A peaceful night at Mashu Onsen michi no eki but it becomes noisy around 5am., as the various shachuhaku (sleep in the car) vehicles prepare to leave. We sleep later, have a leisurely breakfast, and leave around 9.
First, we make for Mashuko or Lake Mashu. This lake is famous for its magnificent blue and, equally famous, obscuring fog. On a previous visit, we were lucky to catch it on a day of serene blue sky so arrive with limited expectations as the day is overcast and grey.
In fact, the lake is still a sight to behold. It is neither a piercing blue nor a sea of cloud, but a magnificent crater lake none the less.
Unusually. the lake is not fed by a river and no stream flows out but, the water level does not change even during the spring snow melt.
Sadly, the pictures we take are murky and don’t do justice to the reality.
Below one of the viewing platforms, is a shop selling soft creams and, all around, small striped squirrels are dashing about. They are very tame; the shop is obviously feeding them. We tourists are delighted.
Mt.Iou or Sulphur Mountain
From the lake we drop down to Mt.Iou or Sulphur Mountain. This is another good spot and the car park ticket serves for both Mashuko and Mt.Iou, making the parking a reasonable 250 yen for each place.
At Mt.Iou, you can approach very close to the vents pumping sulphurous vapour into the atmosphere, building sulphur cones in the process. It is awe inspiring and strangely beautiful.
Small sulphurous springs are underfoot as you admire the, more serious, roped off attractions.
Sulphur mining was big business here, for a short period in the Meiji era, and a railway line built to transport the product.
Trail to Kawayu onsen
There is also a nature trail of 2.5 kilometres to Kawayu Onsen (Tsutsujigahara nature trail). We follow this trail as far as a viewing platform. Although it is an easy walk, the surrounds are low, scrubby pines (Siberian Dwarf Pine) and Azalea bushes which are rather monotonous. (These plants grow even in this strongly acidic soil) .
Seeing little point in continuing the walk, we leave Mt.Iou and drive to Kami no ko ike.
Kami no Ko Ike
Kami no Ko or Child of God Pool, is a small pond (220m in circumference) formed by a spring, that pumps 12,000 tons of water a day apparently. The Ainu believed the water flowed from Mashuko due to its striking shade of blue. It is strange to find such a clear blue pond in a shady wood.
To reach this pond you must drive a kilometre or so on unpaved road from Prefectural Road 1115. Then a short walk through the woods. The water temperature, of the pool, is 8 degrees all year around so the trees that fall into the water do not rot in the usual way but rather fossilize.
From the Child of God Pool, we visit a viewing spot Ura-Mashu. This gives a view of Mashuko from the other, less popular, side. But, by now, the weather is worse and the lake a blur.
Undeterred, we move on to Kaiyodai, a viewing platform on top of a hill. On a clear day this must afford a magnificent panorama, but we are now hemmed in by low cloud and it is becoming seriously cold.
Our plan was to spend the night at Kiritappu which has a free campsite on the headland overlooking the sea. The cold, damp and wind in such an exposed spot looks like a bad choice so, after shopping in Nakashibetsu Tobu South Hills, we make it back to Mashu Onsen michi no eki as the more sensible choice for the 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.