Japan Trip 2 – Day 14

I had a great night’s sleep on my futon, and a quick peek out off the balcony showed the sun had arrived back.

I had a quick shower before heading down to the 2nd floor restaurant for breakfast. Again, it was a multi-course feast in my own little private tatami mat dining room.

And that was before the grilled fish, egg omelette and miso soup arrived! Jeez, I just couldn’t eat it all. I felt really rude, because it’s probably impolite not to eat everything, but about five mouthfuls in and I was stuffed. It was too much for someone that doesn’t usually bother with breakfast! It was delicious though.

I wanted to check out the hotel’s public bath, but annoyingly got back to my room and found out it closed at 10am, so I very quickly decided to make use of my private bath again. Here’s a better pic of it during the day:

I checked out, left my bags, and headed out to explore Lake Akan. I wasn’t really sure what there was to do as the information in my guide book and online was pretty scant, but I made my way down to the lakeshore and saw a ferry boat about to leave for a tour of the lake. ‘Why not’, I thought, and bought a ticket and jumped on board.

I think I picked the perfect time to visit the area really – it was bright and sunny, not too cold, but the view from the ferry was pretty spectacular – mountains topped with snow, and trees every colour of green, yellow, orange and red that you can imagine. It was pretty stunning really.

We sailed around the lake for a while, before docking for 15 minutes at Chuurishima island. A big local feature of the lake (so much so that they sell them in local shops in jars, and decorate lampposts with models of them) is marimo. They’re a weird type of spherical moss that is only found around this lake, due to a unique combination of ecological circumstances or something. I thought it would be quite cool to see something you can only find in one place, so we all trouped into a tiny visitor centre. I was actually quite excited to touch the moss and see what it was like.

Except you couldn’t. All the visitor centre had was tiny tanks filled with floating moss balls. So you could look, but not touch.

It was a bit of anti-climax! After taking a couple of photos for tourists and having them repeat the favour, we headed back on to the boat for the reverse trip.

At the dock for the station, I’d picked up a map of the village, which showed several different treks to reach bokke. I wasn’t quite sure what bokke was, but I had loads of time, so headed off to find out. As I got further into the forest, the stink was pretty horrific. And then I discovered I’d found the bokke – it was a bubbling hot pool of mud, so I presume what I was smelling was sulphur (for some reason I connect sulphur with hot mud, no idea if that’s right).

So that was that. I headed back into town and walked the length of the village. There were loads of shops selling local woodcraft, but the stuff was all pretty tacky. For some reason, the shops were filled with wooden owls – hundreds of different sizes and shapes. Maybe they’re popular with Japanese tourists.

I then stumbled upon the Ainu Kotan Village. It was like a weird street separate from the rest of the village, with loads of wooden owl-selling shops lining both sides, and a big model of an owl at the top. I really wasn’t getting the whole owl thing. Apparently there was a Ainu dance theatre as well, but I didn’t check that out.

By now it was only about 1pm, and I had another three hours to kill before I had to be back at the hotel to pick up my luggage. I was a bit bored. I found a little bakery, and decided to have a small snack for lunch. The only slightly savoury thing I could see was a sausage on a piece of flatbread, so I had that. My second hot dog type thing in only two days 🙁

Still with loads of time to kill, I decided to visit absolutely everything I could in the village. First of all I dipped my toes in the free foot hot spring bath by the lake.

Then I visited the Lake Akan Ecomuseum Centre, but the displays were all in Japanese, so I couldn’t really understand them. Then I walked up some very steep stairs to a shrine, but it was just a hut really.

My feet were aching by now, so I headed back to the hotel, and waited the twenty minutes or so before I had to leave to catch my bus. I’d have asked to use the hotel’s public bath (I still wanted to see it) but I felt that was a bit cheeky considering I’d checked out. The hotel offered me a lift to the bus station, but seeing as it was literally a two minute walk, I politely declined.

I bought my bus ticket (after mistakenly approaching the janitor to buy it), and kept falling asleep on my way back to Kushiro Airport. I’d had a relaxing time in Lake Akan, but I think unless you’re hiking or something, a day is probably more than enough time to spend there. It seemed a bit like a place that had been given loads of government money to spend on tourism, but actually there wasn’t that much of a reason to visit. The ryokan had been lovely though!

This was the only non Oneworld flight on my trip – this time I was taking an ANA flight to Sapporo. I would say in my limited experience, JAL beat ANA hands down. They both offer you pillows and blankets (even on a 35 minute flight), but while JAL offer you a choice of drinks, ANA weirdly handed out cups of boiling hot beef consommé. Which was a bit weird. But cheap probably.

As always, the flight departed and landed on time, and luggage arrived just as we got to the belt. I had a quick scoot around the airport and then caught a train into Sapporo Station. A fifteen minute walk later, I reached my hotel. And although the room was small, it was perfect, and the hotel was really central.

After wandering around trying to find someplace to eat, I eventually decided I was too tired, and headed for a Lawson convenience store and that old favourite, the tonkatsu sandwich. I had big plans for breakfast the next morning – sushi at a fish market, so set my alarm for 7.30 and was soon asleep.

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