Home JapanTravel The true beauty of Shirijima lies in the fact that it is not a perfect conical tent shape like Mt.

The true beauty of Shirijima lies in the fact that it is not a perfect conical tent shape like Mt.


Throughout the winter, fierce winds and thick powder snow cover the remote island of Rishiri at the northwest tip of Japan, a paradise for self-powered skiers.
“It’s almost always windy here,” explains Toshiya Watanabe, who sits in the guesthouse living room after dinner. An assortment of skis, surfboards and fishing gear is stacked neatly by the door. The taste of local seafood hotpot and sake still lingers on my lips as I gaze through the large living room window, seeing only the black outline of Mount Rishiri in the moonlight as snow blows down the ridgeline.

Toshiya was born on Rishiri Island in the far northwest of Hokkaido, itself the northernmost of Japan’s major islands. Together with his wife, Maki Watanabe, he owns the Rera Mosir Hotel, which means “Domain of the Wind” in the language of the Ainu, the ancestral inhabitants of Rishiri.

Toshiya starts pulling out maps, photos and magazine clippings, his thick, weathered fingers pointing out the countless skiable routes – he says he’s exploring He says he’s skied all of them in the more than 20 years he’s been exploring the island’s remote areas.

“The real beauty of Rishiri Island is that it’s not a perfect conical tent shape like Mount Fuji. The wind can’t just wrap around it,” he explains. “It’s really a lot of mountains wrapped together, and if you know where to look, you can always find shelter and, of course, some of the best powder in the world.”

Fishing had been the backbone of the island’s economy for more than half a century, and Toshiya’s family moved to Rishiri from mainland Japan in the 1940s when his grandfather tried to make a living in the booming kelp business. At that time, Rishiri’s population peaked with nearly 20,000 people living on the island, most of whom made their living by fishing for the abundant herring.

Today, dwindling fish stocks, an aging population and a lack of economic opportunities during the winter months have prompted most of the young people to seek their fortunes in major cities such as Sapporo (the capital of Hokkaido) or Tokyo, leaving less than 5,000 residents, most of whom are elderly

in the back.

Toshiya also moved to mainland Hokkaido as a young man, training and becoming a certified mountain guide, before returning to Hokkaido in 2003 to help his family run their hotel business. “Back then, we’d get booked for a full three months in the summer and then do nothing for the rest of the year,” he recalls.

In winter, Rishiri feels like a hibernating fishing village, almost as far from the bustling ski resorts of popular Japanese destinations like Niseko on the main island of Hokkaido or Hakuba, a four-hour drive to the northwest, as from Tokyo. There are no large hotels, no ski lifts, and no lines of brightly dressed skiers waiting to get up the mountain. Here, no matter what you want to ski, you must first use the climbing skins attached to the bottom of your skis and a healthy dose of perseverance to improve yourself.

While many locals express friendly bewilderment at travelers arriving on the island in the dead of winter, when there is nothing but snow, for Toshiya and those brave enough to travel, the appeal lies in Rishiri’s untouched nature and the promise of unbridled adventure. What the Rishiri skiing infrastructure lacks, it makes up for in the ability to bask in solitude and silence on the unspoiled canvas of the mountain and paint the trails freely.

Toshiya is the only year-round resident guide on the island and has been offering nature tours in the summer and the all-important winter months since 2004. In his first year as a Rishiri ski guide, Toyisha had only a few winter customers. The next year no more came. Yet everyone who visited went home with tales of a magical land of bottomless powder snow, protected by stormy seas and icy winds from the encroaching masses eager for easy skiing adventures and the implied commodification of nature in ski resorts.

By 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, Rera Mosir’s 25 beds were occupied throughout the winter. “We now employ two additional guides to help bring clients, including professional skiers, to the mountain, and one guide to help me organize the lodge,” explains Maki, who moved here from Sapporo when she married Toshiya in 2020 and hasn’t looked back since then.

I decided to make the trip here after hearing countless stories about enjoying sweeping ocean views from the ridge of Mount Rishiri. Quietly, I hoped to accomplish one of my lifelong skiing goals: ski all the way to the beach.

“The wind is out of the west today, so we’ll be skiing on the east side,” Toshiya told me as I skied down the stairs on my first day. It was just after dawn and the sun was getting stronger. I looked out the living room window and noticed a fresh layer of snow on the ground and a breathtaking view of Mount Rishiri, its white summit and flying eaves standing out against the clear blue sky.

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