When I originally applied for the teaching job in Japan (a long time ago now) I was really eager to be placed on the north island of Hokkaido, specifically because I was drawn to the natural beauty of the UNESCO-protected Shiretoko Peninsula!
My prayers were answered when I got my placement location in March 2022, and discovered I would be living and working in the small town of Shari Cho, which is literally the gateway town to the Shiretoko area.
Having been lucky enough to travel to many countries, (I added up the amount the other day and arrived at the number 40! 40 countries…. wow!) many of the highlights were my encounters with wild animals in their natural habitats!
I’ve seen orangutans in Sumatra, lions in the Serengeti, chimps in Tanzania, and perhaps my favourite, most awe-insipiring experience was witnessing humpback whales flip, swim and dive off the coast of Ecuador.
And so when I was researching all the natural beauty within Japan, it makes sense I was most excited about exploring the north island, especially the eastern side which is home to a whole host of creatures.
Upon arriving in Japan, after just six weeks I was about to experience the beauty of Japan’s Orca population – the incredible killer whales themselves. On a rainy, foggy morning accompanied by fellow ALT’s living in the area, we set off to the coast of Rausu (shown on the map above) to begin our adventure.
Stepping onto the boat was exciting, and I was reassured as the vessel was decidedly more robust and sea-worthy than the tiny boat I’d been in to watch the humpback whales off the coast of Montanita, in Ecuador. The Ecuadorian boat was so small that it felt as though we were IN the waves, as opposed to sailing OVER them. The waves towered over the little boat and created a sense of being within the vast ocean. It was a touch scary and didn’t help with the nausea created by motion sickness! However, it was still an AWESOME experience. It felt like I was even closer to the humpback whales!
Anyway, back to Rausu; the boat was big and sturdy and, as a result, dealt with the tossing and turning of the waves with ease. We set off and for about 20 mins we headed out to sea.
The company, Nature Cruise, warned us that there is no guarantee of seeing wildlife, however within a few minutes of being out at sea we saw our first sightings! The 2.5 hour trip was FILLED with whale viewings, from mother and baby duos, to whole pods of orcas swimming beside our boat, doing their thing!
I liked hearing the noise of their breathing as they surfaced, it alerted us all to their whereabouts and also felt like I was witnessing something special. To be close enough to hear this majestic creature breathe feels like a blessing somehow. The air and water jets out of their blowholes with an impressive PHEEEEW every time they crest the surface!
I had a funny thought whilst watching the whales surrounding the boat. As I shivered in the cold and wrapped up warmer and warmer as my fingers turned blue and became numb, I had the amusing thought of ‘gosh, aren’t they cold out here’!!!!
Obviously not – they are built for this weather, but it made me laugh because it shows how unequipped humans are for these types of conditions. Bearing in mind, that it was May and so it gets A LOT colder out there, and the whales are comfortably living out here.
It’s a special feeling to want to do something for a long time and then recognise that it’s actually happening in the moment! Life’s a funny thing and I’m really grateful to be here, living my life and having the experiences I am having!
For anyone thinking of coming to Shiretoko to explore the area’s natural beauty I would definitely recommend this experience! Even those that are a little seasick – I get travel sick too but I just took a travel motion pill before I set off and was absolutely fine! So don’t let this put you off. There’s lots to occupy your attention and keep your mind off the motion for sure!
Thanks for reading – stay tuned for more about my Japanese adventures!!