We got off Highway 243, connecting to Route 52 and was heading Sunayu Beach when noxious whiffs pervaded the car. Careful not to accuse my companions, I wound down the windows to ascertain if this unpleasant odour was indeed from with out…
It is Mid-Spring in early May and the trees close to the Sunayu Beach are still bare.
There is an onsen right below the beach and hot water gradually wells up to the surface making this ‘open and free to all’ hotspring bathing spot extremely popular. In Summer, it can get really crowded as swim-suit clad bathers come here for a picnic and dip. There are restaurants, souvenir shops, a public toilet and a large parking area right next to the beach.
Lake Kussharo is a beautiful caldera lake in Akan National Park situated in the Eastern part of Hokkaido. With a circumference of 57km and a maximum depth of 118m, there are many firsts for Lake Kussharo. It is the largest lake in Akan National Park and on the national level, the largest caldera lake in surface area; the largest lake to freeze completely in Winter and the 6th largest lake in the “Land of the Rising Sun”.
Boats, canoes, windsurf and yachts are available for rent for those who want some adventure and exercise. It gets really crowded here in Summer when a flurry of activities get underway with determined holiday-makers out to have a great time in the great outdoors.
There are several trail courses around the mountains in this area and it is a popular trekking spot for the locals. The shortest being the Highland Koshimizu Campsite Trail which takes about 20min one-way covering about 1km with a vertical drop of 50m and probably the most exciting of the courses would be the direct trek up to Mt Mokoto’s summit at 1000m above sea-level from Highland Koshimizu 725. The 2km ascent takes about 1 hour and the descent 45mins thereabouts.
We enjoyed a comfortable stay at Kussharo Prince Hotel with rooms that had splendid lake views. The hotel has bicycles for let if you are interested to look around and get off the beaten track.
Lake Kussharo is a large cobalt blue body of water that has become a resort area where there are activities for the entire family, young and old. Canoeing is especially recommended where you can enjoy a leisurely paddle along the gentle streams, close to the primeval forest and listen to the birds and fishes breaking water.
“Kussharo-ko” derived its name from the Ainu language as with many other geographical sites in Hokkaido. This fresh water lake freezes completely in winter and it is quite a pretty sight dotted with migratory Siberian Whooper Swans.
Along the lake shore are several outdoor hot springs and Sunayu Beach with naturally heated sand and hot ground water. Wakoto Peninsula extending into the lake has a number of sulfurous vents and that explains our “noxious” welcome to Teshikaga.
After a long day trapezing Utoro, seeing Oshinkoshin Falls in Shiretoko and driving to Lake Kussharo, we concluded the day with dinner back at our hotel. This is the sublime view from my hotel room as I watched the sunset over the lake.
The next morning after a hearty buffet breakfast, we set off for Bihoro Pass along Highway 243 which was about 15min by car from our hotel.
Enroute Highway 243 between Teshikaga and Bihoro is Bihoro Pass which stands at an elevation of 525m. It’s sole claim to fame is the fantastic views of Mt. Mokoto in the distance and the awesome Lake Kussharo.
This is the glorified highway service area at Bihoro Pass which houses a decent restaurant upstairs and a souvenir and snack vendor downstairs. It was very cold with the strong winds blowing and after an hour outdoors, we were quite happy to take refuge in the heated interior munching on grilled sweet Hokkaido corn on the cob and nursing a cup of hot coffee.
The breathtaking view from Bihoro Pass is evident from this vantage point and the extensive stretch of Lake Kussharo is apparent as I had to take a panoramic shot in order to capture the entire lake in one frame. Nakajima Island is a composite volcano and the gases it emits renders the lake water acidic thus few fish can adapt here except for the Rainbow Trout which was artificially introduced in 1951.
The monument at Bihoro Pass is etched with the lyrics of the song “Bihoro-Touge” sung by singer Hibari Misora which is a sad song about parted lovers.
To the left is Nakajima Island, in the middle is Wakoto Peninsula that protrudes into the lake and on the right shore is where Kussharo Prince Hotel is situated. Several inflows feed this crater lake: Atosa, Amemasu, Onnenai, Shikerepenbetsu, Onneshireto, Toikoi, Meshikimemu, Enetokomappu and Ossappe Rivers with one primary outflow, Kushiro River.
In Gaelic, Cairn means “mound of stones built as a memorial or landmark”. Japanese tradition also includes rock stacking and balancing of stone pieces. Stone monuments are erected at cemeteries to honor the deceased souls and are also sometimes found along mountain trails and roadways. This practice hints of Buddhist and Shinto influences and is also a form of prayer in Japan.
Bear Grass (Kuma Zasa – Sasa veitchii) is a bamboo varietal that grows to a maximum height of 5 feet (1.5m). It spreads aggressively and the edges of the dark green leaves turn a creamy white in late fall or early winter making it very attractive. In Hokkaido, the leaves are manufactured into caffeine free “kumazasa tea” according to traditional Chinese formulas and it is believed to strength the immune system and promote metabolism.
Akan National Park is well-known for its three beautiful lakes, Lake Akan, Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo which we had the pleasure of visiting and enjoying immeasurably.