Japan’s Peaceful Onsen Village in Lake Toya, Hokkaido

Lake Toya is in proximity to Noboribetsu, “the valley of Hell”, in the most northern island of Japan, Hokkaido. 

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Lake Toya is a surprisingly nice little town to spend a night or two in. The main sight is the caldera lake, which has Nakajima Island in the middle, home to the Lake Forest Museum, reachable by boat.

On the southern side is Mount Usu which was formed 20,000 years ago and has erupted 4 times since 1990. In 1945, the eruption created Mount Showa-Shinzan, last erupting in 2000.

The morning view of the lake, Nakajima Island, and Mount Usu which peaks behind Nakajima, is (to be cliche) absolute zen to your senses. Lake Toya is surrounded by the mountains, so the blue lake is such a calming beauty to look at.

We took a quiet ride through the country side by bus to reach the village. If the weather is good, you can enjoy nice hikes around the area as well as take a ride on their Cable Car and peak into the Usuzans crater’s (unfortunately it was closed when we went).  Around the village are numerous little hot springs for your feet and hands that are free to use. Each has a certain little blessing with them. Onsen for longevitiy, happiness, marriage, etc. They are very cute and exciting to find! We were able to take it easy here.

We stayed at Gran Village Daiwa Ryokan Annex, which is on the waterfront, for 12,000 yen a night with breakfast. The best thing about these accomodations is that most of them have their own onsen. You can use them for free (or maybe ~300yen depending on the place). I loved soaking in the onsen, wearing the provided Yukata and reading a book in the evening.

We ate dinner at Sushi Aikawa. The sushi had nice big FAT slices of fish, which I appreciated. Although we were the only ones there (the city was quite dead on April 2nd), we had a great dinner! The staff was quiet and happy to have us, I think. The sushi was top quality and we we were able to order a lot of sake and sit there to watch the Boston Winter Ice Skating Olymics on their TV, which I never thought I would care about, but was surprisingly very entertaining!

My mother and I were commentating the whole show (assisted by our cold sake) and possibly overstayed our welcome, because 30 minutes later the woman changed the channel :P! I think she knew we would stay there for much longer if we kept watching the competition. Oh well!

After that, we took a nice stroll in the quiet evening, looking at the clubs and ‘snack’ bars (bars where you go to chat, sing karaoke, and be poured alcohol with older Japanese women, as was the tradition in the 90’s) that were depressingly empty. It was hard to imagine the village as a party place, since we didn’t see many tourists there at all. The quiet streets made us feel like the town was just for us! We had fun following carved stones and finding more onsens on the walk back.

I read an article about Noboribetsu a few months ago and I wanted to go. Unfortunately, the accommodation there was very expensive and sold out. Since I love nature, I decided it would be nice to stay next to Lake Toya. Toyako (ko=lake) isn’t too far from Noboribetsu, so I am glad we slept in a different city and got to experience two places instead of one. Because the city was quiet, it felt like we had it for ourselves!  One day I hope to be back to Lake Toya and Noboribetsu! Onsen culture is great!

 

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