Japan’s third-largest lake, Towada-ko (十和田湖), fills a 300m-deep volcanic crater in the northern portion of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The steep-sided, crystal-clear lake rates as one of northern Honshū’s top tourist attractions, but for many visitors the real highlight is the approach over high passes and along deep, wooded valleys. Though there are four main access roads, the most attractive route is south from Aomori via the Hakkōda mountains, Sukayu Onsen and the picturesque Oirase valley. For this last stretch it’s the done thing to walk the final few kilometres beside the tumbling Oirase-gawa, and then hop on a cruise boat across to the lake’s main tourist centre, Yasumiya.
Many roads around Towada-ko are closed in winter, and public buses only operate from April to November. During the season, however, there are regular services to the lake from Aomori, Morioka, Hachinohe, Hirosaki and (to the south) Towada-minami, a station on the line between Ōdate and Morioka. It’s best to buy tickets in advance on all these routes.Read More
Two knobbly peninsulas break the regular outline of Towada-ko, a massive crater lake trapped in a rim of pine-forested hills within the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The westerly protuberance shelters the lake’s only major settlement, YASUMIYA (休屋), which is also known somewhat confusingly as Towada-ko. Roughly 44km in circumference, the lake is famous for its spectacularly clear water, with visibility down to 17m, best appreciated from one of several boat trips that run from early April to the end of January, though sailings are fairly limited in winter. Once you’ve navigated the lake, the only other thing to do in Towada-ko is pay a visit to the famous statue of the Maidens by the Lake (おとめの像), which stands on the shore fifteen minutes’ walk north of central Yasumiya. The two identical bronze women, roughcast and naked, seem to be circling each other with hands almost touching. They were created in 1953 by the poet and sculptor Takamura Kōtarō, then 70 years old, and are said to be of his wife, a native of Tōhoku, who suffered from schizophrenia and died tragically young.
About 20km east of Towada-ko along Route 454, the town of SHINGŌ is home to Kirisuto No Haka (Christ’s Grave), a grave with a huge wooden cross which was built here in 1935 to commemorate an unusual local myth. The story goes that Jesus came to Japan as a 21-year-old and learned from a great master, before returning to Judea to spread the wonders of “sacred Japan”. It was these revolutionary teachings that lead Jesus to the Cross, though that’s where the tale takes another odd twist; it was actually Jesus’s brother who was crucified at Cavalry, while Christ himself escaped to Shingō, where he married, had several children and lived until the ripe old age of 106. A small museum displays mysterious scripture which apparently proves the story’s legitimacy, though it doesn’t give too many details about the man who discovered it, Banzan Toya, the nationalist historian who created the tale in the 1930s at a time when Japan was funnelling substantial manpower and money into attempts to prove Japanese racial superiority; other historians of the day managed to discover Moses’ grave in Ishikawa-ken and uncover the fantastic tale of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and Star of David directly from the Emperor of Japan.
Not to be outdone, Toya had more discoveries up his sleeve. Just a few minutes’ walk west from Christ’s Grave lie the Ooishigami Pyramids. According to other ancient writings “discovered” by Toya, the Japanese built pyramids tens of thousands of years before the Egyptians and Mexicans. Both pyramids look a lot like little more than a bunch of huge boulders, although the top of the second pyramid is a great spot for a packed lunch. The grave and pyramids are a short, well-signposted walk west of the town centre.