A Bit About The Ainu Culture, And The Lakes Area Of South-Eastern Hokkaido Japan

The sun rose this morning over the Shiretoko peninsula, at 3:30 in the morning.

After a healthy Japanese breakfast and our morning meditation, we left the costal town of Shari, and drove inland, towards the lakes area, with our final destination being Lake Akan.

We decided to stop and see Kussharo lake, which is a vast and beautiful lake created by a volcanic eruption.

We stopped for a closer look, and discovered that it had a hot volcanic sand at its shores.

We took off our shoes and stood on the very hot sand, while our ankles were immersed in the cool water lake.

It was a strange and invigorating sensation, to feel the nearly burning hot sand beneath our feet, while the rest of our legs were chilled by the cold waters of the lake.

Above those lakes, is an active volcano mountain called Mount Meakan, which erupt every once in awhile, and which we were hoping to be able to hike to the summit of.

The population in this area is not very dense, but we did see photos of cars covered with volcanic ash, after an eruption, and buildings completely destroyed.

Some vendors on the shores of this lake, were offering rental paddle boats which were shaped like white swans.
Even without people paddling them, these swans looked very picturesque with the misty lake and the low clouds hanging over the distant mountains.

I am sure that if many people rented them at the same time, it would have been a nice sight, seeing all those white swan boats in the middle of this hot sand blue lake…

Hokkaido is known for its sweet melons, and for the best ice cream in Japan.
Before we left lake Kussharo, we shared a cone of this most delicious Hokkaido ice cream.

Further down the lake road, at the town of Kotan, we stopped at the Ainu museum.

Much like in America, which was once populated by tribes of native Indians, all of Hokkaido and the northern parts of Honshu island of Japan, we once the tribal land of the Ainu people.

They had lived on this land that is now Japan, for ten thousand years.

They developed a tribal spiritual community, offering gratitude to the gods, and a belief that Spirit and divinity exist in everything, including the sun, the moon, the stars, animals, plants, rocks and all people.

They were hunters and gatherers, but they believed that humans must take from nature, only what they needed…. Not more.

Because of the harsh cold winters, they develop methods of food reservation, curing bear meat and drying fish, roots and dumplings, to be used during the cold snowy months.

All parts of the animal they hunted, or of the plants they collected, were sufficiently used for their daily needs.

Corn leaves and flax were used to weave clothing, sandals or snow-shoes.
They used the furs of bears and deer, for coats and blankets.
They used the bladder of the deer, as water flasks.
The horns and animal’s bones were used as arrows, jewelry, knives and kitchen tools.

They used the salmon’s skin to make waterproof shoes and boots.
I saw some of them on display, and I can attest that they looked VERY, VERY cool.
Much more cool than a Manolo Blanco shoe design of today.

The Ainu people made many wood carvings, much like the Maori in New Zealand.
Their communal gathering places, have a strong design similarity to the Marae gathering places of the Maori.

Wood carvings were also done as an art form and for ceremonial tools and props.
They had special dances, rhythmic songs, and bamboo musical instruments, shaped like the simple string Jew harp.

Ainu clothing resemble a little bit the Japanese kimono, and before they started trading with the Japanese and gained access to silk fabrics, their made fabrics for clothing from natural plant fibers.

The kimonos were worn by both men and woman, and featured embroidery of shapes and patterns at the end of the sleeves, around the neck, and on the lower part of the kimono robe.

Many people nowadays, think that decorating the edges of clothing around the neck, at the end of the sleeves, and the lower part of the shirt or dress, is done purely as a fashion statement…

But this is NOT true…. It has traditional roots that goes back tens of thousands of years, with a whole different reason…

The decoration of the clothing by the “openings” (of the neck, sleeve, hem and legs) was originally done to prevent evil spirits in the form of diseases, to enter the body.

At times, the bigger pattern was embroidered on the back of the kimono as a protection, because the back of a person was considered to be the most vulnerable part of the body.

We stopped for a lovely lunch at an Ainu local restaurant by the lake.

The Grandfather was asleep in his long white winter underwear, in his lap he was holding his traditional Ainu hat.

The lady who welcomed us in, turned off the big screen TV which was permanently in front of the old man, and which he watches even in his sleep, and she put on some Ainu music for us instead.

