Bihoro toge (pass)
The weather is much improved, if fact it is a beautiful day. After a short walk along the river near the michi no eki Mashuonsen, we drive back to Bihoro toge (pass) and its famous panorama. Approaching the car park of Gurutto Panorama Bihoro toge, from the other direction this time, we see our first Kita Kitsune (Hokkaido fox). It is trotting along the side of the road towards us, but on the opposite side. It appears quite unconcerned by the, admittedly, light traffic or even by the work crew doing some road maintenance.
The panorama view of Lake Kussharo and surrounding mountains is, as promised, spectacular. The enjoyment only slightly, well a good deal more than slightly, marred by swarms of small flies which render it impossible to stay in one spot for more than a few seconds.
Finally driven away by the flies, we descend Bihoro toge only to see the fox again only this time on our side of the road and heading towards us. We slow, but it slips into the undergrowth and is gone. Did we see two foxes or the same one twice? I suspect the latter but we count it as two.
From Bihoro toge we drive along the lake shore and then up into the mountains to see Lake Mashu. The lake is viewed from a ridge rising from the large car park. There are quite a number of private cars and buses and, yes, there are plenty of people around but the crowds are not overbearing or perhaps the view is so wonderful that other people pale into insignificance.
From the crest of the ridge, you look down hundreds of meters into the deep, blue waters of the crater. This lake is notorious for being obscured by fog but on this glorious day it is revealed in all its splendor. The deep shade of blue is simply breathtaking. The feeble photographs we take do not do justice to the profound stillness and sublime shade of this most magnificent of lakes. Here the flies are in attendance too but the beauty of the scene means you can endure for that bit longer.
We move from the main viewing point to other less frequented spots and each has its charm and its flies. Finally, we say farewell and with backward glances make the car.
From Lake Mashu we take a back road off the mountain, very narrow and winding, and set off for the sulfur mountain. Ioyama (Atosanutori – its Ainu name). It is lunchtime, so we stop at a convenience store to get something to eat. Here we meet a very polite and friendly gentleman, a member of a small party of gents in suits, who speaks to me in good English and turns out to be a Jehovah’s Witness.
After grabbing a picnic, we eat with a view of the stunted trees and sasa (bamboo grass).
Ioyama is a large mountain with various jigoku or hells on the lower slopes. It is possible to walk up very close to this volcanic activity. The land is venting, literally under your feet, as tiny new volcanic vents open up here and there. Taking lots of useless pictures of this fascinating, strangely beautiful site takes a while and again the walk we consider taking is aborted near the bear warning sign – maybe we don’t have time after all.
From Mt. Iou we drive to a campsite, Sakuragaoka Koen, in Teshikaga town. This is a large, spacious site surrounded by woods but very open. We take a walk around the perimeter skirting the woods with the usual bear caution. Some flowers catch our eye but no birds are to be seen, heard but not seen. There is only one other person staying, a motorcyclist with a tent. As I am preparing vegetables for dinner, I note he is listening to Bob Dylan and congratulate him on his taste as I doubt his parents had even met by the end the 60’s.
＊RECAMP Mashu (old-Sakuragaoka forest park auto campsite) 800 yen/ tent
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.