plan for Your Visit to Mt. Shirakami

  • Trekking routes at Mt. Shirakami are only maintained between April to early November each year. You are still able to access the treks, but there won’t be signs to guide you. Having maps of the area downloaded in advance will be really handy as there might not be WiFi reception once you enter the mountain.
  • Most of the hiking trails are closed between early November and May. Please refer to the courses’ accessibility on the official website HERE.
  • In June, it is time to enjoy the dazzling spring greenery. But it can still be cold so bring along a jacket!
  • July is Mt. Shirakami’s rainy season. It is also your best chance to witness the rare sight of rainwater appearing in a milky white color as it flows down the trunks of the beech trees.
  • August is the peak season for trekking (together with the summer vacation and stable weather in the area).
  • In October, Mt. Shirakami welcomes the fall colors. Especially around the promenade that leads to Anmon Taki Falls (暗門滝). The colorful foliage here will create some of the best scenery on Mt. Shirakami. The autumn color usually peaks from mid to late October.
  • Apart from the “Buffer Area” where it is opened to the general public, Mt. Shirakami also has a “Core Area” that is only accessible by professional mountain hikers. If you are determined to hike through the area where no hiking route is maintained, please refer HERE for the application for a permit. You may also want to refer to the hiking conditions HERE to plan your visit. Note both links are in Japanese.

Tips: As the weather in the mountain can change quite rapidly, having some sort of rain gear and/or a change of clothing will be quite handy.
Also, although July and August are the warmer months at Mt. Shirakami, we would still recommend you to have a piece of long sleeve clothing on hand.
Lastly, besides water, bringing your lunch or some snacks should make your trip more smooth and more pleasant. This is because you won’t find a convenient store at every other corner like in Tokyo if you are hungry (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Things to Note When You Are at Mt. Shirakami

  • Please stay on the readily made promenade. Wondering freely at Mt. Shirakami can be extremely dangerous.
  • Please treat the wildlife and plants at Mt. Shirakami with extreme care. Picking or trampling plants won’t be appreciated.
  • Please take any of your rubbish back with you.
  • There are no toilets once you are on trekking/hiking routes. If you really have to, you will have to dig a hole for yourself and cover it up afterward…
  • Making a bonfire is prohibited because it is considered a fire hazard.
  • Please don’t bring any animals to Mt. Shirakami. Foreign animals will affect the ecosystem negatively.
  • Fishing is prohibited at Mt. Shirakami due to its World Heritage Status.

Attractions at Mt. Shirakami around Aqua Village ANMON

If you understand Japanese, HERE is a handy map of the area. Otherwise, the English map can be found HERE.

Tip: You can book a guided tour with Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center. Refer to their website HERE for more details.

How to Access the Attractions around Aqua Village ANMON

Between June and October each year, this area can be accessed by taking Kōnan Bus’s (弘南バス) Shirakami Line (白神ライン) from Hirosaki Bus Terminal’s (弘前バスタミナール) bus stop no. 7 or from JR Hiromae Station’s (弘前駅前) bus stop no. 6.

Tickets can be purchased from Hirosaki Bus Terminal or the Konan Bus Hirosaki Station Information Office (弘南バス 弘前駅前案内所).

Please find more information on Kōnan Bus’s official website HERE (scroll down for a timetable that has English notation). The website is in Japanese, let us know HERE if you need assistance.

As the Shirakami Line only has 3 services a day and is not operated in winter, you can also board the service bound for Nishimeya Village Hall (西目屋村役場) departing from bus stop no. 7 at Hirosaki Bus Terminal(弘前バスターミナル). The timetable of this service can be found HERE. And bus fare table can be accessed HERE.

Tip: You will get a discount if you get a return ticket between Hirosaki Bus Terminal and Tsugaru Pass (津軽峠) or Aqua Green Village ANMON (アクアグリーンビレッジ ANMON).

Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center (白神山地ビジターセンター)

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Centre is said to be the gateway to Mt. Shirakami. Here you will find all the information about the beech forest, the mountain’s ecosystem, what kind of wildlife is living at Mt. Shirakami, and of course, all the hiking and trekking routes that all can enjoy!

