Mashu-ko, Mashu-dake and Io-zan

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

If you are based in Lake Kussharo or Teshikaga area you can spend a very rewarding day viewing Lake Mashu, climbing Mount Mashu and visiting sulphurous Mount Io. 

Lake Mashu is one of Japan’s most beautiful lakes. Formed following an enormous eruption that resulted in a huge caldera, Lake Mashu has precipitous sides and is towered over on the East side by Mount Mashu. In the center of the lake is the tiny Isle of Gods, the result of a volcanic plug within the caldera.

Start your day at Parking spot #1 off Route 52; the latter winds its way past the West rim of the caldera. The views of the lake and mountains are stunning. Then take the Mount Mashu trail and head East. On the way you will get great views of the surrounding mountains, as well as the birch forests rising out of the endless bamboo groves. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to the peak of the mountain, with the last 400 m being steep but manageable – just don’t look to your right and definitely not to your left. The views of the lake are terrific – the views into the secondary caldera of the mountain are terrifying.

It takes about 2 hours to get back to the parking area. Get back onto Route 52 and go North. Mount Io is about 8 miles away. It’s a little disappointing compared to the easily accessible volcanic areas in Iceland and New Zealnd, but it is every bit as smelly (sulphurous). Still, worth the visit as you are in the area anyway. The take Route 52 back to Lake Kussharo – you might want to visit one of the free hot springs on the way.


Hokkaido, Japan – Drive from Sounkyo Onsen to Lake Kussharo

By Paul S Bryers, September 2016

As you depart Sounkyo Onsen going South through the Layer Cloud Gorge be sure to view the Ryusei and Ginga waterfalls streaming down from the cliff tops into the Ishikari River. The recent typhoon in Hokkaido made sure that they looked quite spectacular. 

The drive on Route 39 starts well, with many towering peaks to view. However, once you cross the mountains and descend into the plains it seems to be one long strip mall for about 20 miles until you turn off onto the mountain roads again. It is all worth while, however, when you hit the Bihoro Pass and get your first view of Lake Kussharo in Teshikaga. This lake is the largest caldera lake (volcanic collapse) in Japan and the second largest in the World. Nakajima Island in the middle of the lake is quite stunning. The ph of the lake is 5 – quite acidic – so no fish, but plenty hot springs e.g., Sunayu and Wakoto Onsens. And best of all – this lake is where Nessie’s (i.e., Loch Ness Monster) sister, Kussy, lives.

Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

By Paul S Bryers, September, 2016

Daisetsuzan is Japan’s largest National Park. It is about 2-3 hours drive from Sapporo, dependng on your park entry point. We based ourselves in Sounkyo Onsen, which is on the North East border of the park. Highway tolls from Sapporo are about ¥3500 (~US $35)  – yes, tolls are expensive in Japan, but roads are very well maintained. 

The village itself is a bit tired, but the setting is terrific – right in the Sounkyo Gorge with the cliffs towering above and the river rushing through. 

There are a number of hiking opportunities in the Sounkyo area, but the best idea for a day hike is to take the ropeway from the village to Kuro-dake “5th Station” (¥2200 ~ US $22 return) and then walk 10 minutes to take the chairlift to Kuro-dake “7th Station” Ski hut (¥600 ~ US $6 return) at 1520 m high, and then to follow one of the trails. We hiked up to the top of Mt. Kuro-dake (1950 m) and then to Ohachidaira viewpoint (2075 m) which offers incredible views of the Ohachidaira volcanic crater. It takes 3-4 hours to the viewpoint and then 2-3 hours for the return trip. And of course you have to have a good soak in the (very) hot springs after you get down from the mountain. The springs at our hotel (The Grand) were excellent.