After thousands of years of volcanic eruptions in Japan’s most northern island Hokkaido, a beautiful lake was created. Lake Shikotsu is ranked the second largest and deepest crater lake in Japan, located within Shikotsu-Toya National park in Central Hokkaido Japan.
In the Spring and Summer months between May to August, Lake Shikotsu (‘Shikotsuko’) transforms into a vibrant tourist destination and gets very busy with local and foreign visitors. In less than an hour’s drive, visitors from Hokkaido’s capital city Sapporo or arrivals from Chitose airport can reach this popular destination easily.
Lake Shikotsu is surrounded by pristine and lush flora, fauna and forests and, it is also one of the rarest freshwater diving spots in Japan. The 360 meter deep crater lake is also the northern most non-freezing lake in Japan with a visibility of 25 meters deep. In the summer months when the fishing ban on the lake is lifted, anglers would flock there to indulge in their favourite sport.
Lake Shikotsu and its counterpart Lake Toya–90km away in the east–were both formed about 40,000 years ago due to seismic activities of the encircling trinity volcanoes Mt. Eniwa, Mt. Fuppushi, and Mt. Tarumae (last erupted in 1981) over the years. Incidentally, Mt. Eniwa was one of the venues of the 1972 Olympic Games in Japan.
The main lakeshore commercial area is packed with a maze of cafes, lodging inns and hotels, small restaurants, snack and gift shops, and other retail shops. This leads to the lakeshore open space plaza where visitors can just sit, relax and enjoy the cool breeze, warm sunlight and absorb the breathtaking view of mountain landscapes and crystal clear blue waters of Lake Shikotsu. The local authority strictly ensures that the natural habitat is protected and even the sewage system of nearby lodging facilities are diverted away from the lake.
There are lots to do in Lake Shikotsu but one must not forget to indulge in the highly popular Japanese past time activity of taking an ‘onsen’ or hot spring bath offered only at certain designated hotels around the lake. Their local gift and souvenir shops are surprisingly well-stocked and display items ranging from wood carvings to paintings and even branded clothes, handbags and shoes.
Other interesting activities often include hiking across the beautifully kept park, water sports, camping or having picnics, and of course exploring the local culinary scene with a diverse selection of snack shops, diners, and buffet spreads offered at several classy hotels in the vicinity.
The popular ‘Patissier Lab Misu no Uta’, pastry shop in the prestigious Lake Shikotsu Tsuruga Resort Spa offers a wide selection of pastries, breads and sweets. A hot selling item is the delicious custard cream puff which is baked fresh daily. Customers can watch the pastry chefs baking these mouthwatering pastries through a display window in front of the shop.
Visitors also get an opportunity to taste Hokkaido Island’s signature product, the Hokkaido ‘soft cream’ a locally produced ice-cream made from the region’s well acclaimed dairy ingredients. They come in 4 popular flavors- vanilla, macha (green tea), chocolate and melon and can be found in several stores including one at the lake ferry station’s convenience store. An ice-cream twirl on a cone costs from ¥300-350 depending on the flavour.
Food lovers should not miss the chance to taste the unique ‘kokanee’ salmon, also known as chip salmon which was brought in and bred in Lake Shikotsu since 1894. Restaurants and cafes usually serve this smaller version of the salmon fish either by simply grilling it with salt and pepper or as fresh sashimi.
Those looking for their caffeine boost can satisfy their coffee urges in the ‘Log Bear’, a small cosy café where the coffee beans are home roasted. They also serve home cooked meals and snacks which are simply done but taste delightfully. The café cum lodging inn sits inside an authentic Canadian log cabin structure built more than 30 years ago by the English speaking inn keeper-owner, Kikawa-san (or ‘Robin’), who also doubles up as the barista, cook, bar tender and lively entertaining host.
Another not to be missed activity is the 30-minute ferry cruise around the lake. However the service is only available from the middle of April until the beginning of November and closes during the winter months. The ferry boat even has a glass window viewing gallery below deck where passengers can see the marine life below the surface of the lake. Adults pay ¥1,620 and children only ¥810 per trip.
Lake Shikotsu has a small but carefully curated visitor center which has pamphlets and exhibits in English for foreign visitors. The displays are well organised, with adequate information including video screenings to help visitors understand the lake and its surrounding location, including its history, special character and profile.
Words & Photos by Tan Jo Hann