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Daisetsuzan National Park

Fleeting summer bestows alpine plant blossoms to untouched mountains

Daisetsuzan National Park was designated as a national park in 1934. It’s said that the reason for designation was the region’s vast expanses of untouched mountain environments. With a number of mountains over 2000 meters high such as Mt. Hokuchin, Mt. Hakuun, Mt. Kuro, and Hokkaido’s highest peak of Mt. Asahi, the harsh environment has doubtlessly helped keep human hands away from these natural environments. But don’t mistake these mountains for bleak slabs of stone. In fact, Daisetsuzan National Park is a treasure trove of alpine plant life, and a habitat to animals, birds, and insects alike. The park covers over 226,000 hectares – approximately equal to the area of Kanagawa Prefecture. It may be hard to imagine just how vast Daisetsuzan is, but it goes without saying that this is Japan’s largest national park.

Daisetsuzan does not refer to a single mountain, but rather a volcanic mountain range located in the heart of Hokkaido. Daisetsuzan National Park also includes the neighboring Tokachi Mountains. Compared to the rest of Japan, Hokkaido’s mountains are small. Even Mt. Asahi, Hokkaido’s highest peak, is only 2,290 meters. However, due to the northern latitude, mountain environments in Daisetsuzan national park resemble those of mountains over 3,000 meters on Honshu. Thus many species of alpine plants can be observed here, with scale and variety exceeding any other region in Japan. Hokkaido’s summers are short, and these mountains’ summers are even shorter, creating many remarkable sights – permanent snowpack, verdant creeping pines, and the lovely flowers of alpine plants intermingle into a unique and unforgettably beautiful scene. Autumn swiftly arrives, bringing the captivating splendor of tinted leaves. Despite the harsh climate, many animals thrive in Daisetsuzan National Park. Nearly every species found in Hokkaido, from brown bears to Ezo red foxes, Ezo stoats, Ainu mountain hare, and northern pika have been confirmed to live here. Daisetsuzan is also a habitat for birds. Of the Hokkaido’s 405 recorded bird species, 142 are found here, including the pine grosbeak noted for its males’ red plumage, the three-toed European woodpecker known as the “phantom woodpecker”, the black woodpecker, the Blakiston’s fish owl, the boreal owl, and the hazel grouse which is feared to be declining in population. The park is also home to many insects, with some 3,000 species now recorded. This includes five alpine butterfly species: the Eversmann's parnassian, the Vacciniina optilete daisetsuzana, the Freija's fritillary, the Oeneis melissa daisetsuzana, and the Arran brown. Of the Daisetsuzan Mountains, the range lying to the southeast is known as Higashi (East) Daisetsuzan. The string of approximately 2,000 meter peaks includes 2,013 meter Mt. Nipesotsu and Mt. Ishikari, the source of the Ishikari River. While these mountains do not attract as many hikers as Mt. Asahi or Mt. Kuro, those who enjoy a quiet, peaceful hike are certain to feel welcome. When visiting, please stop by the Nukabira Gensenkyo Visitor Center or the Higashi Taisetsu Nature Center. Both provide excellent opportunities to learn about the nature and ecosystems of Higashi Daisetsuzan. Please be certain to check their brown bear sighting alerts before departing on your hike.

Have you heard of the “100 Soundscapes of Japan”? In 1996, the Environment Agency (now the Ministry of the Environment) designated environments containing unique regional sounds as “soundscapes” to be passed on to future generations. Five were selected from Hokkaido, including “The Alpine Animals of Mt. Asahi, Daisetsuzan National Park”. We hope that this environment and its soundscape, including the voices of the pika, Japanese robin, winter wren, and red-flanked bluetail, can be cherished long into the future.

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