SOUTHERN HOKKAIDO: HAKODATE, HOT SPRINGS, MT. USU AND SHIKOTSU-TOYA NATIONAL PARK

HOKKAIDO

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HOKKAIDO is the northernmost and second largest of Japan's major islands. The closest thing Japan has to a last frontier, it is home to about 5.7 million people and contains rugged mountains, 15 active volcanoes, and vast tracts of wilderness in additions to huge swaths of agriculture with some of Japan’s largest farms. During the six-month winters much of the island is covered in snow and ice flows from the seas off eastern Russia ram the northern shore.

Hokkaido (Hokkaido) Prefecture is about the size of Austria and it population a bit larger than Denmark's. It is the largest prefecture in Japan, covering 83,424 square kilometers (32,210 square miles), is home to about 5.4 million people and has a population density of 68.6 people per square kilometer. Sapporo is the capital and largest city, with about 1.92 million people. It has 66 districts and 180 municipalities. Even though Hokkaido encompasses 20 percent of Japan's land area it only contains five percent of the people. Most of the island's residents are descents or people who have arrived from other parts of Japan in the last one or two generations. The Ainu---an indigenous people that look as much Caucasian as they do Japanese and once dominated Hokkaido and northern Japan, still live on Hokkaido but their numbers have dwindled to a few thousand.

The Hokkaido Region is formed by Hokkaido Island and several surrounding islands. This island is separated from Honshu to the south by the Tsugaru Strait (although the two islands are connected by train service via an undersea tunnel).. Within Japan’s system of prefectures, Hokkaido alone is categorized as a “circuit,” though it is the equivalent of a prefecture.

Most of the flat land is used as pastures for grazing animals such as cows or horses or as fields for agriculture. Hokkaido is now Japan's breadbasket, producing much of the country’s wheat, potatoes, corn, rice and dairy products.Fishing and forestry are important parts of Hokkaido’s agriculture and underlie much of the island’s industrial activity, including food processing, woodworking, pulp, and paper industries.

History of Hokkaido

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Seikan Rail Tunnel
Hokkaido was the last major island of Japan to be developed. Until fairly recently, it was ignored by the Japanese and left to the Ainu. When it finally was developed it initially served the same purpose for Japan as Australia did for England: it was a place where convicts, misfits and illegitimate offspring were sent to be out of sight out of mind. Today the population of Hokkaido is among the fastest shrinking on Japan as its people get older and its fishing villages die out and less people want to be farmers.

Hokkaido was first settled in the sixteenth century by Japanese who began to trade with the indigenous Ainu people there, but it was in the late nineteenth century that the island’s full-scale development was launched by the Meiji administration. Hokkaido means “Northern Ainu Land.” It replaced the name Ezochi and was coined in the 1850s by Japanese explorer Takehiro Matsuura, who traveled widely across the island from 1845 to 1858, often walking 60 kilometers a day. He promoted the name as way of showing more respect towards the Ainu.

The Ainu initially inhabited much of northern Honshu as well as Hokkaido and islands that are now part of Russia. For many centuries the Japanese and Ainu lived in peace and intermarried. The Ainu traded furs for sake, pottery and hunting implements with the Japanese and also traded with the Chinese, Tungus (a Siberian tribe) and the Russians. One thing that affected fate of the Ainu was they fact the lived between the expanding Russian and Japanese empires. That meant that the Japanese and Russians took more of an interest in Ainu land than they might otherwise have had.

Over the centuries the Ainu in Japan were driven northward and defeated in battles by the Japanese. The Japanese conquest of the Ainu was slow, gradual and not always deliberate. The Ainu periodically rose up in revolt. In the 9th century, Imperial Japan extended into northern Honshu by defeating the Ainu. The Ainu made their last stand in Honshu in 1669 outside Fukuyama castle, where they were mowed down by superior Japanese steel and firepower. Like other indigenous people around the world, they were also devastated by smallpox and other diseases they were exposed to and to which they had little resistance.

By the 18th century, the Ainu were largely confined to Hokkaido. Many intermarried with and let their traditions die. By the end of the 19th century large numbers of Japanese began moving into Hokkaido with little resistance from the Ainu. The Ainu were encouraged to give up hunting and were forced to move to land suitable for agriculture.

According to “Cities of the World”: The people of Hokkaido have a special attachment for Americans that is unique. "In the early 1870s when the Japanese Government began a crash program to develop Hokkaido, Japanese officials called on President Grant for advice. Grant responded by recommending his own Secretary of Agriculture, Horace Capron, as a candidate to-organize a group of American and foreign experts to assist in the opening Hokkaido. After accepting the Japanese offer, Capron left his post in the U.S. and worked for the Government of Japan for 5 years as a senior advisor in charge of developing Hokkaido. The American educators, engineers, and agricultural experts who joined Capron are remembered fondly in Hokkaido even today; and are honored with statues and museums in and around Sapporo.” [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, adapted from a 2001 U.S. State Department report]

