We left Lake Kussharo Prince Hotel after breakfast and connected to Route 52 from Highway 243 to get to Sunayu Onsen. It is about 20 mins drive from the hotel to this sandy beach which attracts lots of people during the school holidays in Japan. This unique beach is a natural spa that is open free to the public and when you dig deep into the sand, hot water wells up. We continued on our drive and finally arrived at Lake Mashu after 45 mins.
On the approach to Lake Mashu, there were hardly any road signs directing us so we had to rely solely on the GPS in the car. The tricky thing here was that the GPS map and destinations were all in Japanese and Kanji (Chinese characters) of which I am barely proficient but fortunately the spoken instructions, in Americanized English. I was wondering after 35 mins drive if we were in fact, headed in the right direction because the terrain was actually quite flat and we were passing farmland most of the way. There is a rest stop with snacks, refreshments and souvenirs available just beneath Observation Deck No. 1.
I was expecting to see the lake side as we got closer as was the case with Lake Akan and Lake Kussharo. Here it was completely zilch! Then I saw a tour coach pass me on the opposite side of the road and I thought ‘Eureka’ it had to be really close by. We kept driving along this long and somewhat straight last stretch of the journey, until we gradually ascended up hill.
This caldera lake in Akan National Park is probably one of the most beautiful and deepest lake in the whole of Japan. Formed by volcanic activity at Mount Mashudake, there are no rivers flowing in and out of Lake Mashu thus the transparency of the water is astounding. When measured sometime in 1931 the transparency record was 41.6m below the surface of the water.
We were in the middle of May and still the temperatures in Hokkaido hovered around 15ºC and it was cold up here at Lake Mashu with the strong chilly winds lowering the temperature further. Mount Mashudake and the surrounding mountains were still covered in fresh snow from the night before. It was so cold when we were at Utoro, situated at the Shiretoko Peninsula that the ‘rain-turned snow’ fell for two consecutive days and basically put paid our cruise to the Sea of Okhotsk and our intended walks at the national park.
I was totally blown away by this amazing and spectacular vista. Lake Mashu is truly magnificent. It stands at an elevation of 351m above sea level and no wonder it stays hidden, seated snuggly in the volcanic crater. This lake is usually frozen from December through April. Shaped like a distorted oval, it is about 6km long and 3km wide and 212m deep.
Thinking of taking a dip? Sorry… strictly no swimming is allowed. Japan’s Ministry of the Environment prohibits access to the lakeside. Tourists are not allowed to go down to the water edge; however, the fantastic view can be enjoyed from two different Observation decks around the caldera’s rim.
I am standing here at Observation deck No.1 and marvelling at how the brilliant white snow just sits there and not melt down quickly in spite of the strong sunlight. For those who enjoy hiking and photographing the lake at different angles, there is a trail starting from Observation Deck No. 1 to the summit of Mount Mashudake. Proper attire is well advised as the trail goes through forest and grassland and the 7km walk may take 3 hrs one way.
The steep crater walls of Lake Mashu measure as much as 200m in some parts and there are no significant inlets or outlets around it. Shaun, my co-driver tried throwing a small stone into the lake with all his might. The lake looked deceivingly closer than it really was. The stone did not have a chance at all as it lacked the mass and velocity to propel against the air current and gravity, feebly dropping into the bush 50m below the Observation platform. We had a rip-roaring good laugh, it was hilarious!
Beautiful Lake Mashu was so breathtaking that I was reluctant to leave but the biting cold was not so welcoming. The beauty, serenity and pristine air quality was a definite given but the fine weather was a bonus. In summer, the lake is usually obscured by fog and gives the whole area an air of mysteriousness.
We drove up to Observation Deck No. 3 which is about 4 km away from Deck No. 1 and though the parking lots along the road were few, it was free of charge. Observation Deck No. 3 lies along the western rim of Lake Mashu and consists of 2 levels with unobstructed views of the lake and Mount Mashudake.
Climbing up to the highest lookout point of Observation Deck No. 3. Strangely, Deck No. 2 is absent from the scene. Spotted a section that was boarded off and my surmise is that it was probably too dangerous there and the authorities decided to close it permanently.
In the distance we can see Lake Kussharo, the largest in Akan National Park. This caldera lake has a circumference of 57 km and is popular for outdoor activities like swimming, fishing, kayaking, hiking and cycling around the lake.
In the 1960’s a famous song called “Fog of Lake Mashu” brought much attention to the lake but it was in 2001 that Lake Mashu was listed as one of Hokkaido’s Heritage site.
A mixture of evergreen forest with Picea Jezoensis(Yezo Spruce), Abies sachalinensis (Sakhalin Fir), and birch forest with Betula ermanii (Erman’s Birch) cover the slopes around and above the lake.
After spending such an incredible time walking around Lake Mashu taking in both the sights and fresh air and taking countless photographs from various angles. We had to tear ourselves away from magnificent Lake Mashu and make tracks to the marshlands at Kushiro Shitsugen National Park!