The 'Lake of the Gods', Shrouded in Mystery
Mashu Blue, as far as the eye can see...
Lake Mashu is a caldera lake with a perimeter of 20 km, and an area of 19.6 km². Known in the Ainu language as 'kamuy-to' ('lake of the gods'), this place is the subject of much mystery. From the observatory, your vision will be drawn to the strikingly deep blue of the lake surface. Known as 'Mashu Blue', this color is created by the sky reflecting in the high-clarity lake water, which has extremely low amounts of impurities and suspended matter. On windless days, 'Mashu Blue' is all the more captivating.
June and July are fog season
Lake Mashu is also known as a place likely to be shrouded in fog. On about 29 days of the half-year sightseeing season, which lasts May through October, the lake will be completely invisible due to obscuring fog. The chances of fog are particularly high during June and July. That's not to say that Lake Mashu experiences only foggy weather over this period. In fact, it's not unusual for extremely dense fog to suddenly change into wonderfully clear weather. Mysterious phenomena such as this are perhaps a reason for Lake Mashu to be called the 'Lake of the Gods'.
Explore three observatories to enjoy different aspects
Lakeside observatories provide panoramic views of Lake Mashu. The most popular is 'Mashu No. 1 Observatory', which is visited by over a million people every year for breathtaking views overlooking the striking 'Mashu Blue' of the lake, Kamuishu Island floating in its center, and the distant Mt. Kamuinupuri (Mt. Mashu). With facilities including washrooms and a rest house available, this is a perfect place to take a break from travel. If you explore the other two observatories, 'Mashu No. 3 Observatory' and 'Ura Mashu Observatory', you will be rewarded with views featuring different aspects of enigmatic Lake Mashu.
Abashiri Prison Museum
The Historic Role of Abashiri Prison in Hokkaido's Pioneering Era
Observe historical structures designated as Important Cultural Properties
The former buildings of Abashiri Prison are conserved and exhibited to the public at this outdoor history museum. The Abashiri Prison Museum encompasses a total of 25 buildings which have been relocated and restored or reproduced. Of these, eight buildings have been designated as Important Cultural Properties, and six buildings have been designated as Tangible Cultural Properties. Visitors can experience these historic prison buildings, which were used during the Meiji and Taisho periods (1868-1926), and get an up-close look at the remarkable history of Hokkaido's development. Before exploring the museum grounds, we recommend first visiting the Administration Building (an Important Cultural Property) to learn about the remarkable history of prison labor during the development of Hokkaido. The insightful exhibits here will help you enjoy your visit to the fullest.
Experience video simulations of prison labor
The Penological Museum building introduces the lifestyle and work of the prisoners while these historical buildings were in service. The main exhibit, entitled 'Prison Experience Theatre', features realistic video footage that will whisk you back in time and allow you to experience the harsh lifestyle of prison labor, right before your eyes. Lasting seven minutes and offered in five languages, this presentation will help you understand the severity of the conditions that the inmates faced in their daily lives.
Try 'Prison Meals' at the Kangoku Cafeteria
During your visit, don't miss the opportunity to try the 'Prison Meals', which faithfully replicate the lunches currently served to current inmates of Abashiri Prison. Each meal includes a bowl of steamed blended rice (seven parts rice to three parts barley), miso soup, roasted fish, and vegetables. For the roasted fish, choose between pacific saury or Okhotsk atka mackerel. These nutritionally-balanced and healthful meals are highly acclaimed by museum visitors. Other menu options include 'Prison Curry' and 'Abashiri Zangi-don', a local speciality of deep-fried pink salmon atop a bowl of rice.
Iconic Hokkaido Ice-Covered Seas
One of Eastern Hokkaido's classic winter scenes
'Drift ice' broadly means any ice which drifts atop a body of water, including icebergs and river ice, but commonly refers to sea ice frozen under intensely cold winds. Most of the drift ice observed at Abashiri is sea ice, which forms near the northern shores of the Sea of Okhotsk, eventually reaching the coasts of Hokkaido from around late January to early February. Drift ice can be observed until early March. This scene of the fully ice-covered seas is truly one in the world.