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Tourism in Hokkaido

Hokkaido attractions are mostly natural rather than cultural. Most visitors to Hokkaido come to sample the island's lovely national parks or engage in outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking or relaxing in a hot spring. Hokkaido is criss-crossed by mountain ranges and is famous for its natural scenery, including virgin forests, active volcanoes, and large lakes. Wildlife includes red-crested white cranes, Stellar sea eagles, white foxes, swans, brown bears and flying squirrels. Kushiro Marsh, in the east of Hokkaido, is famous as a paradise for migrating birds such as the Japanese redcrested crane. Part of the Shiretoko Peninsula in northeast Hokkaido was designated a World Heritage site in 2005. Kushiro Marsh, in the east of Hokkaido, is famous as a paradise for migrating birds such as the Japanese red-crested crane. Part of the Shiretoko Peninsula in northeast Hokkaido was designated a World Heritage site in 2005. [Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

The climate is very different from the rest of Japan. It is generally cooler in the summer and very cold in the winter. The capital city, Sapporo, is famous for the Snow Festival held in early February, with many large sculptures made of snow and ice on display, forming spectacular scenes. Hakodate, a large city in the south of Hokkaido, is noted for its beautiful night views.

Hokkaido is a sports and outdoor lover’s paradise. In the winter one can ski, ice skate, and cross-country ski; in the summer one can, hike, camp, boat, swim and play tennis and golf if you have the money. Hunting for bear, deer, pheasant, duck, and rabbit is even possible here in otherwise gun-shy Japanese but keep in mind a hunting license is a difficult and complicated procedure.

Hokkaido is famous for having some of the best powder in the world. This is because the temperatures are perfect for creating powder and there are not the kind of extreme temperature fluctuations that melt and freeze snow and make it icy as is often the case with higher elevation ski resorts in the United States and Europe. Recommended resorts in Hokkaido include Niseko, Furano, Kiroro, Risutsu and Tomamu

Visiting Hokkaido

During the summer, especially in August, Hokkaido is packed with hikers and campers. In September and October many people come to check out in the autumn leaves. In the winter, many skiers come to check out Hokkaido's legendary powder.

The main shinakensen line in northern Japan runs between Tokyo, Sendai, Morioka, Aomori and Hakodate in Hokkaido. From Shin-Aomori, the line continues to Shin-Hakodate through the world's longest undersea railway tunnel, the 50-kilometer-long Seikan Tunnel. This section is 150 kilometers (93 miles) long and opened in 2016 under the name Hokkaido Shinkansen. The section to Sapporo is not expected to be ready until 2030. Regular trains---including the 16-hour sleeper service from Tokyo and the 21-hour sleeper service from Osaka---pass the through the 31-mile-long Seikan Tunnel from Honshu to Hokkaido. These may have been discontinued or are offered only as a special service. Ferries to Hokkaido can be taken from Tokyo, Niigata, Nagoya, Sendai, and Maizura as well as across from the Tsuruga Strait from Aomori Ferries from Aomori to Hokkaido leave daily. They take about 3¾ hours and cost ¥3,500. The daily hydrofoil tales 1¾ hours and cost ¥5,000 to ¥6,000.

There are number of flights to Hokkaido from Tokyo, Osaka and other cities in Japan. Tickets are cheaper than they used to be as no frills airlines Skymark (from Fukuoka, Tokyo, Nagasaki and others), Peach (Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, others) and Air Do (from Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya and others) have begun flying there. Major Airlines that fly to Hokkaido include: Japan Airlines (JAL), ANA (All Nippon Airways), Thai Airways, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, China Eastern, Cathay Pacific, Air China, Tianjin Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, EVA Air, Asiana Airlines. Cheap flights and package deals are sometimes advertised in the English-language newspapers.

As for getting around in Hokkaido, there are a couple of good train lines but traveling this way can be expensive. The bus network services many more destinations than the train. If you can afford it is worthwhile to rent a car. Many people also explore the region by bicycling or hitching.

Websites: Hokkaido Tourism Organization Visit-Hokkaido ; Wiki Travel Wikitravel ; Wikipedia Wikipedia

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Seikan Rail Tunnel (between Tappi Saki Honshu and Fukushima Hokkaido) is the world's longest railway tunnel (33½ miles under the ocean). Opened in March 1988, it was bored 787 feet below sea level (lowest in the world) and 328 feet beneath the sea bed. The Chunnel between Britain and France has a longer undersea section but the overall length of the tunnel is less.

Tours of the tunnel are offered at the Yoshioka-katei station, located 145-meters below sea level, and Tappi-katei station. The tour includes walks through the maze of service tunnels and passages, and a look at some of the tunnel's machinery. To take the tour you need to take the rapid train (kaisoku ) The rapid express doesn't stop at the stations that offers the tour.

Websites: WikipediaWikipedia ; Seikan Tunnel Aomori Government ; Railway Technology railway-technology.com ; Japan Visitor Japan Visitor

Hakodate

Hakodate (southern Hokkaido, across the Tsugaru Strait from Honshu) is a thriving fishing port with 310,000 people and a gateway for ferries between Hokkaido from Honshu. Located on the Matsumae and Kameda Peninsulas, it was one of the first three Japanese ports opened to foreign trade after Japan opened to the outside world in 1859 and traditionally has had a strong a Western influence.