Especially if you plan to hike Mt. Shirakami, stopping by Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Centre will equip you with all the information for a safer hiking trip!

The majority of the descriptions of the display in this visitor center also come in English translation. So even if you don’t understand Japanese, we are sure you will still be able to get tones of knowledge when you drop by here (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Short Documentary of Mt. Shirakami’s Four Seasons

It takes 365 days to be able to experience the four seasons of a place. As tourists, it would be a total luxury to be able to do so at Mt. Shiramakmi… But, with this documentary, you will be able to achieve that in just above 30 minutes!

The documentary is playing at the center’s theatre at an hourly interval. It will only cost you 200 yen (100 yen for primary school kids)!

Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center’s Admission Fee, Opening Hours, Access Information

  • With the exception of the theater, it is free to browse the whole visitor center.
  • Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center is open from
    • 8:30 am to 5 pm daily except for the 2nd Monday of each month between the 1st of April to the 31st of October
      • In August, it will close on the 4th Monday instead
    • 9 am to 4:30 pm daily except Mondays and Thursdays from the 1st of November to the 31st of March
    • If the day off is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day
    • The center is closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January each year
  • If you are coming to Mt. Shirakami by Kōnan Bus’s Shirakami Line, please get off at Nishimeya Village Hall (西目屋村役場前). It is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop

Click HERE to get back to the list of attractions at Mt. Shirakami.

Aqua Green Village ANMON

Aqua Green Village ANMON is a resort village with various facilities to make visitors’ Mt. Shirakami trip more pleasant.

From Aqua Village Anmon, the below trekking courses can be accessed:

  • World Heritage Beech Forest Trail (ブナ林散策道コース): suitable for all fitness levels.
  • Anmon Valley Route (暗門渓谷ルート): suitable for people who are fitter and have some trekking/hiking experience. Traveling accompanied by a guide is recommended.
Ⓒ Tohokukanko.jp

Guide Services By Aqua Green Village ANMON

A guide can accompany all trekking and hiking courses around the Village. The pricing for their guide services starts from 9,000 yen. If you are interested, book it online HERE (website in Japanese, which can be translated to English by Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar) or email them at [email protected].

You can let us know HERE if you need assistance.

Aqua Green Village ANMON’s Facilities

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

Apart from the Information Centre in the photo, there are also cottages, campsites, onsens – Anmon-no-Yu (暗門の湯), playgrounds, souvenir shops, and a restaurant!

If you plan to camp at Aqua Green Village ANMON, you can source many items required for camping from the shop that is open from 9 am to 5 pm. While in Japanese, you can translate the list of items sold in the shop HERE by Google Translate.

  • Cottages and Campsites are open from July to September
  • The restaurant is open from July to October between 11 am to 4 pm. We will update this article with whether the restaurant has any vegetarian options closer to July.
  • Hot spring, Anmon-no-Yu is open from July to October between 9 am to 5 pm
  • The information center and souvenir shop are open from the 25th of April to the 7th of November between 9 am to 5 pm
Cost of Onsen, Campsite, and Cottage At Aqua Green Village ANMON
  • The admission fee to Anmon-no-Yu onsen is
    • 550 yen for adults
    • 350 yen for elementary school students and for the elderly who is 65 years old and above
  • The campsite usage fee is charged based on the seasons. The peak season is from July to September, and the off-season is from the start of the season to the end of June. The start of the season varies each year depending on weather conditions.
  • Check-in is at 12 pm, and you have to check out by 10 am the next day.
  • To use an auto-campsite (meaning a block of space that can fit a motor vehicle and a tent), refer to the official website HERE and translate it to English by Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar
  • Using the other campsites where you will only get a space for your tent will cost 500 yen regardless of which season you visit
  • For the pricing plan of cottages, please refer to their booking page HERE. Again, translate it by Google Chrome’s translation function.

Important: All accommodation at Aqua Green Village comes without meal plans. You will have to bring your own ingredients if you wish to cook. Alternatively, you can get things like cup noodles from the souvenir shop (^_-)-☆

Aqua Green Village ANMON’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Aqua Green Village ANMON is closed from early Nov to late Apr from 9 am to 5 pm
  • If you are coming to Mt. Shirakami by Kōnan Bus’s Shirakami Line, please get off at Aqua Green Village ANMON (アクアグリーンビレッジ ANMON)

Click HERE to get back to the list of attractions at Mt. Shirakami.

