Marimo algae balls (Aegagropila sauteri) which have been designated as Special National Natural Monument since their discovery in Syurikomabetsu. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

When our younger daughter was in elementary school, she got interested in “marimo”, the balls of moss that grow in Lake Akan in Hokkaido.  (Lake Akan in the only place where they grow naturally in Japan, and there are not many other lakes in the world where similar plants can be found.)  So when she was in sixth grade, we took a vacation to Lake Akan.

We rode a boat to an island on the lake that had a “marimo” museum, and went to a larger “marimo” museum near the lake.  There’s also a nice nature trail near the lake, and the area has hot springs, so there are places around the town where you can sit and put your feet into warm water (ashi-yu).  There’s also an Ainu culture center in the town. — C.M.

Fieldnotes:

View of Lake Akan (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lake Akan part of the Akan National Park is a beautiful crater lake formed by volcanic activity some 6,000 years ago and the home to marimo, a rare algae species that forms itself into beautiful green balls. It is said that Lake Akan’s marimo can reach the size of soccer balls after hundreds of years.  formed the lake , when a dam was formed. The lake used to have a clarity of 8–9 meters in the 1930s until pollution from local hotspring resorts has decreased the transparency to 3–4 meters.

Akan Lakeside Hotspring is a historic old hot spring area which is said to have already been used by the Ainu before the Japanese arrived there. You can ride steamboats or other sightseeing boats that leave Akankohan for 1-hour cruises of the lake, which include a stop at the Marimo Exhibition Center on one of the lake’s islands and a ride into the more remote sections of the lake. The area was designated a National Park in 1934. Since then, it has occupied the premier position of scenic spots in eastern Hokkaido. Visit the Marimo Museum. There is a fascinating Marimo Matsuri Festival of the Ainu people, where giant marimo are paraded around in procession – see this page for more on this.  Try the walking trails (at the town’s eastern end) that start next to the Akankohan Eco Museum Center leading through the forest and along the lake to bubbling mud pools known as bokke. Near Lake Akan are two volcanoes, Oakan(Male Mountain) and Meakan (Female Mountain) whose eruptions formed the landscape around Lake Akan. Meakan remains active and frequently emits sulphuric fumes. Hikers should check with the tourist information center for volcano conditions. You can try easy half a day hikes along Meakan’s two trailheads are located on the west side of the mountain. Hikers usually depart from one trailhead and return via the other trail. Oakan has just one trail that starts from the eastern end of Lake Akan.

In the largest Ainu Kotan (Village) in Hokkaido, famous sculptors produce folkcrafts. Visitors like to see the  chise (Ainu for house), attend the Ainu Festival or watch the ancient Ainu dance (admission fees required), designated in 1984 as a National Important Intangible Ethnic Cultural Property.

Contact Akan Ainu Folkcraft Coop. Assoc. Phone:  0154-67-2727

Lake Akan Park is a mountainous park that stretches across the eastern part of Hokkaido.  The park includes the group of volcanoes: Mt. Meakan-dake, Mt. Oakan-dake and Mt. Akan-Fuji, which are situated around three famous volcanic lakes: Akan-ko; Kussharo-ko; and Mashu-ko.

Where to stay:

Akanland Tancho-no-Sato, located along National Route 240 (Marimo National Route) from Kushiro to Lake Akan Hot Springs

Akanland Tancho-no-Sato features a campsite, cycling courses, an athletic field, a barbecuing site, miniature golf, tennis courts, a coal-mining and railroad museum and a sightseeing farm, thus providing many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities.

Circle House Red Beret has hotel rooms with a large sodium-salt spring bathhouse, which is equipped with saunas, bubble baths and utase-yu to banish fatigue and feel refreshed.
Across from the Red Beret are the “road station” Michi-no-Eki (Akan Tancho-no-Sato), Akan International Crane Center, Hokui-43゜(43゜North L.) Museum and other facilities. In winter, you can observe over 200 Japanese cranes right in front of you. Throughout the year, this place provides many opportunities to interact with nature and feel relaxed.

Contact:
Circle House Red Beret / Phone:0154-66-2330
Campsite (rotisserie site) / Phone:0154-66-3810
Management Center(miniature golf, sightseeing farm)/Phone:0154-66-2857
Akan International Crane Center /Phone:0154-66-4011
“Road Station” Michi-no-Eki (Akan Tancho-no-Sato)/ Phone: 0154-66-2969
Hokui-34゜Museum Phone:0154-66-1117

There are many other attractions in the vicinity (see this website for more info), but the most visited one is the Kushiro wetlands – go canoeing on or trek for the view of the famous meandering Kushiro River and the alder tree and sedge marshland that surrounds it. The other must-see spot is Lake Mashu. For more details, see this Wikitravel page.

Photo sources: Other Wikimedia Commons photos, others are copyrighted Kawagoe