Hakodate played a significant role in the development of Russian-Japanese relations. The port was one of the first opened by Japanese authorities for Russian ships after the signing of the Shimoda Treaty in 1855. The first consulate of the Russian empire in Japan began to work in the city. There is a branch of Far Eastern State University and a Russkiy Mir Center at the university branch in Hakodate. Among the city's main sights are the Resurrection Church, one of the oldest Orthodox churches in Japan, and the Russian cemetery.

Hakodate has a lively Asa-ichi morning fish markets. From their stalls, vendors sell cod roe, salmon roe, trout roe, sea urchins, whale bacon and a variety of fish. The market is particularly inviting during the winter crab season. About one kilometer away is the Hakodate City Marine products regional Wholesalers market, a scaled down version of the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. It is most active in the wee hours of the morning. On a good days 200 tons of fish pass through the 150-meter-long building. These god days however are few and far between. Both the morning market and wholesale market have a much less business than they used to have.

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mountains in Hakodate area
Also worth a checking out are Gory-kaku Fort and the Motomachi district with Meiji era, Western-style building). Mt. Hakodate is said to contain one of the most spectacular night views in the world. The top of the mountain can be reached by ropeway (cable car) or by foot. Yachigashira Onsen is a huge

Websites: Hakodate-Kankou Southern Hokkaido Tourist Guide Map: Hakodate Travel PDF hakodate.travel/ Hakodate Tram Map: Urban Rail urbanrail.net Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Hakodate is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Honshu via the Seikan Tunnel. The limited express from Tokyo takes 12 hours. It takes about 8 hours total if you take the shinkansen as far north as it goes into Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture and then switch to limited express. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Onuma National Park (30 minutes from Hakodate by car) is the home Mt. Komagedate, an active volcano that created several lava-dammed lakes including Lake Onuma and Lake Konuma. Mt. Komagedate erupted six times between 1996 and 2000. There is accommodation and food in the town of Onuma. Numanodaira Wetlands are a mix of lakes, bogs and beech forests. Websites: Japan Guide Japan Guide ; Hakodate Travel hakodate.travel/en Map and Brochures : onumakouen.com

Ofune Jomon Site

Ofune Jomon Site (60 kilometers north-northwest of Hakodate) is 5,000-year-old Jomon Period site with some reconstructed dwellings and buildings According to Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku: “This is the site of a large settlement of the latter half of the Early Jomon period to the latter half of the Middle Jomon period (approx. 3,200 – 2,000 BC), and is located on a coast terrace facing the Pacific Ocean. The site is divided into a housing zone, consisting of the remains of more than 100 pit dwellings and a large earthwork mound; and a zone with more than 100 pit graves, including graves and storage pits to the southwest. [Source: Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku]

“The settlement that continued for approximately 1,000 years extends like a belt on a plateau along the Ofune River, and has a common kind of settlement structure as seen in northern Tohoku as well. Most remains of pit dwellings that have been discovered have a large, deep structure, where the bones of whales and seals as well as chestnuts have been excavated. From many remains of pit dwellings, continuous transitions from the beginning of the Middle Jomon period to the end of the era (approx. 3,000 – 2,000 BC) can be seen.

“A great number of relics have been excavated from the earthwork mound. This suggests that the mound functioned as a dump, and also that the Jomon people had an idea that is similar to both the animistic views that Japanese people have held since ancient times and a concept seen in the offering ceremonies of Ainu people. The earthwork mound, which is considered to have been a dump as well as a ritual place, is a typical example with common characteristics of the cylindrical pottery culture, and presents valuable data for studying the spiritual culture of that time.”

Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku

Jômon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaidô, Northern Tôhoku, and other regions was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009. According to a report submitted to UNESCO:This Jômon property is a group of unique archaeological sites representing a culture that continuously occupied the Japanese archipelago for nearly 10,000 years in the natural environment sustained by the humid temperate climate of the Holocene epoch, living in permanent settlements supported primarily by hunting, fishing, and gathering. This makes it distinct from Neolithic cultures in other regions of the earth which were established on agriculture and animal husbandry. The property possesses outstanding universal value as a testimony of a unique cultural tradition representing the way in which human beings coexisted with nature over an immense period of time in a specific geo-cultural region of our planet. [Source: Permanent Delegation of Japan to UNESCO]

“While Jômon culture spread throughout the Japanese archipelago, it displayed particularly noteworthy development in eastern Japan during the era in which broadleaf deciduous forests extended through much of the region, as stable food supplies and the evolution of the techniques used in securing them led to the expansion of areas of permanent settlement, larger communities, and a sudden increase in the number of earthen figurines and stone ritual implements.

