Akan Mashu National Park 阿寒摩周国立公園
Sulphurous waters in the snow
Akan Mashu National Park in Hokkaido is a huge expanse of forests, lakes and volcanoes - including the three freshwater lake calderas of Akan, Kussharo and Mashu.
Lake Akan: the colors of Ainu culture
From Lake Akan you can see Meakan-dake (or Mount Meakan), an active volcano 1,449 meters above sea level. Two other mountains, Mount O-Akan (1,371 meters) and Mount Akan Fuji (1,476 meters) complete the picture. Akan Fuji is so named because of its shape, reminiscent of the iconic mountain in Shizuoka.
In the waters of Lake Akan dwells the famous and strange marimo, balls of velvety seaweed living in colonies. This unusual algae is a protected species, only found in a small number of lakes in the northern hemisphere.
14 hot springs of sulphurous water spring up at Akan. They are said to be beneficial for curing some ailments. These springs have long been used by the Ainu, the indigenous people of Ezo (the old name for Hokkaido), who have always lived in strong connection with nature.
Discover near Akan : Shiretoko
Ainu culture is present and well-recognized today, but this has not always been the case. During the annexation of Hokkaido in 1872, carried out by order of the Japanese government, the Ainu saw their lands confiscated and were given Japanese citizenship, denying them their rightful status as an indigenous group. They were given new Japanese names and forbidden from practicing any cultural activities (language, religious rites, hunting and fishing methods).
To learn more about the habits and customs of this group of people, go to the Ainu reservation village, Akankotan. Created in the 1950s, its purpose is to preserve and protect the Ainu people and their culture. Around 120 Ainu descendants live there and share the history of their traditions with visitors. Every evening, dance demonstrations take place in the Ikoro theater.
Read more : The Ainu
Finally, you can admire Lake Onneto ("old lake" in Ainu language), whose waters change color with the seasons or the time of day. It's a curious phenomenon that also earned it the nickname of goshiki-numa, the lake of 5 colors.
Lake Kussharo: sulphurous atmosphere This is Japan's largest caldera lake, measuring nearly 80 square kilometers. Although everything is frozen in winter, part of this lake is tempered by an underground hot spring, allowing the swans who live there to spend part of the season on its shores.
Come and enjoy the charms of Kawayu Onsen, where the lampposts in town imitate the trunks of the surrounding birch trees.
You can enjoy ryokan and onsen at any time, visit the museum to learn about local traditions and hear bear stories, and meet the wood carver-craftsmen. Their creations are superb, so make some room in your suitcase for a souvenir! Be careful, however, of the sulphurous waters that run through the city - it's so acidic that a nail dissolves in 2 weeks!
Related : Japanese volcanoes
For a more unique walk, visit the volcano Io (Io-zan). With its 1,500 eruptive fumaroles, some of which are at your feet, it's quite an experience! In the Meiji era (1868-1912), it was used as a sulphur mine.
At Suna-yu, on Lake Kussharo, you just need to dig into the sand to find hot water and create your own onsen. Bubbling forth at 58°c, you should mix it with the colder waters of the lake to get your ideal temperature. At the end of June, you can see also 100 hectares of azaleas bloom.
Lake Mashu: pure waters Lake Mashu contains incredibly pure water, and is considered one of the clearest lakes in the world, just after Lake Baikal in Russia. This clarity comes from the fact that it is fed only by rainwater.
It's sometimes called "the mysterious lake", because between the months of May and October, it's often hidden by heavy fog. But if you're lucky enough to admire it on a clear day, you'll be stunned by its intense blue color, amplified by the reflection of the sky. You can't actually go down to the lake itself but there are two observation decks around the rim to view it from, which are a 5 minute drive apart.
The JR Senmo train line runs through the area. Viewed from the train, the scenery is beautiful. In winter, when the temperature drops very low, all the surrounding vegetation is covered with frost. At sunrise, the landscape sparkles before your eyes, like something from a dream.
The park was formerly called Akan National Park but the name was changed to Akan Mashu National Park in the summer of 2017.
Discover our itinerary by car : Hokkaido, the northern loop