Winter at Lakes Mashu and Kussharo, Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan 2


Each year Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, suffers through a long, cold, Siberian winter. The snow is deep and covers everything, and there is an almost perpetual whiteout. It makes backpacker travel difficult but not impossible. If you can withstand the cold, and put up with the snow, then you’ll find a trip to Akan National Park in the dead of winter is full of rewards.

Lake Mashu, Akan National Park, Japan

Viewing Platform Number 1, Lake Mashu. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Lake Mashu, Akan National Park

Lake Mashu is a caldera lake, and it’s endorheic (it’s a closed basin; no inlet, no outlet). It was once classified as the clearest lake in the world (in the 1930s) with visibility of 41.6 metres, but visibility has since dropped to 20 – 30 metres.

Lake Mashu, Akan National Park, Japan

Lake Mashu, seen from Viewing Platform 1. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Access to the lake is strictly prohibited. Tourists have to make do admiring the lake from one of several viewing platforms.

Iozan (Sulphur Mountain), Akan National Park

Iozan, Akan National Park, Japan

The sulphur fumaroles at Iozan (Sulphur Mountain). Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

You might think it’s a little odd that there are these incredibly active sulphur fumaroles out here in the middle of this paddock.

Iozan, Akan National Park, Japan

The sulphur fumaroles of Iozan. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

But there’s a very simple reason for it:

Iozan (Sulphur Mountain) is an active volcano.

Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park

Whooper swans, Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park, Japan

Lake Kussharo. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Lake Kussharo is another caldera lake in Akan National Park.

In the 1970s there were reports that a monster – similar in description to the Loch Ness Monster – was inhabiting the lake. But it hasn’t been seen since.

Whooper swans, Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park, Japan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Lake Kussharo (along with other lakes in Akan National Park) is on the migratory path of the Whooper Swan.

Whooper Swan

Whooper swans, Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park, Japan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The whooper swan (pronounced hooper swan) weighs between 7 – 14 kilograms, with the heaviest ever recorded whooper swan coming in at 15.5kg. That makes the whooper swan one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.

Whooper swans, Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park, Japan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The whooper swan breeds in Siberia during the summer months. In winter they head for milder climes, such as Lake Kussharo in Akan National Park.


Practical Information and how to reach Akan National Park:

Train travel, Mashu, Akan National Park, Japan

Train travel in Hokkaido in winter. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Kawayu Onsen Station (the most convenient train station to access Akan National Park) is on the Kushiro-Abashiri train-line. Trains continue to run even in the dead of winter.

Taxis can be hired from the train station (this is true at the time of writing – January 2012) to take you to any of the sights listed above. More transport info here.


More on Japan:

Jigokudani: hot springs + snow + monkeys = Valley of Hell?

Kintai Bridge, Iwakuni – 17th Century timber bridge, slippery in the rain

Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu – black fortress once considered impregnable

Okunoin Cemetery, Kōya-san – giant cedars and 200,000 cenotaphs

Shirakawa-gō – see the famous ‘hands together’ houses


My favourite lakes:

Lake Nakuru, Kenya – two million flamingos all pooping in one lake

Lago de Yojoa, Honduras – dangerous? no! sleepy, serene, safe? yes!

Ohrid, Northern Macedonia – want a meditative lake view? try St John at Kaneo

Trakai, Lithuania – iced-up lake + moody castle = haunting winter excursion

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala – rain, cloud, lightning at El Mirador de la Nariz del Indio

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2 thoughts on “Winter at Lakes Mashu and Kussharo, Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

  • Karen White

    How beautiful. The visibility is amazing still even though it has decreased, I wonder how they measure it, I would think it would be pretty cold all year. Those whooper swans are so lovely as well. I wish I could see them
    Kazzieandkitty