“Especially in the region centering on Hokkaidô and northern Tôhoku, a number of the distinct cultural zones representative of the Jômon period flourished, now characterized by their pottery types, such as the Entô, Tokoshinai, and Kamegaoka cultures. The Kamegaoka pottery culture in particular spread its influence to distant areas, reaching the Kinki and Chûgoku regions of Honshû Island, and the islands of Shikoku and Kyûshû. The Jômon sites under consideration are located in a variety of different topographical areas from the seacoast to river watersheds and hill country, and include the remains of villages, shell mounds, stone circles, and archaeological sites remaind in wetlands and give dramatic evidence of the process of establishment of permanent settlements and the adaptation of these cultures to the abundant food resources of the broadleaf deciduous forests, the seacoast, and rivers and streams.

“Jômon culture is an exceptional example in world history of a Neolithic culture that flourished and matured over more than 10,000 years in permanent settlements sustained by a mode of production involving hunting, fishing, and gathering and the coexistence of human beings and nature in the humid temperature climate of the Holocene epoch. The group of archaeological sites that serves as material evidence of this cultural tradition is particularly evident in eastern Japan from the time that broadleaf deciduous forests became stably established throughout this region. These sites possess outstanding universal value as a representation of the way in which human beings coexisted with nature over an immense period of time in a specific geo-cultural region of our planet.”

Niseko

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Lake Toya
Niseko (about halfway between Hakodate and Sapporo) is one of Japan's highly-regarded ski resorts. Very popular with Australians and more recently Asians in search for snow, it is home of “Mt Fuji of Hokkaido” and receives huge amounts of snow and has ideal weather conditions for producing powder. Located between Mt. Yotei-zan and Mt. Niseko Annupuri, it is also popular with hikers in the summer. There are many hot springs in the area. Whitewater rafting is done on local rivers. You can also enjoy ducky, canyoning, road biking and golf. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, book yourself in for a memorable meal at hotel eatery Asperges, with a kitchen run by a Michelin-starred chef.

Few other resorts can rival Niseko in winter, blanketed by over 15 meters of light snow which means ideal winter sport conditions from December through April. Hokkaido is famous for having some of the best powder in the world. This is because the temperatures are perfect for creating powder and there are not the kind of extreme temperature fluctuations that melt and freeze snow and make it icy as is often the case with higher elevation ski resorts in the United States and Europe. At Niseko get a ski lesson with top-notch instructors, take to the slopes with skis oror a snowboard. You can also go snowshoeing and snowmobiling. In addition to top-quality skiing, Niseko Hanazono offers top-notch accommodation.

Location: 328-36 Aza-Iwaobetsu, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-Gun, Hokkaido; Websites: Niseko United Niseko United ; Niseko Hanazono hanazononiseko.com Niseko Ski Tours Niseko Ski Tours Trail Map: niseko.ne.jp Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

In Niseko you can find places like the Barn, a bistro-style restaurant, bar and café with is a modern, minimalist take on the heavy-snow proof, gambrelroofed farm structure typical of Hokkaido. Its facade and back wall are faced with glass to allow the guests an unhindered view outside – almost like a cozy, protective tunnel. Whether in daylight or at night, spring or winter, with its superb food and service, experiences are sure to be special at the Barn. Location: A191-29 Yamada, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 044-0081, Tel: +81-136-21-6133

Shikotsu-Toya National Park

Shikotsu-Toya National Park (southwest of Sapporo) is famous for its volcanos, caldera lakes and hot springs. Covering 983 square kilometers, it embraces Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya and Norboribetsu Spa. It is popular with hikers, hot spring lovers and people who want close encounters with volcanoes. Located in the southwestern part of Hokkaido Prefecture, Shikotsu-Toya National Park is a park where visitors can see not only see two large caldera lakes-Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya-but also variously shaped volcanoes and volcanic landforms-such as Mt. Yotei, Mt. Usu (Usuzan), and Mt. Tarumae. In addition to a large and diverse range of hot springs, much volcanic activity can also be observed, such as the jigoku ("hell") phenomena of gasses belching from fumaroles, and the park can truly be called a "Living Volcano Museum". One of the benefits of this volcanic activity is the popular and bustling hot springs tourism areas that are representative of Hokkaido Prefecture, including Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, and Jozankei. The breathtaking landscape comprising interweaving lakes, forests, and volcanoes soothes peoples hearts and minds. Lake Shikotsu is also famous for being at the northern limit for non-freezing lakes, and the distinctive deep blue color of the water surface is highly appealing to park visitors. [Source: Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan]

The park's location close to central Sapporo City and Shin-Chitose Airport makes it easy for many people to visit. In addition to people visiting by private car or tour bus to see volcanic phenomena and experience nature, or on sightseeing tours for hot springs recreation, etc., people come to the park to climb mountains and observe the alpine vegetation.

Centered around caldera lakes Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya-two of Japan's representative caldera lakes-the park contains many volcanoes, such as Mt. Usu, which is still active today, and Mt. Yotei, which is a stratovolcano. Springs, Jigokudani, and other volcanic phenomena can also be seen, and the area is dotted with volcanic lakes and marshes, such as Lake Kuttara and Lake Tachibana, creating a volcanic landscape representative of Japan. In 2009, the Toya Caldera and Usu Volcano Global Geopark was certified as a Global Geopark in recognition of the global value of its geological heritage, and thus became the first Global Geopark in Japan.

