In the last days of October, when the season’s first snow begins to flicker down across the plains, news spreads of the closure of the main thoroughfare bisecting the Shiretoko Peninsula. For all who call this corner of Hokkaido home, the announcement means the time has come to prepare for the impending long, harsh winter ahead. Bidding farewell to autumn—a last hurrah of vibrant orange and red foliage reflected in rivers roiling with trout and salmon as they jostle upstream—the mountain fauna sleepily dig their hovels, ready for hibernation.
Situated in the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, itself Japan’s northernmost island, the Shiretoko Peninsula is cradled in the Sea of Okhotsk, while dotted with a mountain range that runs down the peninsula like a spine. As a result of this peculiar topology, life in this area tends to revolve around the coasts. Even the unique native ecosystem (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site) reflects the area’s profound connection with the sea.
Wintertime holds a special significance for Shiretoko, as the peninsula welcomes the arrival of an honored guest from Siberia. This sea-borne visitor brings in its wake a rich supply of nutrients and diverse wildlife, who gladly feast over the 1,000-kilometer voyage.
In this edition, photographer Naoki Ishikawa reports on his journey to the frigid Russian port town of Magadan in search of the source of the ice drifts that reach Shiretoko’s shores. Meanwhile, the novelist (and Shiretoko resident) Mizuhiko Ito tries to imagine a world without the drift ice. Finally, Okinawa-born artist Daichiro Shinjo discovers a quiet natural oasis in Shiretoko’s wintry landscape, which he expresses in ink mixed with melted snow.
Granted, Shiretoko’s winters are not for the faint of heart. Yet, once the sea, land, and mountains don their immaculate blanket of pristine white snow and ice, all fear is forgotten (so long as the eager visitor bundles up for the cold). As the ice floes take on the color of the setting sun, you’ll be glad to have made the long journey north.