Toyako, Japan: Sailing across the North’s True Blue at Lake Toya

A 110,000-year-old lake over 10 kilometers in diameter, Lake Toya is considered one of the tops in many categories. Japan’s third largest caldera lake, also born from one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the country. Japan’s second most transparent lake. One of Hokkaido‘s greatest landscapes. And although located in Japan’s coldest region, Lake Toya is one of the only two lakes in Hokkaido that never freeze, the northernmost lake that remains veritably blue through countless winters.

Part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park and Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark, Lake Toya area offers diverse and ever-changing views since in the area stands the active stratovolcano called Mount Usu. Right in the middle of the lake is a group of four uninhabited islands collectively called Nakajima, which were also born from volcanic activity around 50,000 years ago. Apart from taking a pleasure cruise and strolling around the lake, there are multiple walking trails and lookouts. From taking easy nature walks to hiking the trails around the volcano, you can choose your own adventure.

For a Pokemon fan like me, Lake Toya is also a very meaningful location. Lake Toya is the real-life version of Lake Verity (Lake Shinji in Japanese) in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum while the island at the heart of Lake Verity is inspired by Nakajima Islands. Obviously, no Lake Guardian Legendary Pokemon resides on Nakajima, but we can play pretend.

Though Lake Toya straddles two towns called Toyako Town and Sobetsu Town, Toyako Town is where the action is, including onsen with lake views and fireworks every night from April to October. I visited the Toyako Town’s side of the lake and had a wonderful time strolling by the lake and walking through the forest on Nakajima Islands.

The bus from the train station dropped me off at Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal by the lake. I was immediately greeted by various calming shades of blue.

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Blue and pretty elusive, Mount Yotei is nicknamed Ezo Fuji (or Mount Fuji of Hokkaido since Ezo is Hokkaido’s old name). I don’t really care about this kind of comparison, but I have to agree with these similarities between the two mountains. I felt lucky I went to Lake Toya on a clear day and could see a rare sight of Mount Yotei from the lake shore.

The first thing to do on my plan was to board the Toyako Kisen Ferry to Nakajima Islands, or Oshima Island, to be precise. Oshima is the biggest among the four islands and it is the only island visitors are allowed to walk on. The cruise takes 30 minutes before making a brief stop at Oshima.

If you don’t want to get off at the island and just want to sail around Lake Toya, the trip takes 50 minutes. However, I especially recommend Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum fans to get off at Oshima, so you can somewhat experience being the player character, surfing across Lake Verity to the island where Mesprit the Lake Guardian slumbers (though you will see a lush forest instead of an eerie cave).

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Espoir is the name of the ferry and its shape is cool, making it look like a floating castle on Lake Toya.

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The inside is comfortable and quite elegant too. I visited Lake Toya on a weekday, so there weren’t many passengers.

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But I wanted to get a better view of Lake Toya, so I went upstairs to the deck.

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There Nakajima Islands are. The three other islands are called Kannonjima, Bentenjima, and Manjujima. Though the ferry doesn’t stop there, we can get a closer look at them as the ferry is approaching Oshima.

Turned out I was the only passenger to get off at Oshima. After walking around Nakajima Pier area a bit, I headed for Lake Toya Forest Museum. It isn’t a big museum and I didn’t have a lot of time before the next ferry came anyway, so I only made the mandatory registration there before entering the forest trail of Nakajima.

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The Nakajima trail is an easy trail, only slightly hilly since the islands were formed by lava domes, and the forest isn’t the scary, dark and dense type. You can complete the whole trail in just two or three hours. For those who don’t have much time (me too), there is also a shorter trail that can be leisurely done in under one hour. You can get a detailed English map of the trail on the official website of Toyako Kisen.

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I used the map too, but the Nakajima trail is pretty easy to navigate overall. The weather was nice with plenty of sunlight, but it wasn’t too hot. I spotted some wildflowers and towering trees that I have never seen in the more southerly parts of Japan. I especially like Sakhalin fir, the clearly Hokkaido-Russian trees that made me feel that I was really in Japan’s northernmost region.

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According to the map and other websites, there are Ezo shika or deer native to Hokkaido living on Oshima. But… I wasn’t lucky enough to spot any Ezo deer. Elusive like the roaming Mesprit, Azelf, and Uxie after their awakening, I see.

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I was disappointed I didn’t get to meet Ezo deer, but the Nakajima trail was still a fun and relaxing experience.

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I boarded the Espoir ferry once again to go back to the shore of Lake Toya.