The area surrounding the park was a living environment for the Ainu People since ancient times. The path to sightseeing activities in this area was opened in 1910, following the eruption of Mt. Usu, when the Muroran Main Line and Chitose Line railways linking Hakodate and Sapporo were opened at the end of the Taisho Period (early 1920s). Hotels and golf courses began moving into the area during the early Showa period (late 1920s), and from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s there was a tourism boom accompanying Japan's period of high economic growth, while at the same time the Lake Toya lakeside was developed as a sightseeing destination. [Source: Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan]

Before being designated as a national park, the area around Lake Shikotsu had a history of industrial activities, such as mining development. The Tomakomai paper mill built a railway line (Yamasen) in 1908 from Tomakomai to Lake Shikotsu lakeside, constructed a power station on the ChitoseRiver, and logged the forest around Lake Shikotsu. In addition, the Bifue Gold Mine and other mines were developed, some of which still remained in operation after the area was designated as a national park. Today, all of the mines within the park area have been closed down, and the railway bridges and other structures built during that time remain as industrial relics incorporated into the park's landscape.

Tourism at Shikotsu-Toya National Park

Accommodation Areas: Shikotsuko, Noboribetsu, Toyako Onsen, Takarada, Showa Shinzan, Makkariguchi, Jozankei Onsen, Kitayuzawa Onsen. Campsites are available at Makkari Village, Lake Toya, and Lake Shikotsu. Onsen (Hot Springs): Noboribetsu Onsen, Toyako Onsen, Shikotsuko Onsen and Jozankei Onsen. Websites : Government National Park Site National Parks of Japan ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Japan Guide Japan-Guide

Getting There: Shikotsu-Toya National Park is easy to get to from Sapporo and Chitose airport. 1) From Haneda Airport it takes about 95 minutes to get to New Chitose Airport. From there take a Hokkaido Chuo Bus about 55 minutes to get to Shikotsuko Bus Terminal, the bus stop closest to Shikotsuko Visitor Center 2) From Haneda Airport it takes about 95 minutes to get to New Chitose Airport. From there take JR Chitose Line about 3 minutes to get to Minamichitose Station. From there take JR Chitose Line/Muroran Main Line about one hour 20 minutes to get to Noboribetsu Station, the closest station to Noboribetsu Onsen. Or you can take the Muroran Main Line about 75 minutes to get to Toya Station, the station closest to Toyako Visitor Center

Shikotsuko Visitor Center provides interesting exhibits explaining the natural environment of Lake Shikotsu. The building is an environmentally-friendly facility constructed of natural materials from the area around Lake Shikotsu. It employs natural energy by means of solar power generation and heat pipes extracting heat from the earth. View the exhibits in the visitor center, and then dive into the natural environment. Location: Shikotsuko Onsen, Chitose City, Hokkaido, Tel: 0123-25-2404; Hours Open: 9:00am-5:30pm; 9:30-4:30pm (winter), Closed Tuesdays throughout the winter, end and beginning of year

Shikotsuko Visitor Center and Volcano Science Museum provide the information and exhibits necessary to enjoy the natural environment of the area of Lake Toya (the northernmost ice-free lake in Japan), the continuously active volcano Mt. Usu, and surrounding area registered in the Toya Caldera and Usu Volcano Geopark within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Location: Toyako Onsen 142-5, Toyako Town, Abuta County, Hokkaido, Tel: 0142-75-2555; Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm, Closed December 31-January 1. Admission: Toyako Visitor Center: Free of charge Vulcanology Center entry fee (donation): Adults 600 yen, children 300 yen (10% discount for groups of 15 or more persons) Toya Takarada Nature Experience House provides information on the natural environment and a wide range of experience programs for visitors to Lake Toya and residents of the area, and assists in understanding the natural environment and the local area through 'environmental learning. Location: Takarada 2-2, Toyako Town, Abuta County, Hokkaido, Tel: 0142-82-5999; Hours Open: 9:00am-5:00pm, Closed Mondays, end and beginning of year

Animals and Plants at Shikotsu-Toya National Park

Shikotsu-Toya National Park is broadly covered in broad-leafed deciduous forest comprising mainly Quercus crispula Blume and Painted Maple, as well as mixed forests of conifers and broad-leaved trees comprising mainly Ezo Spruce and Erman's birch. Siberian Dwarf Pine can also be seen on mountain peaks and ridgelines at 1,000 meters and more above sea level, and flower fields of alpine plants grow everywhere. [Source: Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan]

A typical vertical distribution of vegetation can be observed on Mt. Yotei, where broad-leafed forest at the foot of the mountain gives way to coniferous forest in the center, and then alpine plants such as Yellow-flowered Rhododendron and Blue Mountain heath blooming at the summit. Mt. Tarumae is a new volcano, and so there is only forest cover up to around a height of 700 meters above sea level. The top of the mountain is covered in communities of alpine plants such as Ledum palustre subsp. Diversipilosum var. nipponicum, Alnus crispa subsp. Maximowiczii, Pennellianthus frutescens, and Arcterica nana, creating a distinctive landscape. A small area of wetlands vegetation has been confirmed to be growing around Lake Okotanpe.

