As we made our way back to central Hokkaido from Shiretoko Peninsula on the far eastern end, we stopped by Akan National Park to break up the long drive. The park is home to three mountain lakes: the Akan-ko, Mashū-ko and Kussharo-ko. Since we had a car, we decided to visit all three of them.
Akan-ko 阿寒湖: While this eponymous lake is the most famous of the trio, I was underwhelmed by it. The surrounding forest however offers walking trails along which you can spot bubbling mud pools known as bokke and an occasional squirrel. If you have the time and energy, you can hike up Mt. Meakan 雌阿寒岳.
On the southern side of the lake lies the resort town of Akanko Onsen 阿寒湖温泉, a popular tourist destination where there are several guesthouses, each with its own onsen (hot spring bath). After dinner, it is common for visitors to stroll dressed in a yukata (a light cotton robe that is often worn after bathing) and geta (wooden sandals). We stayed at a small family-run guesthouse, Onsen Minshuku Yamaguchi 温泉民宿山口, which I would recommend if you’re travelling on a modest budget.
Mashū-ko 摩周湖: While I was able to read the kanji name of this lake, I was inspired by its fog-shrouded appearance and referred to it as “模模糊(糊)” which in Chinese means “unclear lake.” A crater lake, it is one of the clearest lakes in the world though many visitors do not get to see much of it as it’s usually covered in a fine mist. For the brief moment when the fog clears, a burst of ‘ahhh’s can be heard across the observatory though it was swiftly replaced by the sound of cameras clicking away.
Kussharo-ko 屈斜路湖: Even though this is the largest caldera lake in Japan, it is the less famous than the other two lakes which meant fewer tourists. When we were there, we were the only ones wandering around the isolated shoreline where two empty canoes bobbed along with the gentle waves.
Nearby Lake Kussharo is Sunayu 砂湯, a hot spring onsen where you’ll find hot water bubbling under the black sand beach. Sunayu is popular with families – children were digging into the sand with their spades as their parents watched them play from their picnic spot. A short drive away is Iozan 硫黄山 whose name literally means “Sulphur Mountain”, probably because the active volcano is constantly spewing pungent sulphur. You can walk on a trail to get closer to observe the fumes as well as snack on a hard-boiled egg that has just been cooked in one of the vents.
#1 This post is a continuation of my documentation of the self-driving holiday in Hokkaido with my family in the summer of 2012.
#2 The mascot for Hokkaido is inspired by the marimo, an algae ball that is most commonly found in Akan and used as an ornamental underwater plant. Going by the name of Marimokkori, this green anthropomorphic character is notorious for the huge bulge between his legs. With the second half of its name, “mokkori” being a Japanese slang word that is used to describe an erection, it’s obvious that this is one perpetually excited mascot!