Juniko – 十二湖
In this post we talk you about Juniko, literally meaning “twelve lakes”, one of the main features of Shirakami-Sanchi National Park, located in the North-Western part of Honshu.
The prefecture of Aomori, the northernmost region of Tōhoku, in the island of Honshū, boasts a boundless nature, made of woods, mountains and blissful landscapes, and personally speaking is one of our top choice destinations in Japan!
What’s special about Juniko?
Getting to Juniko from the prefecture of Akita, located just south, immediately after passing the prefectural boundary with Aomori, one meets the area of the twelve lakes. Many of them are no more than ponds, but they constitute a delicate and precious ecosystem, which has contributed to the recognition of the Shirakami-Sanchi National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Given the absence of heavily populated centers in the surrounding area, direct access to this area of Japan from Tokyo and other cities takes some time, but staying overnight in Akita or Aomori will let you enjoy better Juniko. In this regard, we advise you to go to Juniko using the trains running on the Gono Line, sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, and considered one of the most beautiful in Japan (we’ll talk about it in the link related to access to the area). In particular, being exposed to the west, from the train window you can admire stunning sunsets on the Sea of Japan.
From Juniko Station, walking a few kilometers (bus are also available) you will reach the forest that houses the twelve ponds. In this northern region, instead of borderless woods made of Japanese red cedars (cryptomeria japonica), birches and other northern vegetation take on more suitable conditions for these harsh winter climates. Just their presence struck us by the white of the bark of the trunks that stretched around our passage.
After skirting several small and large lakes of various shapes, you get to the park’s highlight, the Aoike pond (which means blue pond). As the name suggests, this small pond is …
The shades of blue are incredible, and are emphasized by the transparency of the water, filtered by the sun rays that illuminates the fallen logs on the bottom. This kind of place, is considered a “powerspot” by Japanese people, as it is believed that hides a divine energy, a sort of spirit of Nature.
But the surprises are not over … Continuing the path, you can see a strange rock formation, almost a natural quarry. This is the “Nippon Canyon“. Surely it does sound exaggerate, and probably behind this name there is an ingenious marketing of Juniko local tourist association, which aims to point out the uniqueness of this creation of nature within Japan. It is certainly a particular glimpse!
How to reach Juniko
To discover how to reach Juniko, click on this link!
This trip to Tōhoku was a sudden and improvised summer journey a few years ago, and before leaving our base in Saitama, we would have never imagined we would end up to Juniko!
After stopping for a night in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, we met up with a friend, and drove to Aomori Prefecture. Along the way we made several stops, and after crossing seas of green rice paddies interspersed with woods and forests, we finally found ourselves along the coast of the Sea of Japan.
The coast of Gono, is made famous, as already mentioned, by the same-named railway line. This is a long, single-track, non-electrified railway crossing a sparsely populated area in northwest Japan. Because of its low usage, it has risked several times the closure, but a wise tourist promotion has now allowed to exploit it to carry around tourists and fans of the railways world every day of the year!
Nearby we took another break at the Shikanoura lookout, from which, thanks to the favorable weather, we could enjoy a fantastic view dominated by the contrast between the blue of sky and sea and the green of the forests behind!
After this break, in a few kilometers we arrived at Juniko Station. Here we bought one of the classic soft creams – the typical Japanese ice creams – with the “Juniko blue” taste (the name refers to the “Hawaii Blue” taste, the Japanese version of “Blue Moon” flavor.)
Meanwhile the station bell rang . One of the tourist trains (in particular, the “Resort Shirakami “) of the Gono Line was approaching the station! As you may now, we also love traveling by train and the varied world of Japanese railways, so we could not exempt us from taking some shoots to the approaching train! At the bus stop next to the station, many people got off, and as many others rode it. The small station was buzzing with voices and people!
After saying goodbye to the departing train, we drove back to the Juniko ponds (it can also be done on foot, and during the summer there are buses from the station).
This area of Japan, exposed to the north on the Sea of Japan and to Siberia, even in the middle of summer can be chilly, especially in the shadow, so we recommend to bring with you long sleeves.
After a few minutes we arrived at the Aoike pond. Located in the middle of the forest, it seemed lik the trees had set aside to make room for a fairy place; in front of our eyes there was a very intense blue gem, really breathtaking!
The whole day blessed us with a great weather, and we were finally rewarded by a sunset that was just perfect, with a round, big, orange sun sinking slowly into the sea.
The Shirakami-Sanchi National Park is home to many other places worthy of a visit, such as the Ashimon Falls, which we promised ourselves to visit at the next occasion! Aomori, Akita, Iwate, and the other prefectures of northern Japan: still little known, yet rich in landscapes and aspects worthy of being explored!