Many animals adapted to forest environments can be observed in the park; mammals species living in the park include the brown bear, Ezo red fox, alpine hare, Hokkaido squirrel, chipmunk, and Ezo deer. The Ezo deer that were once fed at a sightseeing facility on Nakajima Island in Lake Toya have gone wild and bred, damaging the ecosystem, and so various related organizations are working together to implement countermeasures. Hokkaido Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris orientis) is a subspecies of the Eurasian squirrel family. Found in the plains and sub-alpine zones of Hokkaido, it can be seen on Mt. Yotei and the area around Lake Shikotsu. Ezo Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes schrencki) is subspecies of the red fox family ubiquitous to the Northern Hemisphere. It can be seen throughout the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

Bird species living in the park include rare species such as the belted kingfisher as well as forest birds such as Japanese scops owl, white-bellied green-pigeon, and coal tit. Among water birds are the spotbill duck and tufted duck can be observed around Lake Shikotsu, but because there are few seaweed beds or small fish for them to eat, both the overall number of birds and number of species are dwindling. Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius martius), Japan's largest species of the woodpecker family, lives in the forest and can be recognized by its distinct cry. Tree scars made by the birds can be seen at the Shikotsuko Onsen. The black woodpecker has been designated a Natural Monument.

Volcanoes at Shikotsu-Toya National Park

Mt. Tarumae is located on the inside of the outer ring of mountains. It has a lava dome and continues to emit plumes of smoke even today. Mt. Tarumae is a new volcano, and so there is only forest cover up to around a height of 700 meters above sea level. The top of the mountain is covered in communities of alpine plants such as Ledum palustre subsp. diversipilosum var. nipponicum, Alnus crispa subsp. Maximowiczii, Pennellianthus frutescens, and Arcterica nana, creating a distinctive landscape.

Mt. Eniwa is a volcano that emits gase. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Shikotsu, it is a beautiful sight, surrounded by Russian rock birch and Sakhalin fir.. Lake Okotanpe was formed by a blockage created by an eruption from Mt. Eniwa, located at the base of the mountain to the northwest. Shikotsu volcanocame to life about 32,000 years ago. After that Mt. Fuppushi, Mt. Eniwa, and Mt. Tarumae were formed,

Mt. Yotei is a typical free-standing stratovolcano with a beautiful conical shape. Rising to a height of 1,898 meters above sea level, it is also referred to as "Ezo-Fuji." The landscape is characterized by the mountain's graceful slopes and vegetation, and pronounced changes in the vertical distribution of vegetation communities can be seen. The view from the summit is especially spectacular. A typical vertical distribution of vegetation can be observed on Mt. Yotei, where broad-leafed forest at the foot of the mountain gives way to coniferous forest in the center, and then alpine plants such as Yellow-flowered Rhododendron and Blue Mountain heath blooming at the summit. While climbing the mountain, visitors can enjoy the changes in the vertical distribution of vegetation, and near the summit hikers are welcomed by many species of alpine plants. Because of the mountain's high altitude, be sure to thoroughly prepare yourself both physically and mentally before attempting the climb.

Mt. Orofure is located between Lake Toya and Noboribetsu Onsen. It provides a superb view of Mt. Yotei and the volcanic bay. Alpine plants such as Cassiope lycopodioides, Geum pentapetalum, and Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila can be viewed from mountain trails.

Lake Shikotsu

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Lake Shikotsu
Lake Shikotsu (Shikotsu-Toya National Park) is a beautiful caldera lake tucked between soaring cliffs and several volcanos. Japan's second deepest lake, it contains deep blue water that never freezes over. In Shikotsu Kohan you can rent mountain bikes and take boat trips.

The calderas that formed the lake were formed by the volcanic activity of the Shikotsu volcano, which began approximately 32,000 years ago. Subsequently, Mt. Fuppushi, Mt. Eniwa, and Mt. Tarumae were also formed, creating today's Lake Shikotsu. While Mt. Fuppushi is already extinct, Mt. Eniwa has been confirmed to have small blowholes in craters below the summit, and Mt. Tarumae remains an active volcano even now. The lake has a maximum depth of 360 meters.The area's cold climate and the fact little sediment flows into the lake explains the water's clarity. The transparent water and mountains surrounding the lake, such as Mt. Eniwa, combine to create magically beautiful lake scenery. Visitors can also enjoy sightseeing boat tours and canoeing on the lake. There are even clear-bottom kayaks.

