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Twisted trees near Lake Mashuko
Akan National Park (?????? Akan-kokuritsu-k?en) is a large national park in the eastern part of the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Map of Akan National Park
The park's attractions are its three sparkling clear mountain lakes, the eponymous Lake Akan (??? Akan-ko) to the west, Lake Mash? (??? Mash?-ko) to the east and Lake Kussharo (???? Kussharo-ko) between them. The largest settlement nearby is Teshikaga (???), to the south of Lakes Kussharo and Mashu.
The nearest airports are in Kushiro, an hour and a half to the south, and Memanbetsu, an hour and a half to the north.
The JR Senm? Line (????) runs north-south across the park on its way from Abashiri to Kushiro, stopping at Kawayu and Teshikaga (Mashu station).
There are around 4 trains daily to Abashiri (2 hours, ¥1600) and 6-7 to Kushiro (1:40, ¥1790).
Infrequent buses connect the lakes to each other and the train station at Bihoro.
Buses are infrequent and cover only the main routes. A rental car will come in very handy here.
The unearthly hues of the Kaminoko Pond
- Lake Akan (??? Akan-ko). The best-known of the trio, largely thanks to mysterious fuzzy green algae balls known as marimo, which you can view at the free visitor's center. There is also a small Ainu museum and lacklustre dance performances in the village of Ainu Kotan.
- Lake Mash? (??? Mash?-ko). Entirely protected, without a single building along its pristine shores, Lake Mashu can only be viewed from two designated lookout points, known as #1 (the larger and busier of the two, parking ¥410, on the south shore) and #3 (on the north shore, free parking). A deep volcanic caldera lake, the lookout points are suspended high on cliffs above, and the bonzaiesque appearance of the gnarled trees nearby are a testament to the strong winds that seem to blow incessantly. Often blanketed with a thin layer of fog. Starkly beautiful and worth a visit.
- Kaminoko Pond (???? Kaminoko-ike). Literally "Child of God Pond", this is a small pond in the middle of the forest, reachable only by a long dirt track (no 4WD needed). What makes the bumpy trip worthwhile is that the water in the pond is a truly unearthly shade of transparent sapphire blue. The track is a few kilometers north of the Ura-Mashuko (#3) lookout.
- Lake Kussharo (???? Kussharo-ko). Also a caldera lake, but a bit livelier than the others as the volcanic peak of Mt. Wakoto (??? Wakoto-san, 266m), jutting out from the southern shore, still bubbles, hisses (and stinks) with geothermal activity. An easy trail runs around the island.
- Mt. I? (??? I?-zan). Literally "Sulphur Mountain", which is a fairly good hint of what you will see and smell if you go poke around the jigoku (hells). 5 minutes north of Kawayu by car.
- Canoeing along the nearby Kushiro river is a popular if expensive activity, with a 90-minute guided trips from ¥5500.
- The hot spring resorts of Kawayu (near Lake Kussharo) and Akan Kohan (at Lake Akan) offer, surprise surprise, hot springs.
Near Lake Akan, the small village of Ainu Kotan is a tourist trap filled with Ainu handicrafts.
Eat & Drink
- Mash?ko Youth Hostel (??????????). Tel. 01548-2-3098, 1 (http://www.masyuko.co.jp/english/index2e.html). A very friendly youth hostel halfway between the town of Mashuko and the lake. Included in the price are free homemade cakes and yogurt after dinner and all-you-can-drink milk in the morning, fresh from the neighboring farm — and you can even go squeeze your own glassful in the morning! HI members pay ¥3360 a night (VISA accepted). Take a Bihoro/Kawayu-bound bus from JR Mashu station to "Youth hostel-mae", or call for free pickup from the station after 4 PM. Recommended.
- Wakoto Peninsula Campground (????????? Wakoto-hant? kyanpu-j?). Beautifully located on the shore of Lake Kussharo, with Mt. Wakoto steaming right in front. Facilities include free (but very basic) open-air and indoor hot spring baths to soak in. There is also a convenient restaurant nearby with dishes ¥500 and up. Camping costs ¥400 per person per night.
- You're already almost at the end of Japan, so why not head north to the outermost point of all, Shiretoko National Park?
- The little town of Bihoro has nothing to see, but the trip there via the scenic Bihoro Pass may be worth a drive.