Towadako: Lake so popular a dragon and serpent fought over it

The mountains that surround Lake Towadako span both Aomori and Akita prefectures. The area is an ideal spot to enjoy autumn's colorful leaves reflected in the lake's glasslike surface. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The mountains that surround Lake Towadako span both Aomori and Akita prefectures. The area is an ideal spot to enjoy autumn’s colorful leaves reflected in the lake’s glasslike surface. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

JAPAN HERITAGE Towadako: Lake so popular a dragon and serpent fought over it

Asahi Shimbun November 04, 2011

Situated in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which straddles Akita and Aomori prefectures, Lake Towadako pulls in visitors from all over to enjoy the season-changing foliage, wildlife and the striking color of its water.

Towadako is a double-caldera lake, formed by separate volcanic eruptions. A series of eruptions created a crater around 13,000 years ago. It eventually filled with water and became a lake. In the mere blink of an eye–in geological time–a new volcano formed on the south side of the lake about 3,000 years later.

This also erupted, forming the second caldera. It eroded over time, the earlier lake’s water flowed in and one big lake was formed.

Present-day Towadako has a circumference of 44 kilometers and its surface is 400 meters above sea level.

The only outlet is the Oirasegawa river, created when the lake overflowed on the eastern shore.

To best enjoy the upper reaches of the river and the lake, take a four-hour hike or a two-hour bicycle ride from Yakeyama.

Head upstream for Nenokuchi. Rental cycles are available at tourist centers at both locations. If you get a bit weary, take a break–there are lookout points strategically located at spots all around the lake.

Of course, this is no ordinary lake. A very long time ago, Hachiro Taro, a tough young man, stopped to quench his thirst. But as he was drinking from the lake he turned into a giant serpent and decided to make the lake his watery lair.

Sometime later, an itinerant monk, Nansobo, also decided the lake would be a dandy place to call home. But the serpent wasn’t in a sharing, caring mood. The monk changed into a dragon and a fierce battle ensued.

With the two huge creatures locked in combat, the local topography could hardly go unaffected–volcanoes erupted spitting fire, ash and lava. In the end, the serpent lost and sulked away–to live on the coast of the Sea of Japan.

Among the attractions in the area is a quiet district called Kakunodate in Senboku city in Akita Prefecture. Kakunodate is dubbed the “small Kyoto” of the northeast part of the country.

A castle town in the Edo Period (1603-1867), it retains the charm of its heyday. Former samurai residences are clustered along a street lined with cherry trees, which have been designated worthy of preservation by the central government.

It’s best to visit the lake in the fall for the autumn colors, while Kakunodate peaks in the cherry-blossomed spring.

***

Flights are available to Aomori Airport from Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka. Take a bus to JR Aomori Station and then transfer to a JR bus bound for Lake Towadako.

Flights from Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo are also available to nearby Misawa Airport.

Bus service and taxis are the best means of transport around the lake and the upper reaches of the Oirasegawa river.

To Kakunodate, take a bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Kakunodate, a ride of three hours and 16 minutes.

Check (pref.akita.jp/koho/foreign/jp/index.html) and (kakunodate-kanko.jp).

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