Towada-Hachimantai National Park
Towada-Hachimantai National Park (十和田八幡平国立公園) is a large national park in the Tohoku region of Japan, straddling the prefectures of Akita, Aomori and Iwate. Famously scenic, the park encompasses Lake Towada (Japan's third deepest), the Oirase Valley (famous for its fall colors), the Hakkoda mountain range and the plateau of Hachimantai.
Flora and fauna
The winter in the northern mountains is harsh, and virtually all transport, accommodations etc are shut down between November and April.
Towada-Hachimantai National Park covers a very large area, and can be tackled from a number of different directions.
For access to the central areas of the park, the JR Hanawa Line (花輪線) crosses the northern side of the Hachimantai Plateau, traveling from Odate in the west to Koma in the east, with through services on the private Iwate Ginga Railway (IGRいわて銀河鉄道) to Morioka. Note that the IGR is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
For the southernmost parts of the park, the JR Tazawako Line (田沢湖線) travels along the south edge of the Hachimantai Plateau, from Morioka to Daisen.
From north of the park, JR Bus Tohoku runs the Lake Towada Sightseeing Bus on two routes: the "Mizuumi" from Aomori to Towadako, running the full route in about 3 hours; the "Oirase" from Hachinohe to Towadako, in about 2 hours. Time and fare tables are available from the JR site, linked. This bus is free for holders of the Japan Rail Pass, but not the JR East Pass. The sightseeing bus routes require reservation from a JR Travel Service Center.
This is a picturesque trip in a 45-person-capacity bus with a recorded tour commentary in Japanese and English, spanning from mountain passes through the Hakkodas on the Aomori route, alongside the Oirase Stream and falls on both routes, and ending at Towada lakeside. It is particularly stunning when leaves are turning in autumn, visible earlier on the route from Aomori passing through higher elevations.
Note that the hours of JR Travel Service Centers are typically from 10:00 to 17:30, including Aomori and Hachinohe. Thus they open later than many of the daily departures for these routes—to take one of the earlier busses, be certain to make a reservation at least the day before (from any JR Travel Service Center). There is a service center at Aomori Station (in the city), not only at Shin-Aomori.
Bicycle rentals are available at Yakeyama (焼山）and Nenokuchi (子の口）for about 600 yen / 2 hours. People who rent a bike at one place can leave it at another place for an extra fee. In Towadako, bikes can be rented from Towadako Backpackers guesthouse for ¥500 daily.
- Towadako Ferries, ☎ , fax: 0176-53-8525, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can take a boat tour from Yasumiya (休屋) around Lake Towada (45 minutes) or to Nenokuchi (50 minutes). Both cruises have a recorded guide (in Japanese) and show the beautiful rugged coast around the lake. Between 1 April and 24 November. 1400 yen.
- Lake Towada (十和田湖). Lake Towada, or Towada-ko, is Honshu's largest volcanic caldera lake and also the country's third deepest lake. The area nearby is dotted with dense forests and waterfalls, and is the top tourist draw in all Tohoku.
- Oirase River (奥入瀬川). The upper reaches, known as literally as the Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流 Oirase-keiryu) or as the Oirase Gorge, are famously scenic, featuring constant-flowing water since this is the drain of Lake Towada, and numerous waterfalls.
- Hachimantai Plateau (八幡平) is located south of Lake Towada and bridges the central areas of Akita prefecture and Iwate prefecture. It is an area of ancient volcanic activity, and the entire plateau is dotted with boiling mud pools, steam and smoke vents and hot springs.
There are countless hot springs in the park, especially on Hachimantai Plateau. The best known include Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉), Goshogake Onsen (後生掛温泉) and Toshichi Onsen (藤七温泉).
Yasumiya offers a 45-minute lake boat tour that lets you enjoy the picturesque scenery of the rugged coast formed by the two main peninsulas of Towada Lake. Or you can take the ferry between Yasumiya and Nenokuchi, which also passes by the two peninsulas and has a recorded guide.
- Lake Towada Winter Stories Festival (十和田湖冬物語). This annual February festival features fireworks every evening, light displays, snow sculptures, food stalls and hot wine. You can drink in an igloo bar where drinks are served in glasses made of ice. Many local inns and hotels offer shuttle service to and from the festival site.
Himemasu trout is served grilled and skewered at food stands near the lake. Towada barayaki, sauteed pork and onions, is another area specialty. Local ryokan inns may serve dishes made from well-known regional ingredients such as Akita komachi rice and Aomori blackcurrants.
Look for local brew Tawazako Beer.
- People can stop at the Oirase Youth Hostel for 3360 yen per night.
- Towadako Backpackers, Aomori-ken Towadashi Okuse Tohadakohanyasumiya (at the eastern entrance of Yasumiya on road 103, 5-minute walk from JR Towadako bus station), ☎ . A new backpackers hostel in a former guest house near the shore of Lake Towada. Run by a very friendly host and his grand-daughter, it has dormitory rooms, double and family rooms, and camping grounds. There is a common kitchen and showers, and free Wi-Fi. They offer bicycles for rent and may provide them to guests as a courtesy. Note that when they're open in colder months (e.g. October), an oil heater may be desired in your room—they ask an additional ¥500 nightly for this. Little no English spoken, but they are exceedingly welcoming. No web site but they are listed through several online travel agents. Payment by cash only. Dormitory bed for ¥2500, twin room for ¥5000, breakfast for ¥400, curry rice dinner for ¥600.
- Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉), ☎ . One of the most famous old onsen in the area. The exterior and interior are of wood, and the main bath, though large, will unlikely hold up to 1000 people as it is famously claimed. The water is white and is reputedly good to treat reuma. The whole onsen smells of sulfur from the water, which adds to the charm once you get used to it. The large bath is open 24 hours and is one of the few remaining mixed-sex baths (be warned!), except 8-9am and pm when it is female only. It is near a nice short walk that takes you to a termal-heated wooded bench. Serious hikers can relax in this onsen after walking the Hakoda mountain. Rooms are Japanese style, and food is served in the room, ryokan style. Alternatively you can stay for a longer period and cook your own food in the cooking facilities. 7000 yen per person for the ryokan accommodation, 10000 yen on high season.
- Tsuta Onsen (蔦温泉旅館), Tsutanoyu-1 Okuse Towada-shi, Aomori-ken 034-0301, ☎ . Hot spring inn with a gorgeous rustic wooden bath. There are claims that people have been bathing at this hot spring since 1147. Day use is OK too.
There is a JR Tohoku Bus connecting Aomori with Hachinohe, connecting numerous onsens north of Towada Lake, Towada town, the Oirase gorge, Nenokuchi and Yasumiya.
- Towada Art Center (十和田市現代美術館), 10-9, Nishi-Nibancho, Towada-shi, Aomori, ☎ . 9AM-5PM. A fun contemporary art museum in Towada City with elaborate and often interactive installations by artists from around the world, including Yoko Ono. ¥510 for permanent collection.
|Routes through Towada-Hachimantai National Park|
|Aomori ← Misawa ←||N S||→ Hachinohe → Morioka|