The small riverside village of Nibutani (二風谷), northern part of Biratori Town (平取町), is a traditional heart of Ainu culture in Central Hokkaido.
In 1930, Scottish doctor Neil Gordon Munro (1863-1942) established clinic here, he researched and filmed the traditional culture while providing medical services until his death.
A famous Ainu cultural leader Kayano Shigeru (1926-2006) was born and raised in this village, he made an effort to improve ethnic status.
Today Nibutani (meaning Jungle in Ainu) is difficult to visit by public transport, but you will feel the Ainu spirit here.
Points of interests in Nibutani
Nibutani’s main bus stop is the Shiryokan-mae (資料館前) close to the Ainu culture museum.
Basically local buses to the Shiryokan-mae with require a change at Biratori (平取) stop. For Biratori, Donan Bus runs from Tomakomai, Tomikawa Station and Shizunai Station (1hr 50min)
For the Shiryokan-mae, there is also a daily direct bus from Tomakomai Station (1hr 35min).
The artificial lake Nibutani-ko (にぶたに湖) was formed by the 1997 Nibutani Dam on Saru-gawa (沙流川), one of Ainu’s most important cultural places. You can walk around the lakeside promenade and on the dam.
Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum
(二風谷アイヌ文化博物館) One of Hidaka’s ‘must sees’, the Ainu culture museums contains huge collection of crafts, livingware, dugout canoes, folk arts, cloths, as well as recorded folk songs, videos and photos donated by Kayano Shigeru. There are several Ainu’s restored chise (traditional thatched houses) and craft shops around the museum. The website is a good resource.
Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum
(萱野茂二風谷アイヌ資料館) Located in the east of the village, this small private museum showcased unique livingware of Ainu and overseas ethnic peoples collected by Kayano Shigeru. The Ainu’s restored thatched houses set on the front garden with more than 100 species of Hokkaido trees.
Historical Museum of the Saru River
(沙流川歴史館) Adjoining the Ainu culture museum, this semi-underground lakeside museum focuses on the history of Saru-gawa and its basins, with archaeological materials of Biratori. Free bike rentals are available here.
Historical House of Munro
(マンロー博士記念館) About 500m south of the village center is the Scottish doctor Munro’s wooden house, built in 1933. Today this place is used as an institute of Hokkaido University and not open to the travelers, but you can walk in the garden.
Biratori Onsen Yukara
(びらとり温泉ゆから) The modern onsen Yukara is a good place for soak or stay after a stroll. Nonguests can use their onsen (10am-10pm). The restaurant Tomato (11am-9pm) serves Biratori beef steak and set meals. It is about 1.5km north of the village center. There are several local buses to the onsen from Biratori direction.
More info biratori-onsen.com