Towada-ko: Exploring a northern crater lake

A water-filled volcanic crater is a thing to behold.  One spectacular example in Japan is Lake Towada which sits on the border between Aomori and Akita Prefectures.  Here one finds a crater within a crater and a volcano that vulcanologists regard as still active even though it hasn’t erupted in a millenium.

Sitting 690 meters above sea level, the lake is about 11 kilometers across at its widest point.  Viewed from the air (or Google satellite view), it looks like a forward tipping capital “E”.  The center bar of the “E” is the crater within a crater and the deepest part of the lake (327 meters), apparently created by the last major eruption, some 13,000 years ago.

There are plenty of activities for visitors at the lake, including a boat ride, kayaking, hiking, or just standing at one of the lookout points trying to keep your jaw from dropping.  This is snow country, so the on-the-water activities are limited to mid-April to mid-November.

It was raining during our visit, so we chose to take the boat rather than kayak.  I certainly hope for a chance to return and kayak someday!

There are two 50-minute boat courses (JPY1,400 for either course).  One course goes across the lake from Nenokuchi to Yasumiya and the other is a round trip from Yasumiya that enters the deep inner crater.  We chose the latter.

Even in the rain, we enjoyed the excursion and the views of the surrounding caldera.  For some unknown reason, I found my toes tingling when we were sailing over calm of the deepest part of the lake!

You know you’re in northern Japan when you find notices such as were posted on this boat that included Russian as well as the usual four languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean.

Later, after the rain let up, we checked out the views from the rim high above the lake.

We also decided to escape the heat by ducking into the Oirase Gorge that serves as the lake’s outlet.  Between the cool green hues of the birch and beech trees common to this area and the sound of the tumbling water, we did indeed cool off.

The Oirase River that carries the lake’s water from Nenokuchi through the gorge contains a number of cascades and small waterfalls.  A trail through the gorge takes hikers past many of them.  Many can also been seen from the road that passes through the gorge, although of course the hike is much more pleasant and much more revealing of the natural delights of the gorge.

Here’s a bit of flowing water to allow you to appreciate what a special spot this is.

Popular though Lake Towada is, it isn’t necessarily easy to reach, unless you have a car.  During the summer months there is bus service to Yasumiya (a/k/a Towadako bus stop) from both Aomori city (165 minutes, 3090 yen) and Hachinohe (135 minutes, 2670 yen).  Both buses run through the gorge and there are lots of bus stops along the hiking trail, which makes it easy for visitors to get off and hike or get on when finished hiking.  Consider having your bag sent directly to your accommodation (this can be arranged through most convenience stores) and stopping for a bit of a hike (or the boat ride from Nenokuchi) as you approach the lake.  Accommodation along the lake’s southeastern shore is plentiful.

This is a great place to get off the beaten track for a night or two; to slow down and just enjoy the natural and geological beauty of Japan.

© 2018 and Vicki L. Beyer
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