World Heritage Beech Forest Trail

The beech forest trail’s entrance is just 5 minutes away from Aqua Village ANMON. Depending on your situation (fitness level, time constraint…etc), you can choose between the small round course that takes around 30 minutes or the big round course that takes around 90 minutes.

Depending on your luck, you might be able to encounter wildlife such as Hares and Japanese Serows (*´ω`).

For the 2 courses, please refer to the official map HERE. On the first page, please find the “World Heritage Beech Forest Trail” first. You should see some routes marked in red.

The 2 courses of the World Heritage Beech Forest Trail start from Aqua Green Village ANMON, and go south from the intersection where it’s labeled “水”.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

The 30 minutes route goes around the 1st loop in the trail, and the 90 minutes route will go through both loops.

Important: It is also possible that you will meet a bear during this trip (albeit the possibility isn’t high as they hide from us too). According to the guide who has multiple bear encounters, if you see a bear, DON’T SCREAM! The best thing to do is try not to scare the bear and get out of the scene slowly.

The Water Fountain and Its Super Pure and Soft water

Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Get a fresh mountain stream at this water fountain if your water bottle isn’t full. Even in the hot summer, the temperature of the water is still around 10+ degrees, perfect for cooling you down!

This water’s hardness is only a surprising 0.2mg/l. So lots of people are bringing this water back home to make coffee (´▽`*).

Apparently, this water is older than most of us… It is actually the rainwater from about 100 years ago Σ(゚Д゚). The rainwater seeped underground along the beech trees. Through a natural filtration process, the rainwater became pure water and flows out here 100 years later!

That is why even if it doesn’t rain for a while, you will still be able to get the most delicious mountain stream here (^_-)-☆ .

The Beech Forest Trail

The reason why the beech forest is so previous is that it takes a long time for it to grow. From seed to a 3cm sprout will take it a year… And for it to be able to flower and bear fruits, it will take 80 years Σ(゚Д゚).

As we all know, people love furniture and floorboard made from wood. Although beech trees are superior at preventing landslides, they don’t carry a high economic value. That is why a lot of the beech forest has been replaced by cedar trees…

Thanks to the world heritage registration, we still have this beech forest at Mt. Shirakami to cure the weariness of our busy, stressful lives (*´ω`).

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

Autumn at World Heritage Beech Forest Trail

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

In October, the beech forest puts on its warm-colored clothes in response to the chill weather. The sound of your footsteps differs depending on the fallen leaves. And when it rains, you will be able to witness the rare scenery of the beech forest being surrounded by a misty haze (=゚ω゚)ノ

Note the World Heritage Beech Forest Trail is only accessible from late April to early November each year.

Click HERE to get back to the list of attractions at Mt. Shirakami.

Guide Services for the World Heritage Beech Forest Trail

Whether you choose the small loop course, the large loop course, or both courses, guide services are available from 9,000 yen with a minimum of 2 people. Please refer to their pricing table HERE for more information.

You can also get in touch with one of the guides on Hikes In Japan HERE.

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

Anmon Valley Route

The Anmon Valley Route is another popular route leading you to the three magnificent Anmon waterfalls. However, a guide may be required depending on how far down the route you plan to visit and whether you are an experienced hiker or not.

As you can see in the photo, the path is quite narrow, less maintained, and dangerous compared to the promenade of the World Heritage Beech Forest Trail.

Parts of the route may have rocks falling down. Everyone who enters this route is required to wear a helmet which can be rented for just 100 yen from the route’s reception (ご協力金受付所), located at the entrance of the route.

You will also need to submit a “Notification of Passage” at the reception before you enter the route.

Also, the path leading to the second Anmon Falls (Dai 2 no Falls on Google Map) can be slippery, so boots or trekking shoes are highly recommended (you can rent a pair of boots from Aqua Green Village ANMON for just 350 yen).

Due to the unstable condition of this route, if you aren’t an experienced hiker, booking a guide in advance is definitely a good idea!