Lake Shikotsu's waters have been rated the purest in Japan for 10 consecutive years. Autumn visitors can expect a visual feast of colored leaves and sockeye salmon. During the winter the lake at its most transparent, with the added magic of surrounding snowy peaks and glimpses of wild deer and foxes on the shores. Kayak in winter and enjoy the water's clarity and snowy scenery. Hiking destinations include 1,320-meter-high Mt. Eniwa-dake and 1,038-meter-high Mt. Tarumae-zan, an active volcano. Website: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet International Lake Environment www.ilec.or.jp ; /h-takarajima.com Getting There: Less than a 90-minute drive from Sapporo or 40 minutes from Chitose Airport. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Lake Kuttara is a circular caldera lake measuring approximately 2.5 kilometers across. The lake has no rivers flowing in or out and has maintained excellent water quality. Here you can see a highly transparent lake enveloped in mystery.

Lake Toya

Lake Toya (three hours by bus from Sapporo in Shikotsu-Toya National Park) is a nearly circular caldera lake with four thickly wooded islets. It is possible to take a boat to Naka-jima Island in the middle of the lake. On the island you can see wild Ezo deer and the uninspiring Lake Toya Forest Museum.

Created approximately 110,000 years ago in a gigantic volcanic eruption, Lake Toya is a caldera lake measuring 8 kilometers to 11 kilometers across. Agricultural land is spread in the broad plateau that was also created in the eruption and the area in the caldera is dotted with settlements and hot springs resorts dot.

Lake Toya has a circumference of about 40 kilometers. The lake is closely associated with Mt. Usu, a volcano that became active approximately 20,000 years ago. Around it are numerous lateral cones, and in particular Mt. Showa-Shinzan-which was created through volcanic activity between 1943 and 1945. Toyako Onsen was born when a wellspring opened up on the shore of the lake after the volcanic eruption of 1910.

Nakajima Island seems to float in the center of Lake Toya. It was was created by volcanic activity approximately 50,000 years ago. It comprises closely packed lava domes, the largest of which — Oshima Island — -has a landing for sightseeing boats, a Forest Museum, and other facilities.

Mt. Showa (south of Tokyako Spa) is an active volcano that rose from a vegetable field in 1943 and, after a series of eruptions over two years, became the 402-meter-high mountain you see today. The ground on the top of the volcano is still hot and fumes escape from a number of fumaroles.

The Windsor Hotel Toya resort & Spa in Toyakocho hosted the G-8 summit in 2008. Website: Lake Toya Guide Lake Toya Guide Map: Good Map from Toyako Visitor’s Center Toyako Visitor’s Center Toyako Spa (on the shore of the Lake Toya) is Shikotsu-Toya National Park's largest resort. It attracts people interested in exploring the area's volcano. Sights in the town include the Volcano Science Museum, Nearby is Mt. Shiho-rei Bear Ranch, the home of nearly 200 bears. Websites:Toyako Onsen Tourist Association Toyako Onsen Tourist Association Map: Good Map from Toyako Visitor’s Center Toyako Visitor’s Center Hotel Web Sites: Toyako Onsen Tourist Association Toyako Onsen Tourist Association ; Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: is accessible by bus (3 hours) and by limited express train (1 hour 50 minutes from Sapporo. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Mt. Usu

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Usu March 2000 eruption
Mt. Usu (south of Tokyako Spa) is a 732-meter-high volcano that frequently erupts and has a cable car. The volcano became active approximately 20,000 to 15,000 years ago. Around it are numerous lateral cones. Mt. Showa-Shinzan --- which was created through volcanic activity between 1943 and 1945 --- is said to be a lava dome and has high value in both academic and scenic terms. In addition, Toyako Onsen was born when a wellspring opened up on the shore of the lake after the volcanic eruption of 1910.

Mt. Usu is a stratovolcano. The summit was torn off by an explosion about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. A large mudflow in 1822 ripped through a town and killed 59 people. Pyroclastic flows occurred in 1769, 1822 and 1853. The 1822 eruption produced the 671-meter-high Ogarison peak. The 1853 eruption produced the 732-meter-high Ousu peak. Mt. Usu was the source of the 1910 Mt. Showa eruption. That year, some 45 craters opened up and one person was killed in a mud slide. There were also huge explosion caused by magma interacting with ground water.

Visitors can take the ropeway to the summit station, then walk to the crater floor observatory and along the southern outer-ring route, where you can see relics from past eruptions and the status of plant restoration. Konpira Crater and Mt. Nishiyama Crater were formed when Mt. Usuzan erupted in 2000. Footpaths have been built around the craters, enabling visitors to view not only the craters themselves but also roads and houses that were damaged in the eruption. Website: Toya Usu Geopark Toya Usu Geopark .

Recent Mt. Usu Eruptions

Mt. Usu erupts every 30 to 50 years. In August 1977, Mt. Usu erupted and caught people by surprise. A panicky evacuation ensued when the eruptions began. The 1977 eruption destroyed a cable car and rained rocks and 30 centimeters of ash on Toyako Onsen. Three people were killed in August 1978 by a mudflow after they returned to their homes, thinking it was safe. The eruption continued until 1982 and formed the 667-meter-tall Usu Shinzan peak on the crater basin.