Clione, the drift ice angels
Hokkaido's drift ice is accompanied by clione, also known as 'drift ice angels' or 'ice fairies'. Seeming to dance through the sea with wings spread wide, these charming creatures are considered mascots of the Okhotsk sea. Related to shellfish, clione enter holes in the drift ice and travel to Hokkaido. Only during the drift ice season, you can observe actual clione at the Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum (244-3 Tentozan, Abashiri).
Unique activities to experience the wonders of drift ice up close
Eastern Hokkaido is home to a number of activities to experience and enjoy drift ice. Crush through drift ice on a 'Sightseeing Icebreaker Cruise', put on a drysuit and walk atop the drift ice on a 'Drift Ice Walk', experience diving beneath the drift ice on a 'Drift Ice Dive' (licensed divers only), or row through the ice-filled seas on a 'Drift Ice Kayaking' excursion. These are just some of the many rewarding and memorable ways to experience drift ice up close.
Shiretoko Goko Lakes
Explore the Great Nature of Shiretoko, a World Heritage
Wildlife habitats amidst nature untouched by human hands
The Shiretoko Goko Lakes are five lakes of various sizes nestled amidst virgin forests, backed by the Shiretoko Mountain Range. Every year, many visitors come to the Goko Lakes to enjoy the magnificent scene of untouched nature reflecting in the laketops. This abundant nature includes habitats of a great variety of wildlife, offering memorable opportunities to observe traces of species such as the brown bear and the black woodpecker. The lakes are named Ichiko, Niko, Sanko, Yonko, and Goko, representing the numbers one through five. Of these, Lake Ichiko is always easily accessible during the season.
The 'Elevated Wooden Path', a safe and easy route
The 'Elevated Wooden Path' is recommended for visitors who would like to easily experience the wonders of Shiretoko's vibrant nature. This walking trail (800 m one way) can be used free of charge throughout the season. The elevated wooden path is also surrounded by electric fences to prevent brown bears from entering, allowing you to enjoy a worry-free walk. With no steps and only mild slopes, this route is also wheelchair accessible. The elevated wooden path provides access as far as Lake Ichiko. Please note that connection is not allowed to the ground pathway, which goes beyond Lake Ichiko.
The 'Ground Pathway', for the full Shiretoko nature experience
The 'Ground Pathway' is recommended for visitors who would like to experience natural wildlife habitats up close. For the full experience, challenge the long route (3 km circuit), which visits each of the five lakes. For an easier option, the short route (1.6 km circuit) visits Lake Ichiko and Lake Niko. For either route, during certain seasons, a lecture must be taken before departing, or visitors may only be allowed when led by a registered guide. Occasionally, trails may be closed entirely due to brown bear activity, so please be certain to check the website in advance.
Kotan no Yu Hot Spring
Share a Bath with the Swans in this Rarest of Secluded Hot Springs
A truly rustic open-air, mixed-bathing hot spring
This open-air hot spring lies on the edge of Lake Kussharo. With a spacious bath built of stone, Kotan no Yu is renowned as a secluded hot spring. Visitors are delighted to find that it is open 24 hours, and completely free of charge. Changing areas are segregated by gender, but please note that the open-air bath is only roughly screened by a large rock, so the general level of privacy is similar to mixed bathing. For this reason, swimwear and towels are allowed inside the bath. Don't forget to bring yours when you visit.
The incredible sensation of sharing a bath with swans
Kotan no Yu is managed by local volunteers, and is considered to be 'noyu' -- an open-air hot spring in a fully natural setting. The hot spring is very well cared for, making it a suitable option for first-time 'noyu' bathers. And, from late November to April, the biggest attraction is the incredible experience as if you are sharing a bath with the swans floating atop Lake Kussharo. The water level in the hot spring bath is almost even with the surface of Lake Kussharo, creating the unique sensation that you are bathing in the lake, surrounded by swans.
On clear days, beautiful scenery awaits after sunset
Of the wonderful views from Kotan no Yu, the lingering color in the west sky following the sunset on a clear day creates a particularly beautiful sight. As the lake surface turns gold, this breathtaking scene unfolds. Surrender yourself to the great nature of eastern Hokkaido as you refresh your body and mind in this remarkable open-air hot spring. You will undoubtedly find yourself invigorated and inspired for the remainder of your travels.
These are some of the destinations in Hokkaido served by AIRDO.
Watch some videos that showcase their appeal.