Most people are aware of the popular Ainu village at Shiraoi, between Tomakomai and Noboribetsu, along the south coast of Hokkaido. But a much more private experience is to be had closer to Sapporo city, the Pirka Kotan (Ainu Culture Promotion Center) at Koganeyu in south Sapporo near Jozankei. Just off Highway 230 (Ishiyama Dori) about 45 minutes from central Sapporo by car, the Pirka Kotan consists of two main areas of interest. The first is an outdoor area with two larger buildings, a chise (house) and a pu (storehouse) which can be entered freely, and a number of smaller structures. Adjacent to the traditional Ainu buildings is an architecturally stunning building housing the exhibition room (museum) and learning center. Entrance to see the traditional buildings is free, while the exhibition room is a steal at 200 yen. Finding the exhibition room is a little difficult if you don’t read Japanese. Your temptation will be to stop and ask at the offices on your left after entering the building. Don’t. It’s not necessary. Just follow the path ahead of you downstairs and that will lead you to the ticket machine and the exhibits. There, a docent will take your ticket and tell you it is ok to take photos and to touch the items, a truly interactive experience and an added plus to visiting. The exhibition room houses several examples of distinctly patterned Ainu clothing, shoes and robes made from salmon-skin and Ainu jewelry. Once you finish your visit, head across the street. There you will find Koganeyu’s famous onsen, a place to mix with the locals and to soak away the stresses of the day. Entrance to the onsen is 750 yen per person (400 yen for kids 4-12). Here’s a little secret for those without a car, Koganeyu Onsen has a free shuttle bus making the thirty minute trip four times a day between Makomanai subway station and the onsen.
Story & pictures by Shawn Clankie