We woke up early in the morning, hungry and excited for the day’s adventures. We can’t wait to explore the quaint little town, first by hiking one of the nearby volcanoes, Mount Konpira!
We chose the Mt. Konpira trail because out of many hiking trail around Toyako Onsen, this is the shortest one (it’s supposed to be a 1-hour hike, but of course, we would end up taking a few hours, instead and my hiking from Boot Bomb had already been taking quite a pounding lately) and the easiest one to do. So we thought, it would be perfect for Aina.
We realized that we need lots of energy today. Luckily, the Japanese set breakfast was already waiting for us in the dining area when we came down. Although pretty basic, the meal was super yummy. We had grilled salmon, miso soup, pickles and ume boshi, one half-boiled egg and even natto. Everything could be considered as traditional, except for a plate of salad that contained a single odd slice of ham. Strange…
After breakfast, we went back to our room to change. We also took some pics of Puni in our room with Lake Toya and Nakajima island as backdrop. Finally, we were ready to hike!
We walked towards the staring point of the hiking trail. Along the way, we walked past the Toyako Visitor Center and Volcano Science Museum. Peeking inside quickly, we saw various rock samples from the previous eruption.
We continued our journey to the start of the trail. On top of a hill, we saw an abandoned hotel in a distance and a sign made of rocks “I Love Toya”. Such an eerie remnant of the catastrophy that fell on this beautiful area 15 years ago. The hot spring town of Toyako Onsen is built next to lake Toya, the 3rd biggest caldera lake in Japan, formed here by volcanic eruptions a long time ago. But as recently as in 2000, an eruption from Mount Nishiyama located south of the lake, next to Mount Konpira, once again altered the face of the area.
To the right of this view, there was a little hut where the hiking trail starts. An old man in the little hut showed us some maps and pointed out scenic spots on the trail. He also advised us to come back down before dark. Armed with only the map at the top of the page, off we went!
The fun thing about hiking in Japan is that all the routes are marked quite clearly. The marks on the trail, like the T-10 mark shown on the picture on the right corresponds directly with the brown bubble on the map. So, even though the map looks like a kiddy drawing, it was really easy to use it to navigate within this simple trail.
It was a sunny morning and despite the cool breeze, the steep climb quickly became harder for all of us because of the heat. And we were only at the start! Nevertheless, the lush vegetation provided some coverage and super fresh air. The view was simply breathtaking – we kept stopping and took countless pictures. It was an amazing experience to be hiking in Japan in the summer.
At some point, the narrow path covered in grass became a wider and turned to gravel. From the surrounding clues, we concluded that this used to be a road which was destroyed by the lava from the eruption and then abandoned for years and years. A few feet to our left, we could see a paralel highway that was completely covered with grass.
After some distance, we veered off to the right and continued up hill. The path was more open on this side of the mountain and we could see the town and Lake Toya below us. It was much dryer on this side of the mountain.
We reached one of the many craters that turned into lakes on our right. This one was called Tama-chan Crater. There were supposed to be ducks around this crater. But the hill was so steep, and there was not much footing to stand on when we tried to find the ducks as indicated with the map. So we couldn’t see any ducks.
Not long after, the slope of our path became increasingly steep. The landscape became more barren. I was imaginning Akira Kurosawa’s “Dream” at this point. Luckily, we did not see any gigantic dandelions like in the movie. It is a volcano in Japan, you never know…
Meanwhile Aina got busy picking up interesting rocks along the way…
We walked up-hill slowly. It was so steep that we had to hold on to the guide rope when we got near the top. Finally, we reached the summit of our climb, finding another much bigger crater called the Yu-kun Crater. It was beautiful. And the pictures we took couldn’t do justice. The sulphur in the water must have kept the emerald lake super clear.
As we continued our journey, the vegetation became more dense once again. The path became a steady decline from this point on. We spotted a few remnants of the old town that was once inhabited in this area. There was an old chimney not far from our trail. We also saw abandoned houses to our left and right, almost completely overrun by trees. And power lines that must have been rebuilt after the eruption. Among the treeline, we saw bigger trees that have been charred completely black, but are still standing, surrounded by the green leaves of new trees. It was quite a sight.
We were excited to walk on this path because according to the map, there were drawings of deers around this area. But the vegetation on both sides of the trail were very thick and we couldn’t spot any deers. How disappointing! But, among the gravel path, I spotted a pair of rolly-pollies. Aina had never seen these cute little bugs before. And they turned into tiny grey balls as soon as I picked them up. Pretty cool! And I guess it took our minds away from thinking about the deers for a moment.
At the bottom of the long gravel path, we re-entered civilization. There was an abandoned pink ryokan, with a patch of asphalt next to it and a little lake further down. Apparently, the lake, which was only the size of a large swimming pool, used to be a segment of the road that dropped because of the volcano. According to the sign nearby, there’s actually a car submerged in it still!
We were thirsty from our walk and quickly bought some cold drinks and ice cream at the souveneir shop around the corner. It was a strange building, the only one at the end of the Donan bus route, but packed with strange products like wood carvings, amulets, chrystal and semi-precious stone key chains, deer horns, cute stickers and erasers, okonomiyaki, ice cream and cold drinks. Pretty random. It was operated by a young lady and her father, who was busy carving a wooden katana in one corner of the shop. After some time, I realized that this store is perfect for busloads of Japanese high school students that come here for their excursions. They would buy these random trinkets while gossiping with their friends as they wait for the bus!
Across from the store, Aina found her heaven in field full of dandelions. She was running, jumping around and crouching down in the grass. Anyone could see that she was trying to blow off as many petals as she possibly could. She only came over for a quick drink before going back to her garden.
Finally, after waiting for about 30-45 minutes, the bus came. But we were busy running around in the dandelion field and shopping in the gift shop, and we missed the bus! Oh no! Do we really have to wait for another hour? But then the lady from the gift shop told us that since there were 5 of us, it was actually cheaper to hire a taxi to get to Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal than if we went by bus. She then called a taxi for us, which arrived within 5 minutes. And she was totally right… It really was cheaper than taking the bus!
From the Terminal, we decided that we should look for a place to have lunch. A few blocks down, we found this quaint little soba place. It looked like somebody’s house from the outside. And there weren’t that many seats inside, although it was beautifully decorated.
The soba was spectacular – one of the best tempura soba I have ever had. You can tell that the old lady who ran the shop was extremely proud of her soba, as she passionately explained how the soba was hand made and, with a big smile, asked each patron how they liked the food before they left. This was a one of a kind experience.
More photos in the Lake Toya 2015 photo album in Flickr.
Other entries of this trip is at Hokkaido Trip Summer 2015.