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Backpacker Magazine – November 2013

Best Discovery: Hai Country, Japan

Can you really find true wilderness in the most civilized country on Earth?

by: Ted Alvarez

Sulphur vents steam below 7,516-foot Mt. Asahidake.
Sulphur vents steam below 7,516-foot Mt. Asahidake.
Dwarf Azaleas bloom in the first few weeks of July.
Dwarf Azaleas bloom in the first few weeks of July.
Guest shoes line the entrance to Hakuun Hut.
Guest shoes line the entrance to Hakuun Hut.
A sign warns you're entering bear country near Kogen Onsen.
A sign warns you're entering bear country near Kogen Onsen.

Daisetsuzan Map
Trip Planner

Get there Fly to Sapporo via Tokyo or Osaka ($800-1300 from Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles during high season, June-September). From Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, catch the Super Kamui #43 to Asahikawa ($54, From Asahikawa Train Station, ride the shuttle bus to Asahidake Onsen (website TK, five buses a day, $10). Asahidake Ropeway is at the end of the road 1/4 mile from the onsen ($16 one-way,

Huts/Camping Frontcountry camping at traverse endpoints is available the base of Asahidake and Tokachi ($5). Kurodake hut spots ($17) fill up fast on weekend afternoons; camping spots ($5) do not. Same at Hakuun ($10 hut; $5 tent site). Chubetsu, Hisago, Biei-Fuji, and Tokachi huts, as well as Uraasahi, Futagonuma, and Minaminuma tent sites, are all free.

Hotel/Onsen Asahikawa Grand Hotel (from $160, Shirakabaso Youth Hostel is 400 meters from Asahidake ropeway and offers private and dorm-style rooms, including onsen facilities ($35-59, Kogen Onsen ($63, includes traditional dinner and breakfast; [site in Japanese])

Season July to August for better weather and flowers, but more visitors. September showcases incredible fall foliage and wildlife activity, but more temperamental weather. Snow typically melts off trails by mid-July; it returns the last week of September.

Gear Daisetsuzan’s capricious and sometimes violent weather necessitates bombproof raingear and tents. Bring crampons and an ice axe in June/early July. Fog can strike anytime—know how to navigate with map and compass. Gear up at the Montbell store in Higashikawa (on the way to Asahidake, -2-2, Higashimachi, Kamikawa-gun, Higashikawa-cho, Hokkaido) and 7-11 (do not leave without eating chicken katsu from the hot case).

Michiko Aoki ($150/day;

 Daisetsuzan National Park: Don't speak Japanese? Contact the Japan National Tourism Organization for planning, logistics, and travel advice.

Don't-miss trail foods

  • Prepackaged Asahikawa ramen. Not as good as the real stuff, but darn close. (Sapporo Ichiban Shio Ramen is one brand.)
  • Spicy calpas sausage (available at every convenience store).
  • Japanese-style boiled peanuts.
  • Kaede: maple syrup hard candies
  • Add dried sesame nori (seaweed) to everything
  • -Look for small packages of Teriyaki or curry chicken to add to your riceSapporo Classic beer, an extra-delicious lager only available on Hokkaido

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