By Larry Jones
Special to the NewsPress
Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” at the southwestern edge of the Sea of Okbotsk. With only about 400 miles of sea between it and Siberia, winter temperatures regularly falling to at least -20 degrees Fahrenheit and with 51 volcanoes on an island about half the size of Oklahoma, it’s truly a land of fire and ice. But it’s a land of great natural beauty with dramatic mountain peaks, deep gorges and calderas, and crystal-clear lakes. Through the centuries many of the volcanoes have erupted, some collapsing on themselves after erupting, creating calderas and several of the lakes on Hokkaido are caldera lakes located across the rugged mountainous island. The rest of this article is about the six caldera lakes across Hokkaido starting with Lake Kussharo, the largest and most northern caldera lake in Japan.
The lake which is in Akan Mashu National Park has a surface area of more than 30 square miles and is beautiful in any season. It’s very popular for boating and fishing during the summer, but the water is too cold for swimming since the lake freezes over almost entirely during the winter. However, thermal vents keep a very small area from freezing most winters and this provides a place for whooper swans to spend the winter and there are harmonics created by pressure in the ice which makes a sound which some describe as singing. Also in Akan Mashu National Park is Lake Mashu which many describe as one of the most scenic spots on the island of Hokkaido. It’s a smaller lake with a surface area of slightly less than 4 square miles.
The caldera’s steep walls rise abruptly some 650 feet above the lake’s surface making it difficult to descent to the lake’s shores therefore most view the astonishingly clear waters, actually consider as one of the clearest lakes in the world, from the crater rim. Looking in any direction across the lake from the crater’s rim, towering mountains provide a spectacular backdrop. The third lake within the national park is Lake Akan, with only a slightly smaller surface area than Lake Kussharo and it’s well up in the mountains where it gets quite a lot colder.
Being quite far north and pretty much surrounded by mountains the light level on the lake is rather low which contributes to a phenomenon seen only a few places around the world, the growth of spherical moss or algae called marimo. However, the light level is but one of several contributing factors including the shape and depth of the lake, sedimentation, and wind induced currents related to the growth of the velvety spheres. With the very cold winters there are plenty of opportunities for ice fishing and from early February to mid-March the Lake Akan On-Ice Festival is held on the lake’s frozen surface. And there’s still one more caldera lake among all of the volcanoes in Akan Mashu National Park, but it’s the smallest of the volcano lakes on Hokkaido. Lake Onneto which is located very near the southwest boundary of the park is only about a half-mile wide and slightly over 30 feet deep.
The lake is sometimes called “The Lake of Five Colors” Depending on the season, the weather and one’s location, the water can appear anywhere from azure blue to emerald green and different shades between. Many consider it to have the most beautiful water in any lake on Hokkaido, but the water is so acidic that fish cannot live in the lake. The lake is in a heavily forested area with trees very near the lake so the fall season is the favorite time for many to visit to enjoy both the lake and the fall foliage. The two remaining caldera lakes are toward the southwest region of Hokkaido. Lake Shikotsu is only a short distance west of the city of Chitose. It has a surface area of about 28 square miles, is about 800 feet deep and is considered to be one of the clearest lakes in the world.
Being near the city of Chitose and about an hour and a half from the city of Sapporo may make it more popular with the people of Hokkaido than with tourist. But it’s a very popular destination for many throughout Japan for the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival in February. Not far from Lake Shikotsu is Lake Toya,, the third largest caldera lake in Japan with a surface area of slightly more than 27 square miles. The very nearly circular lake is the northernmost lake in Japan that doesn’t freeze over during the winter months though to be because of two active nearby volcanoes, Japan’s youngest volcano, the bare-sloped Showa Shinzan which erupted for the first time in 1943 alongside extremely active Mount Usa. While snow around much of the lake may be quite deep down to the lakeshore, there is no ice on the lake. The island of Hokkaido has much to offer both residents and tourists alike, including its caldera lakes, and is truly a nature lovers paradise.
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.