This nighttime cultural experience in Hokkaido combines nature, storytelling, and digital art to immerse visitors in the stories of the Ainu.

Lake Akan on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is known as one of the clearest lakes in all of Japan. Surrounded by the pristine forests and mud volcanoes known as bokke of Akan Mashu National Park, this crater lake is particularly well-known for its round balls of marimo green algae, which grow larger here than almost anywhere else in the world. The same area also houses a small village of one of Japan’s indigenous peoples, the Ainu, who have partnered with Canadian multimedia production company Moment Factory to offer an unparalleled glimpse into Ainu culture through the Lake Akan Forest Night Walk Kamuy Lumina.

▼ Lake Akan and its lush forests in Kushiro, Hokkaido

As fans of the recently ended manga series Golden Kamuy may know, the term kamuy refers to a divine being in Ainu mythology, similar to the Japanese kami. In Ainu culture, myths and epic sagas (yukar) about the kamuy are passed down through the generations. This emphasis on oral tradition and storytelling plays a large part in the Kamuy Lumina experience.

This year marks the third offering of the nighttime walk since it was first offered in 2019 after three years of meticulous planning in close consultation with the local Ainu. Since then, over 50,000 visitors have taken part in the experience, and a portion of all proceeds also goes to the Maeda Ippoen Foundation in Kushiro to protect the surrounding wildlife. While this year’s experience was supposed to begin on May 14, the start date was delayed until June 18 after it was discovered that the breeding season of the kumagera (black woodpecker) was still in full swing at that time. Since the main theme of the walk is “co-existence with nature,” this was the only logical choice.

▼ A promotional clip of this year’s event

The experience itself takes place approximately 30 minutes after sunset on a daily basis through November 19 and incorporates lights, sounds, and projection mapping which depict the changing of the seasons and different weather elements in incredible detail. A protective deity owl leads you through a mythological story of how a kakesu (Eurasion jay) saved the people from a great famine. Along the way, you’ll encounter projections of deer, fish, and those marimo algae balls that are so lifelike that you’ll think you were transplanted to another astral plane. Be watching closely, because the mythical Ainu korpokkur dwarf gods themselves may even make an appearance!

▼ Your owl and Eurasion jay guides

▼ Marimo algae ball object illuminations (left) and bokke mud volcano projection mapping (right)

Here’s a glimpse of some of the projections in action. Participants are so fully immersed in the experience that they seem to become characters in the story themselves.

▼ Is that owl painted on the bark of a tree or is it simply being projected? Hmm…

The full length of the course is 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) and it takes approximately 50 minutes to complete, making it manageable for young children as well. It’s divided into eight main zones, with each zone providing a new chapter in the story.

Notably, one of the most unique features of the experience is that all participants receive a “rhythm stick” modeled after a traditional Ainu walking stick. This version, however, is equipped with a GPS and speaker which plays the story, narration, and music right next to your ear (and also lights up the immediate ground area so you don’t trip in the dark!).

▼ You may be asked to tap the rhythm sticks in unison at times as illustrated in the clip below.

Importantly, the musical elements were performed and recorded by local members of the Ainu themselves. In particular, it’s a great opportunity to hear the sounds of traditional Ainu instruments, including the mukkuri, a type of mouth harp, and the tonkori, a plucked string instrument.

The Kamuy Lumina night walks will generally take place rain or shine except in cases of severe weather. Since sunset times will grow earlier moving into the fall, starting times are also staggered every few weeks. Adult tickets (junior high school-aged and above) are 3,000 yen (US$22.20) per person for tickets reserved in advance and 3,500 yen for same-day tickets. Child tickets (elementary school-aged) are 1,500 yen or 1,700 yen respectively. Preschool-aged children can enter for free. More information about purchasing tickets and starting times can be found on the Kamuy Lumina website.

For visitors who want to experience even more of traditional Ainu culture while they’re in the Lake Akan region, the Lake Akan Ainu Theater Ikor in town is also offering a special combination deal which includes admission to its currently running program “Lost Kamuy” along with admission to Kamuy Lumina. “Lost Kamuy” is a performance which incorporates traditional Ainu dance, modern dance, and digital art themed around “co-existence with the Hokkaido wolf,” which is now extinct. Set tickets for both features are available at a discounted price of 4,700 yen for adults and 2,100 yen for children.

▼ “Lost Kamuy” visuals

If you’re looking for even more things to do while you’re in Hokkaido, we might also suggest visiting this magical flower park in Biei or adding Japan’s northernmost toilet to your itinerary.

Source, images: PR Times
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!