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I had somewhere else to be in the afternoon and public transportation to go to other places of interest in Lake Toya area isn’t so frequent. Therefore, I regretfully had to drop Usuzan Ropeway and the trails around Mount Usu, as well as Mount Showa Shinzan, which literally translates to new mountain since it was born from Mount Usu eruption and earthquake in the 1940s and is one of Japan’s youngest mountains and volcanoes.

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If you can spend the whole day in Toyako Town, don’t miss hiking the Nishiyama Crater Walking Trail and the Kompirayama Walking Trail on Mount Usu. The trail offers not only beautiful craters and lake views, but also shows sobering ruins and damages from the most recent eruption in 2000. Thanks to their knowledge and technology, Toyako locals have been able to observe and detect the eruption and evacuate in time, but they still live very precarious lives since Mount Usu erupts every 20-50 years.

Since I didn’t have enough time for the hike, I spent the rest of my half-day Toyako trip walking the lakeside promenade. This promenade offers not only the view of the lake. It features foot baths and doubles as a sculpture park with over 50 sculptures that harmonize with the surroundings.

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Like this lovely frame for Mount Yotei and Lake Toya.

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Hello again, Nakajima Islands.

After strolling for a while, I had to catch a bus back to the train station. I still had about 15 minutes to spare though, so I popped in Toyako Visitor Center near the bus stop.

Adjacent to Toyako Visitor Center is Volcano Science Museum, but it requires admission fee and I didn’t have enough time anyway, so I just looked at the exhibition about nature in Lake Toya and Mount Usu area.

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Since Toyako Town hosted one of the biggest international political forums, the 34th G8 Summit in July 2008, the visitor center houses the small Hokkaido Toyako Summit Memorial Museum too. The 34th G8 Summit was held at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort & Spa, but you can see souvenirs and equipment used during the historic event at this museum.

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I couldn’t fully explore Toyako Town due to missing out on Mount Usu trails and not being able to stay for Lake Toya Long-running Fireworks Display, but having to choose because of limited time and infrequent public transportation is also a natural part of traveling. I am glad I finally got to visit another place on my Pokemon pilgrimage bucketlist though, sailing on the deep blue surface of Lake Toya (Lake Verity) and walking the verdant trail on Nakajima (Mesprit’s cave).

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I still had a nice trip.

Guide

Lake Toya (Toyako Onsen)
When to visit: You can visit year-round and even in winter, you can still take the Toyako Kisen ferry ride since the lake doesn’t ice.

How to get there: Traveling from either JR Sapporo Station or JR Hakodate Station is convenient. From either city, it takes about two hours to JR Toya Station by Limited Express Hokuto train.

Then you can take the Donan Bus from JR Toya Station to Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal. Check the bus schedule here.

For those wanting to take the Toyako Kisen pleasure boat, get your discount coupon and seasonal information on their official website.

Nakajima Islands (Oshima)
When to visit: You can disembark at the island and walk the trail only from April to October. 
How to get there: Take the Toyako Kisen ferry to Nakajima Pier (The official website calls the pier Nakanoshima Pier and the islands Nakanoshima, but they are the same as Nakajima.)
Entrance fee: No entrance fee to Oshima and the nature trail, but please refer to the Toyako Kisen official website for ferry fare.

Toyako Visitor Center
When to visit: 9am-5pm, daily
How to get there: Located by Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal 
Entrance fee: Toyako Visitor Center is free to enter, but entry to Volcano Science Museum costs 600 yen.

Feel free to check out my other Pokemon location hunting trips as well as my other fangirl’s pilgrimages.

This post is also part of the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge (week #150: Let’s Get Wild).

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3 thoughts on “Toyako, Japan: Sailing across the North’s True Blue at Lake Toya

  1. My husband is a Pokemon fan too. I’ve never been to this part of Japan, maybe for my second trip (his first trip) we can go to Hokkaido. Maybe he’ll know the reference.

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    • Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and also linking back! I really appreciate it.

      I’m also happy to hear about another Pokemon fan. I’ve been gradually doing my Pokemon pilgrimage trips over the years, but haven’t got to write much about my trips yet. However, you and your husband can check https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_world_in_relation_to_the_real_world for more places that have inspired Pokemon game locations.

      But to give an overview, the regions in Japan that have inspired the games so far are Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Kyushu, Okinawa, and Hokkaido. A bit of Shikoku too. Hope you have fun exploring these locations. Even without knowledge about Pokemon, many of these locations are already impressive (you may have already been to some locations in your first trip).

      Hokkaido is my second most favorite region in Japan and it’s very rich in nature. Hope you and your husband can travel to Hokkaido when the pandemic and its impacts have calmed down.

      Like

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