Lake Akan – Ainu art 阿寒湖
Day 26, October 2016,
We return to Tsuruimura , there is no action at the bridge, but we can hear activity in the fields a bit further down the road. We drive a little and stop to take pictures of about 60 tsuru(Japanese crane) in a field just for the record. They are too far away for a real photo; just dots like sheep on a hillside. Tsuru viewed, we are off to Lake Akan having had enough wetlands. However, Lake Akan proves to be a big disappointment given its fame.
Lake Akan & Ainu Kotan
The dismay begins with eating a lunchtime sandwich, on a damp bench, looking out over the still lake in a slight drizzle. Behind us, large, ugly hotels crowd the shore. We watch a fisherman, in a small motorized boat, bring in a catch of very small silver fish and load the boxes onto a small truck before setting out again presumably to catch more.
We move on to the Ainu village(Ainu Kotan) which is in fact a short street full of trashy, kitsch, Ainu, ART. At the end of which, is a small Ainu art museum. Of the exhibits, some are impressive, notably some paper sculptures of deer, boar and owl heads and a series of wooden sculptures of young girl. There was also a collection of kitsch Ainu art, oddly from Kita-Kyushu, featuring largely the ubiquitous Hokkaido bear with or without salmon.
This small exhibition leaves open the question of whether Ainu art actually existed before the Lake Akan tourist boom, from the 1950 to the 1970’s, gave rise to the wooden bear that is a feature of so many living rooms the length and breadth of Japan.
Lake Onnetoh オンネトー
Having had our fill of Lake Akan, we press on to see another water fall ‘Yu no Taki’(hot water fall) near another lake Onneto-. We walk about 4 kilometers round trip through mature woodland thriving on rocky terrain. D. has her bear bell tinkling but we are on edge. When we arrive at the fall it is of no particular interest and we retrace our steps, surprisingly we meet a jogger in this most empty of places, he is noticeably without any bear bell. Not for the first time, we feel a little foolish.
Safe in the car, we begin a long drive to find somewhere to stay. Finally arrive at Shihiro Onsen michi-no-eki on route 134 well after dark and in the pouring rain. Snug inside the van, we have bread, cheese, salad and wine and listen to the rain that drums hard on the roof on and off all night.
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.