Shiraoi Town, Hokkaido
Shiraoi Station North Tourist Information Center (Porotomintar)
Sharing the beauty of Shiraoi Town, where Ainu culture is prized and protected
Nature co-exists in harmony with a unique culture in the small town of Shiraoi, 40 minutes’ train ride south of Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport, between the renowned hot springs of Noboribetsu and the airport. Camping and canoeing are pleasures amid the natural grandeur of sea, rivers, and mountains, with hot springs an added bonus. The most famous attraction here, however, is the National Ainu Museum and Park known as Upopoy (a symbolic space for ethnic harmony), which has drawn crowds of visitors since it opened in 2020. Upopoy is an Ainu term meaning “singing together in a large group.”
Shiraoi Station North Tourist Information Center (Porotomintar), is a vital source of information on Shiraoi Town.
A town rooted in Ainu culture
The northern part of the Japanese archipelago, especially Hokkaido, has long been home to the indigenous Ainu people. In Shiraoi Town as well there is an Ainu village, and in 2020, Upopoy opened as a facility to learn about Ainu history and culture. The Shiraoi Station North Tourist Information Center opened around the same time between Upopoy and Shiraoi Station. Signs written in Ainu language along with Ainu design patterns are found throughout the town and the indigenous culture is also, of course, celebrated at the information center.
A treasure trove of food
Upopoy shows how the lifestyle of Ainu people, including clothing, food, and shelter, existed harmoniously with nature. Even outside the facility, this spirit continues to be felt through the seafood and mountain cuisine of Shiraoi. In town, many fine restaurants serve dishes of top-class quality such as branded Shiraoi beef, cod roe, and shiitake mushrooms. Let the information staff know your tastes, and they will be happy to prepare a handmade map of the best places for you. The center also offers an excellent selection of Shiraoi’s special goods, including many rarities perfect as souvenirs such as ready-to-eat curry packs made with Shiraoi beef, cod roe pasta sauce, and canned venison.
Two foreign staff members are at the Shiraoi Station North Tourist Information Center, Ms. Hien from Vietnam and Ms. Zheng from China. We had the pleasure of talking with both of them.
Q：Why are you working in Shiraoi, Hokkaido?
A： (Hien) Originally when I was studying Japanese in Vietnam, I got interested in Japanese culture like ninja, enka (Japanese ballad), ikebana (flower arrangement) and the tea ceremony. In Vietnam as well, there are about 50 ethnic groups, so I was interested to learn that Shiraoi had adopted the regional culture where it continues today. For example, Shiraoi Town uses Upopoy as a chance to support entrepreneurship. More and more young people interested in Ainu culture in Shiraoi Town are receiving support to open restaurants and guesthouses. These startups blend Shiraoi culture with a new sense of style that attracts people far beyond the town’s borders. I hope my experience here gives me some hints for how to transmit the culture of my own country, and I strive to show travelers the culture of Shiraoi in a way that’s easy-to-understand.
Q：What kind of services are available at this information center?
A： (Zheng) In addition to coin lockers, we have luggage storage and a restroom open 24 hours a day. Bicycles can also be rented, starting from 500 yen for 2 hours. Those services allowing visitors to leave their luggage at this information center and go to Upopoy or cycle around the town.
Q：What would you like to say to those coming to Japan from overseas?
A： (Hien) Please don’t worry at all about language barriers and feel free to visit us anytime. Together, let’s arrange a great trip for you. (Zheng) I hope to show travelers the same great aspects of Japan that I felt myself. We are always ready to welcome you with the spirit of Japan’s “omotenashi” hospitality.
Shiraoi Town takes great care to protect its natural wealth of forests, oceans, and lakes, along with the related livelihoods of dairy farming, agriculture, the fishing industry, and its Ainu culture. At the Shiraoi Station North Tourist Information Center, you may discover not only the beauty of the region, but also hints for creating a sustainable, diverse society.
*The information herein is as of January 2023.
- Hours of Operation
- 8:00 - 18:00 (Nov.–Mar. 9:00 - 17:00)
- New Year holidays (Dec. 29–Jan. 3)
- 〒059-0902 1-1-21 Wakakusa-cho, Shiraoi Town, Shiraoi County, Hokkaido
- 4-minute walk from JR Shiraoi Station
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