Japan // Northern Honshu //


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.

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