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2022.01 Experience the Deep Wilderness of Eastern Hokkaido [PR]

The magnificent natural environment of eastern Hokkaido is said to be the most “Hokkaido” of Japan’s northern island. The natural havens of Kushiroshitsugen National Park and Akan-Mashu National Park are linked by the Kushiro River, which flows from Lake Kussharo and meanders through the surrounding marshlands. The indigenous Ainu people, who believe that gods (kamuy) dwell in all things, have protected numerous ecosystems in the area, which are connected by water. Discover the interconnection of forests, lakes, rivers, marshlands, oceans, and the fog which rolls across the land from the sea. Slow down, relax, and take your time to experience the “Land of the Water Kamuy."


Kushiroshitsugen National Park encompasses the Kushiro River that flows through Eastern Hokkaido and its tributaries, as well as Japan's largest marshland and surrounding hills. The approximately 28,000 hectares of marshland are mostly unspoiled wilderness. It is the precious habitat of about 700 species of flora and 1,300 species of fauna, including the red-crowned crane, a Special Natural Monument of Japan.


As the Kushiro River meanders through marshlands and mingles with the sea, it supports a diverse ecosystem. Experience the natural beauty of the area by canoeing along the Kushiro River as summer begins, or walking or cycling through the majestic marshland. During the winter months visitors come to see the majestic red-crowned cranes, and the stark beauty of the snowy landscape. At the Akan International Crane Center, you can observe and photograph red-crowned cranes against a snowy background. In Kushiro Marsh, you can enjoy the unique winter scenery by snowshoe hiking to observe the wildlife, or by canoeing through a white wonderland.


Migratory birds come to the lakes and marshes of Kushiroshitsugen National Park each season. Flocks of whooper swans appear from autumn to early winter.


Walk and cycle through the magnificent marshland, and enjoy the refreshing air in summer.


You can learn about the ecology and behavior of the red-crowned crane at the Akan International Crane Center, the only facility in Japan dedicated to this graceful bird.


Surrounded by unspoiled old-growth forests, Lake Akan is a caldera lake formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, where you can sense the power of volcanic activity. It is one of the only places in the world where you can find spherical marimo algae, a Special Natural Monument. The lake is also known as an angler’s paradise, where you can catch rare freshwater fish such as the Japanese huchen and kokanee salmon.


There are mountain trails leading to the summit of Mt. Meakan (1,499 m / 4,918 ft) and Mt. Oakan (1,370 m / 4,495 ft), where spectacular views from the summits await climbers when the trailheads are accessible (the main access road, the Hokkaido Route 949 Onneto Line, is closed for winter from early December to mid-April). Bokke, which means "boiling place" in the Ainu language, are bubbling pools of mud, like the breath of the Earth. There are nearby hot springs where you can relax and soak in the warmth.


Morning cafe tours in the middle of winter are a must-try. After a hike towards the lake, warm up with your morning coffee as you gaze at pure-white, snow-covered Lake Akan and Mt. Oakan. The combination of the crisp weather, dynamic scenery, and the exquisite aroma and taste of a steaming hot coffee will invigorate and stimulate your senses.


The view from the summit of Mt. Meakan. Lake Akan and Mt. Oakan are visible in the distance.


Bokke are pools where mud and volcanic gases bubble up from the ground. Because of the high geothermal temperature around the pools, the area is not covered in snow even in winter.


At certain times of the year under the right conditions, it may be possible to see a rare natural phenomenon called “ice bubbles,” on the frozen lake. Winter mornings can reach as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), and gas rising from the bottom of the lake can become trapped in the ice, forming frozen bubbles.


Lake Kussharo, which is derived from the Ainu word “kutcharo,” meaning “the outlet of a lake or marsh,” is the largest caldera lake in Japan. There are several hot springs that dot the shores of the lake, thanks to the volcanic activity underneath. The scenery is breathtaking, especially in winter, when the temperature can drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit). In these conditions ice pressure ridges form, and can reach approximately 2 meters high (6.5 ft.) and 10 kilometers long (6 mi.).


In the southeast part of the lake, you can observe evidence of volcanic activity up close. The Atosa-nupuri trekking tour (mid-May to early November) is a great way to experience the dynamic power of nature, as you walk past steaming fumaroles and sulfur crystals on Mt. Io while observing the unique ecosystem.


Lake Mashu is known as the "Mysterious Lake" because it is often cloaked in fog, and is even more stunning in winter. Gear up with your snowshoes and hike along the 6.2-kilometer-long (3.8 mi.) outer rim of the crater for a spectacular view of the sparkling blue lake surrounded by snow. If you are blessed with good weather conditions, you may also get to see a sea of clouds in the early morning (around June to August) or a clear, starry night sky (all year round).


Lake Kussharo is Japan’s largest lake that completely freezes over. This mysterious natural phenomenon is caused by the repeated contraction and expansion of ice due to the temperature difference between day and night.


Atosa-nupuri, also known as Mt. Io, means "bare mountain" in the Ainu language. Because it is an active volcano, trekking is only allowed in small groups with a certified guide.


Looking up at the night sky from the shores of Lake Mashu with little light or sound, the Milky Way stretching across the sky appears noticeably bigger.


Lake Kussharo's hot springs are rather special. The lakeside "infinity hot spring" is unique in that you can enter an open-air bath made of rocks, giving you the illusion of bathing in the lake. You can also relieve the fatigue of your journey at Kawayu Onsen, where the scent of sulfur drifts through the air, and hot spring minerals appear to dance in the water.


The shores of Lake Kussharo are rich in hot springs. Soaking in the hot springs adjoining the lake will give you a new perspective on the beauty of Hokkaido.


Kawayu Onsen is a picturesque hot spring village nestled between Lake Kussharo and Atosa-nupuri, known for the abundance and acidity of the spring water. Photo credit: Kawayu Kanko Hotel


Kushiro is the ideal base for traveling in Dotou (eastern Hokkaido), just four hours or so by train (JR) from Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido. Flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Kushiro Airport take about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or about 2 hours from Kansai International Airport. This area is a fascinating fusion of city, nature, and Ainu culture, with natural phenomena that make it a must-visit. Experience the sacred nature cherished by the Ainu people, along with fresh seafood and local sake that can only be tasted in Kushiro.


Related Links


Untouched Hokkaido


Hokkaido, Kushiro - LakeAkan Travel Guide [Official]


Facebook【Kushiro Tourism & Convention Association】


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