In March 2000, Mt. Usu (Uzuzan) began erupting. Large amounts of superheated steam and gas were hurled as high as 3,200 meters into the air from craters on the lower slopes of the volcano. No one was hurt. More than 17,000 people were evacuated. Stones from eruptions fell on nearby towns. Since there was a large body of data on Mount Usu it was easy to predict its 2000 eruption four days in advance with telltale signs.

Even though craters opened up on a hill only 300 meters above the hot spring resort of Toyako Onsen during the Usu eruption no one was killed or hurt. This is because scientists were able to accurately predict the eruption and people were ordered to evacuate their homes for gymnasiums in nearby cities before the eruptions began.

Mt. Usu has a history of producing earthquakes before an imminent eruptions. So when a series of strong earthquakes rattled the mountain in 2000 an order was given for all people in the area to evacuate. Particularly urgency was given to moving people who lived along likely paths of mud slides and pyroclastic flows. Four days after the warning was given Mt. Usu erupted.

A total of 17,300 people were evacuated. About 13,039 of them long term. About a third of these people were allowed to return home after a couple of weeks. The others had to wait until the eruptions were largely over about a month later.

Noboribetsu Onsen Area

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Hell Valley
Noboribetsu Onsen (on the Pacific Ocean south of Shikotsu-Toya National Park) is Hokkaido's most popular spa. Surrounded by mountains, volcanoes and virgin forests, it features 11 different kinds of hot-spring water, each promising you treat a different ailment. Dai-ichi Takimoto-kan, one of the largest bath complexes in Japan, features mineral baths, waterfalls, walking pools, cold pools, jacuzis, steams room, a swimming pool with a water slide and an outdoor pool with a bar.

Within a few miles of Noboribetsu Onsen are the Valley of Hell, Noboribetsu Bear Park and Lake Kuttara, a small crater lake with very clear water. Noboribetsu Bear Park features dozens of brown bears in open air concrete pens. They rear up on their hind legs and beg for hand outs. Muzzled bears in the auditorium walk on their front paws and throw basketballs through a hoop. Lake Kuttara is a round-shaped caldera lake measuring approximately 2.5 kilometers across; its waters are highly transparent, and it is known as a mysterious lake due to its quiet environment and pure water quality. In Noboribetsu, volcanic activity can still be seen today in Jigokudani and various other places, and some of the best and abundant hot spring fountainheads are located here.

Jozankei (northeast of Noboribetsu Onsen) has a mountainous topography comprising relatively old volcanoes such as Mt. Muine, Mt. Soranuma, and Mt. Sapporo. Because these mountains are covered in alpine vegetation and provide superb views, the area makes an excellent one-day hiking trip from around Sapporo. Located along streams flowing into the Toyohira River, Jozankei Onsen is one of Hokkaido's top hot springs resorts. Jigokudani contains remains of an explosion crater measuring approximately 450 meters in length and is the location of the wellspring for the Noboribetsu Onsen. Volcanic gasses and hot water gushing out violently can be viewed from the surrounding footpaths.

Hohei Gorge is a canyon comprising rock walls and forest where visitors can enjoy the magnificence of nature. Especially during the season for viewing autumnal foliage, the gorge is visited by many tourists from the Sapporo area.

Websites:Noboribetsu Tourism Noboribetsu Tourism Maps and Photos : jaiktravelblog.com/ ; Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Noboribetsu Onsen is accessible by bus and train from Sapporo and other cities in Hokkaido. The bus journey from Sapporo is 1 hour 45 minutes. The nearest train station is 15 minutes from Noboribetsu Onsen. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

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Valley of Hell
Valley of Hell (near Norboribetsu Spa) is Hokkaido's most intriguing sight. Inside this 1½-mile-wide volcanic crater are numerous little yellow and red domes. Spewing out of the fractured surfaces of these domes are bubbling mud and water and hissing sulfuric gasses. Unique to this area are sulfateras--- geysers of steam and gas that make a big noise when they erupt. Nearby is a lake of steam and boiling mud. Hiking trails wind throughout the area.

Shiraoi (east of Norboribetsu Spa) is small town that has become a tourist center for Ainu culture. Ainu Village (on the shore of Lake Poroto in Shiraoi) features houses constructed in traditional Ainu style. Traditional Ainu dances and demonstrations of traditional embroidery and weaving are demonstrated at the handicrafts house.

Ainu Museum (within Ainu Village) is one the best places to catch a glimpse of Ainu culture. It has an excellent displays of precious heirlooms and utensils and sells a catalogue put together by the Shiraoi Institute for the Preservation of Ainu Culture, Wakakusa 2-3-4, Shiraoi, Hokkaido.

Image Sources: 1) map Japan Guest Houses 2) Wikipedia 3) Hakodate Tourism 4) 9) 10) Ray Kinnane 5) 8) Sapporro City tourism 6) 7) Yamasa 11) Asakikawa City Tourism 12) Hokkaido Tourism 13 Lake Toya Onsen tourism 14) Univerity of Tokyo Volcano Research 15) Noboribetsu Tourism

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020


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