• Situated some 20 km west of Hokkaido sits the small, disk-like island of Rishiri. Small and compact it may be, covering some 180 sq/km, yet this mighty little island packs a punch, for standing tall and fierce in the rotund island’s icy centre is Mount Rishiri.

  • A true spectacle to behold, this jagged ‘stratovolcano’ reaches 1,721 m high and dominates the island’s crooked, snow-white silhouette. Hence the island’s befitting name, Rishiri, which comes from the Ainu language meaning “high island,” whilst its nickname as ‘The Floating Island’ speaks to the unusual way this extraordinary isle seems to float across the Sea of Japan — a lone ranger forced to survive out the cold, Arctic open.

    Approaching Rishiri Island, visitors are confronted with the island’s imposing peaks, a densely clustered centre rising high from the ocean — whipped by perpetual, icy winds from Siberia and lapped by harsh waves born from the coldest ocean on the planet. Being so remote, this awe-inspiring beast emerges like a wild, prehistoric sea creature, standing rather ominously in a cold, wintery sea. Its striking, razor-sharp peak is a suitably gnarled mass of spines and ridges which perfectly mirrors the harsh climate in which it exists.

Yet still the island is surrounded by a small swathe of habitable land, tended to by some of the world’s most resilient people. An industrious island, in its heyday Rishiri Island boasted some 20,000 inhabitants and thrived off a bustling fishing industry. Today, however, with younger generations having emigrated to the more prosperous cities of Sapporo and Tokyo, the island hosts a largely aging population, and with it, minimal tourist infrastructure. This of course only adds to Rishiri’s inviting remoteness and is a welcome alternative to the more popular Champagne-fueled resorts of the Alps.

It’s towards this unforgiving yet beautiful island that four intrepid travelers -  consisting of Aline Bock; 2010 Freeride World Tour Champion, Lena Stoffel; professional freeskier, and filmmaker Mathias Kogel a local guide, filmmaker and photographer Aaron Jamieson - with their sights set on untrodden and treacherous paths, embark on a journey: The Way East. Venturing on a month-long trip spent snow camping and living out of two vans, traversing several thousand kilometres around Hokkaido on a surf, snow, and camping adventure through the mountains, four friends cover some of the least-visited and undiscovered corners of the island. Then, propelled onwards by sheer will and perseverance, the four move on to traverse the Annupuri range — a four-day, backcountry snow-camping mission. Braving the harsh elements of Hirafu, southern Hokkaido, they reach the ice-bound sea of Japan further north, possessed by an instinct to discover and see more.

Yet this would be but a warm-up, the team’s final test of endurance for the longer adventure which lay ahead. Reaching the northern shores of Hokkaido and equipped with a range of skis and boards, this daring quartet begin their search for the famous Japanese powder snow (or JAPOW as it’s colloquially termed, something of a Holy Grail in the skiing world), as well as the perfect, ice-cold ‘wave’ which perennially laps the shores of Rishiri Island.

All this and more to be discovered on Rishiri Island, the iconic Floating Mountain, where the quartet’s journey reaches its cathartic conclusion. Though this geographical wonder sees some of Hokkaido’s most violent weather, it also hides some of the best untrodden terrain in all of Japan and boasts swathes of fresh white snow — perfect for skiing. Naturally, it’s hard to get to, guarded by volatile weather and impossibly cold.

“At first, the idea was just a tiny seed. The glimmer of an adventure combining shared passions and a love of wild mountains and oceans. Hokkaido takes all the unique culture and wonder of Japan and blends it with a pristine wilderness to create a truly special piece of the planet and it attracts special people. It was the ideal place for such a journey” – Aaron Jamieson

Date of publication : 01/04/2023
Photography by Aaron Jamieson