The food was delicious.
We ordered a pink trout from the lake, grilled and served with salt, with steamed rice and a miso soup.
And a dish of Battakon Ramen.

Battakon Ramen noodles, is a delicious winter dish and the name comes from a mispronunciation of the words: “Butter-Corn Ramen.”

It was made with yellow ramen noodles, butter and vegetable broth, with yellow corn, and a fish cake. (it is usually made with a pork broth, but they made it with a vegetable broth for us, since it was cooked to order)

The mist on Mashu lake, made the viewing of this lovely lake impossible that day.
But we decided to drive there anyway, since it was on our way to Lake Akan.

When we arrived to the volcanic crater Lake Mashu, the weather already turned cold and misty, and instead of being rewarded with the views, we tried some Hokkaido watermelons, which are famous around Japan, and are sold locally for $100 or more PER MELON…..

The gift shop at the viewing deck of lake Mashu, offered slices of this sweet and juicy yellow melons for only one dollar.

Our large hotel, sits right on the shores of Lake Akan.
We requested a Japanese style tatami mats room, and got a lovely charming room with lake views and our own sliding interior garden door.

When we passed through the corridors of the hotel, we got a glimpse into the “Western Style rooms,” and they looked so ordinary and boring compare to our simple, but elegant Japanese style room.

We ate a lavish dinner, that featured all the fresh local seafood that this area is so known for.

After dinner, we went to soak in the hot springs.

The hot spring onsen on the roof of the hotel, was extremely quiet compare to the busy indoor onsen in the women’s quarters.

Maybe because the air was getting colder that night… A woman who tried to join me, shivered in the cold, and run downstairs to the hot baths.

I sat below the stars and the clouds, keeping all but my nose under the very hot waters……thanking God for blessing me with so much love….

Floating between Heaven and Earth… I thought about how much everything in my life started to taste so delicious, after I no longer craved for material things…

I often reflect about how in modern life, you can still “renounce the world…”

You do not have to give up everything you have, divorce your beloved and precious husband or join a monastery…
You simply remove your attachment from everything…. You no longer CRAVE for the things of this earth….

With cravings, comes fear of losing the things that you value so much for your comfort…. And the desire to maintain the same lifestyle.
This fear give rise to anxiety and stress….Beside, how can you carve for what is not even REAL?…

Everything you’ll leave behind when you’ll leave your body, is not real…
The houses, the cars, your money, your sofas, your dresses, your toys… Your body…..They are not even real…. Why carve for them with so much passion…. Why exert so much energy to get what does not really exist?…..

Only those who reached a place where they manifested in their lives, all the things they wanted, can fully understand how precious and delicious, renouncing attachments to worldly things can feel…

Mahatma Gandhi, who used to be a successful lawyers in his younger days, wrote in his autobiography about renouncing the world AFTER you have realized that material things cannot not hold what is eternal in them….

Many people quote Gandhi, but did not read his autobiography.
If they did, they would have encountered a chapter in which he spoke about the fact that just because some people live with very little means or possessions, it does not mean that they do not value possessions.

He said that the poor and those who have very little, or were unable to manifest the material life that they wanted, cannot fully understand detachments and renunciation…

Only AFTER you have achieved all that you wanted, can you fully renounce the world…..Otherwise, said Gandhi, you were powerless to understand how to move energies and it was the WORLD, who renounced YOU.

Sitting in the lobby of this big hotel, I am making use of the WiFi Internet that they have.

Our own rented WiFi, does not work in this rural national park of Japan.

I am sitting on the cushiony chairs in the lobby and organizing my photos and writings.

It is late and the nearby dining hall is already closed.
The cleaning crew is getting ready to go home, after a long day of hard work, standing on their feet and serving large tour groups for many hours….

A cleaning lady came over to us, holding two cups of hot green tea.
She placed them before us, and said that she thought we might enjoy this, since it is a cold night outside, and we are sitting with our Yukatas….(Japanese summer kimonos)

Her kind and unexpected gesture, warmed my heart even before I drunk the hot tea that she brought…

People on this earth can be so considerate and kind…
Instead of folding her apron and running home, after a long day of work, she took the time to notice us…. The already comfortable people who lack nothing… And she thought to make us feel welcomed and even MORE comfortable….what a kind soul…

Tonight I feel proud to be a human!

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