Refer to the same official map HERE. To get travel down the Anmon Valley route, turn left at the intersection where it is labeled “水” (instead of traveling south down the beech forest trail).

THIS MAP provides a better idea of the route (although in Japanese). The reception (ご協力金受付所) is marked with a house with a pen and a paper icon. The green line marks the World Heritage Beech Forest Trail, and the dark blue line is the Anmon Valley Route.

Wherever you see the line turning orange, it means you will need to do some sort of climbing (not rock climbing level, though).

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

To get to the 1st Anmon Falls (Dai 1 no Falls on Google Map), there is no path maintained, and hiking equipment is required. Therefore, people who aren’t veteran hikers traveling without a guide shouldn’t go further than the 2nd Anmon Falls.

The Famous Anmon Falls

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

The three Anmon Falls are of the height of 42 meters (Dai 1 no Falls), 32 meters (Dai 2 no Falls), and 26 meters (Dai 3 no Falls).

The sequence of the waterfalls you will run into during your visit will be the other way around.

It takes around 45 minutes from the entrance to Dai 3 no Falls. It takes another 10 minutes or so to get to Dai 2 no Falls. To get to Dai 1 no Falls, add another 15 minutes.

Note the Anmon Valley Route is only accessible from June to October each year.

Click HERE to get back to the list of attractions at Mt. Shirakami.

Click HERE to get back to the list of attractions at Mt. Shirakami.

Tsugaru Pass and Takakura Woods Nature Trail

If strolling around the beech forest doesn’t satisfy you, how about combining the beech forest and a panorama view of the surrounding mountains?

Starting from Tsugaru Pass (津軽峠), the Takakura Woods Nature Trail is a scenic route that will lead you to the summit of the mountain. Along the way, you will find the 400-year-old beech tree – Mother Tree (the average life of the beech tree is said to be around 300 years. That is why this tree is so treasured and is considered the “mother” to all the other younger beech tree at Mt. Shirakami).

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

Refer to the official map HERE. The route is marked by the red line from Tsugaru Pass all the way to Aqua Green Village.

In 2018, part of the Mother Tree’s trunk was broken by a typhoon. So when you see the Mother Tree, it won’t look like the one in the photo above but the photo on the left.

But fortunately, the tree is still alive! From where it broke, new sprouts have grown out. Hopefully, in another decade, it will return to its former glory!

The whole trail takes around 5 hours to finish. If you have time constraints, you can time your visit and return to Tsugaru Pass instead of heading all the way back to Aqua Green Village.

As a side note, from Tsugaru Pass to the Mother Tree, it takes 20 minutes for a round trip journey.

Note that a section of the second half of the route has a deep slope, so choose your footwear carefully. If you can afford a guide, it will be a great idea to hire one (^_-)-☆.

Ⓒ Aomori Prefecture

Tip: If you would prefer to visit the area during the colorful fall foliage season, plan your trip from mid to the end of October!

How to Get to Tsugaru Pass

If you are coming to Mt. Shirakami by Konan Bus’s Shirakami Line, please get off at the last stop – Tsugaru Pass (津軽峠).

The journey will take you around 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Note that the Takakura Wood Nature Trail is only accessible from early May to early November each year (there are no bus services in November, though).

Click HERE to get back to the list of attractions at Mt. Shirakami.

Discover the Picturesque Jūniko Lake Area

In the article so far, we only introduced the beech forest area on the east side of Mt. Shirakami. If you prefer a combination of forest and gorgeous lakes, you will want to stop by the Jūniko Lake area at Shirakami Sanchi’s west!

For more information, please refer to our article on Mt. Shirakami and the Picturesque Jūniko Lake!

Wakitsubonoike-Juniko-Shirakami-Sanchi-Aomori-Japan
Click the photo for more information about Jūniko Lake!

Getting to Mt. Shirakami by the Joyful Train: Resort Shirakami

Resort-Shirakami-Buna-Joyful-Train-Japan
Click the photo for more information about Resort Shirakami!

One of the three types of the Joyful Train, Resort Shirakami was designed based on the beech forest in Shirakami Sanchi. So how about starting your journey to this World Heritage by taking the joyful train to make the visit more unforgettable?

For more information, please refer to our article on Resort Shirakami!

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