Located in Shikotsu-Toya National park, standing at 1,898m high, the stratovolcano Mt. Yotei is the symbol of the Niseko area. The mountain is commonly known as ‘Ezo Fuji’ as it is resembles Mt. Fuji. Ezo is the old name for Hokkaido.
It is generally accepted that the present form of Mt. Yotei is the result of approximately three eruptions. The area near the summit is an alpine zone and inhabited by the insects Leptocarabus kurilensis daisetsuzanus and the Colpodes xestagonum daisetsuzanus said to be survivors from the Ice Age. Their only other habitat in Hokkaido is in the alpine zone of Daisetsuzan National Park. Mt. Yotei is also home to many mammals such as the Ezo red fox, Japanese sable, Eurasian red squirrel, Siberian chipmunk, flying squirrel, mountain hare and over 130 species of wild birds.
At the foot of the north west side of the mountain is a small, 1.3km2 crater lake called Hangetsu-ko (Half Moon Lake) which is surrounded by thick virgin forest. The plant communities living around the lake, hiking trails and the area around the top of the mountain have been officially designated national natural monuments. There are four hiking trails in total and the climb to the summit takes between four to six hours. The mountain rescue hut at the summit attracts a lively crowd of summer hikers.
Niseko Mountain Range
The principal peak in the east-west running mountain range is the 1,308.5m high Niseko Annupuri – the mountain from which Niseko Town takes its name. The range is made up of 11 mountains, which include Iwaonupuri, Weisshorn, Chisenupuri, Mt.Iwanai, Mt. Mekunnai, Mt. Raiden and Nitonupuri. The range spans a wide area extending over Kutchan, Niseko, Rankoshi, Kyowa and Iwanai towns. Small lakes and upper wetland areas are located around the lower half of the mountains (500m - 700m above sea level). Throughout the range the tree line lies at roughly 800m above sea level.
Although the mountains were used in the Edo period for extracting sulphur, mining didn’t begin on a large scale until 1880. The local mining industry prospered greatly when it became the first area in Japan to adopt the imported steam purification method. Mining operations were discontinued in 1937 due to a decline in production.
The Shiribetsu river wends its way from its source on Mt. Fure, Date City, through Kimobetsu, Kyogoku, Kutchan and Niseko, before spilling out into the sea in Rankoshi. It is known for being home to the largest of Japan’s freshwater fish – the ‘Japanese huchen’- and being at the southern limit of its habitat. It is said that large numbers of Japanese huchen used to inhabit the river. However, in recent years the population size has fallen drastically leaving it on the brink of extinction. Other species of fish found in the river are Chum salmon, Cherry salmon, Whitespotted char, Ayu, Red-spotted masu salmon, Stone Loach, Common carp and the Dolly Varden trout.
In former times, this region was covered in virgin forest and inhabited by a variety of wild animals. However, due to continuing development these animals are now mainly found living on Mt Yotei and in the Niseko mountains. Some of the animals found here are the Brown bear, Ezo red fox, Raccoon Dog, Japanese Marten, Eurasian red squirrel, flying squirrel and the stoat. At the end of the nineteenth century the Ezo deer, which once lived in the region, suffered a decline in numbers and has sadly disappeared from the area. Flocks of migratory birds can be seen flying over the region and the Bull-headed shrike, Japanese bush warbler, Oriental turtle dove, Blue-and-white flycatcher, Common cuckoo, Black woodpecker and the Common kingfisher have all been observed here.
The vegetation found on Mt Yotei is roughly divided into five groups: Painted maple / Japanese linden (up to 700m), Ezo spruce / Erman’s birch (700m – 1100m), Bamboo grass / Erman’s birch (1100m – 1500m), Cowberry / Japanese stone pine (1500m and up) and the area around the summit which is classified as alpine heathland and wind-exposed grassland. As there are many varieties of rare alpine plants found in the alpine zone, this area has been designated a national natural monument. The Niseko mountain range is dotted with high wetland areas, wind-exposed grassland and small lakes where aquatic plants and wetland plants can be seen in large numbers and is characteristic of the region.