Foreigners in Shimukappu

One of the first foreigner to come to Shimukappu was Captain Malcolm Duncan Kennedy (1895-1984), a British 'military language officer' in Japan from 1917 to 1920, who later became a Reuters correspondent, and eventually a member of the  Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). He visited Hokkaido in August 1920, starting in the south and travelling by train as far as 'Sarafuto' (presumably Tomikawa), after which he went by horse-drawn cart  to Biratori, and eventually arrived at a place called Iwachishi on the Saru River:

Friday 13th August 1920 Set off about 7 a.m. having hired two ponies, one for myself and the other for my baggage and the guide who sat perched up on top of it as I had to do yesterday. . . . Heavy rain, which had been threatening all morning, set in about 10 a.m. to add to the general cheerfulness; and having been told that the woods were infested by bears and that rain generally set them on the prowl, I began to wonder if there were not perhaps something in the belief that the 13th of the month falling on a Friday was unlucky, as today happens to be Friday the 13th! Horse-flies also caused us and our ponies a lot of trouble. 


Occasionally came to clearings in the forest with half a dozen or so settlers' houses, most of the inhabitants being too hard at work even to do more than glance up at us as we passed, though one or two to whom we spoke seemed very surprised to hear that I had come up here merely for pleasure, and said they had never seen a white man up there before. Very surprised at the number of settlers up here who come from Osaka and the south of Japan, as it a journey of nearly a week, and the climate is so very different. Most of them say they came up here with the idea of making money, but have been disappointed in that respect, and their main object now seems to be to make enough to get back to their own provinces. They all complain of the long, cold winters, and tell me they need snow shoes and sledges from November to March, during the whole of which period the country here is snow-bound. Some of the settlers' houses look like hayricks from a distance, as they are made entirely of straw. Most of them look very dirty inside. 


The country all round is certainly very fine with its magnificent wooded hills and overhanging precipices, and wee mountain streams everywhere; but it must be a terribly lonely life so completely shut off from the outside world as they are. Their main dread, however, seems to be of mountain fires, and even in the thick forest miles away from anywhere, one comes across the notice "Yama kaji chui" [attention, danger of mountain fires] nailed onto trees.


Fetched up at Usappu about noon and had "chow" at the "ekitei"[post house]. Paid off the Iwachishi guide and hired another to take me on to Shimukappu. As ponies were unobtainable had to pad it on foot, the guide carrying the suitcase while I carried the rest of the gear. Set off about 1.15 p.m. and shortly after got into thick jungle and forest again, seeing no signs of habitation till we had crossed the Pass and climbed down the other side some distance, when about 3.30 we came to a clearing in the forest with 2 or 3 settlers' houses.


Fetched up at the village of Nojo about 6 p.m. and an hour later reached Shimukappu, where we put up for the night at the "ekitei". Shimukappu is ringed in on all sides by densely wooded hills. Very glad to arrive, as was feeling just about all in, having done 6 ri [1 ri = about 4 km] on horseback and 6 ri on foot since the morning. Rather pleased though with the effort - 30 miles in one day, including the crossing of two mountain ranges of about 4,000 feet each, not to mention having to make our own road in parts. . . .


Owing to the number of bears about, it is unsafe to travel by night, and I must say that, even though I went by day, I was very glad to have someone with me, as, owing to the thick jungle, a bear could come up to within a yard or two of you before being seen; and there is something uncanny in the stillness of these huge mountain forests with never a sign of life other than very fine butterflies and an occasional snake, and of course the ubiquitous horse-fly.


Saturday 14th August 1920 Found that a cart was going in to Kanayama, so got it to take my baggage, which left about 5 a.m. Set off walking 6 a.m. A so-called cart-road goes the whole way to Kanayama, but it is simply a sea of mud most of the way, and in two places bridges have been broken down by the rains. The second of these is a big one and quite impassable, though there is a ford close by. The road crosses a mountain pass about 3,000 feet in height some 2 ri before reaching Kanayama, and most of the way is through thick forest and jungle, though said to be free of bears. Much of this jungle here, as also in other parts, consists of plants like giant rhubarbs - often 7 or 8 feet in height with leaves 3 feet or more across. Fetched up at Kanayama about 11.30 a.m. very footsore and quite glad to get back to a railway again, and to have finished my cross-country tramp of about 76 miles.


Notes: Much of the 'thick jungle' that Kennedy refers to was evidently dwarf bamboo (sasa), the 'very fine butterflies' may have included the Alpine Black Swallowtail (Papillo maackii), and the 'giant rhubarbs' were Petasites japonicus, sometimes called the bog rhubarb, or giant butterbur.

The construction of the Alpha [ski] Resort Tomamu in the late 1980s brought Shimukappu into greater prominence, and Shimukappu was included in the Aspen Colorado Sister Cities exchange programme, a scheme that also includes Chamonix, Davos, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Canfranc (Spain), Queenstown (New Zealand) and San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina).

The Aspen photographer Nicholas DeVore III (1949-2003) was commissioned to photograph Shimukappu and his book, Village Japan: The Four Seasons of Shimukappu, was published by Weatherhill in 1993. 

In 2008, the British (but Tokyo-based) Klein Dytham architecture (KDa) was responsible for the 'camouflage' design re-cladding of the exterior of two of the ski resort high-rise Alpha Tomamu Towers, shortlisted at the World Architecture Festival 2009.

References: The Diaries of Captain Malcolm Duncan Kennedy, 1917-1946, Sheffield University Library 

DeVore III, Nicholas (1993): Japan: The Four Seasons of Shimukappu, Weatherhill, New York and Tokyo ISBN 0-8348-0312-7

World Buildings Directory Online Database: Alpha Tomamu Towers