Walking on Drift Ice
The Shiraoi Ainu Museum (アイヌ民族博物館, Ainu Minzoku Hakubutsukan) is one of the country's best museums about the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan. The open air museum, which is also commonly known as Porotokotan (meaning large lakeside village in the Ainu language), is a replica village consisting of five thatched houses along the shore of Lake Poroto.
Each of the houses at Porotokotan demonstrates different aspects of Ainu culture and lifestyle. One of the larger houses holds a free, hourly performance (starting 15 minutes after the hour) with traditional Ainu folk dances, songs and mouth harp demonstrations. One of these folk dances, which is performed to send off the spirits of dead bears, was designated a UNESCO intangible cultural property in 2009.
The rest of the houses are either restored residences, displaying what a typical household would look like, or serve as workshops where handicraft, music and other demonstrations are held. For a small fee visitors can try their hand at several different activities including woodcarving, embroidery, dance, Ainu cuisine, and making and playing traditional Ainu instruments.
Porotokotan also has a conventional museum building with an excellent, bilingual exhibition on Ainu history and lifestyle, as well as a small botanical garden with about 60 different species of plants that the Ainu used for food and medicine. There are also several pens where visitors can see live Hokkaido brown bears and snow white Ainu hunting dogs. Outside the gates of the museum are a few small shops that sell traditional Ainu crafts.
The museum is located in Shiraoi, a neighbouring town of Noboribetsu. It is about 100 km south of Sapporo on the main railway line from Sapporo to Hakodate. The museum is a 10-15 minute walk east from Shiraoi Station.
Shiraoi is five stations east of Noboribetsu by local train. The one way journey takes about 25 minutes and costs 360 yen. Note that trains run only once every one to two hours.
Only a few limited express trains from Sapporo stop at Shiraoi. If yours does not, you need to transfer to a local train at either Tomakomai or Noboribetsu. The one way journey from Sapporo takes around 60-80 minutes and costs about 3000 yen one way by limited express train or about two hours and 1840 yen if done entirely by local trains. Note that a special round trip discount ticket for limited trains (S-Kippu) between Sapporo and Shiraoi is available for only 3640 yen.
information source: japan-guide.com
Hours: 8:45 to 17:00
Admission: 800 yen
Address: 2-3-4 Shiraoi Town, Shiraoi County, Hokkaido.
Airport: New Chitose Airport
December 29 to January 5