4 Best Sights in Akan National Park, Hokkaido

Akan International Crane Center

In the middle of winter, Akan International Crane Center is one of the key locations for viewing the stately red crowned cranes. The museum teachers visitors about the anatomy of the cranes, their courtship behaviors, and the kindness of Yamazaki-san who began feeding corn to cranes in winter and helped their population grow. The center is 60 minutes from Kushiro Station by bus.

Akan-Mashu National Park

Volcanoes rise from primeval forests and lakeside beaches bubble with hot springs in this national park, unfairly overshadowed by neighboring Daisetsu and Shiretoko. In Akan's northern forests, strange, cylindrical algae called marimo bob to the surface of the namesake lake. Elsewhere Ainu men pluck and blow eerie music from traditional instruments, while women dancers duck and weave in honor of the red-crested tancho white cranes that fly in every winter, breeding on the wetland on the park's southern border. In summer it's a hiker's heaven of trails and hot springs; in winter the lakes freeze over and ice festivals spill out onto the frozen expanses.

Akanko Onsen

A major stop on bus tours, this small town on the lakeshore has giant hotels blocking the views from the main road. Kitschy souvenir shops sell endless rows of carved Ainu-style bears, and bottles of marimo algae balls line the shelves. At the western end of the town is the one cobbled street of the Ainu village, lined by shops and restaurants and home to a small museum and a performance center.

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Lake Akan

Out on Churui Island, silence is green among Akanko's strangest inhabitants, marimo, as they nestle peacefully in display tanks. Marimo are spherical colonies of green algae that may be as small as a ping-pong ball or as large as a soccer ball (the latter taking up to 500 years to form). Rare life forms, marimo can only be found in Lake Yamanaka, near Fuji-san, and in a few lakes in North America, Siberia, and Switzerland. These strange algae act much like submarines, bobbing to the lake surface when bright sunshine increases their photosynthesis, then diving below during inclement weather when light levels drop. Nearby shops offer them in bottles.

Northeast of Lake Akan you will find Lake Kussharo the largest caldera lake in Japan. In winter, hot springs keep sections of the lake free of ice, and these steamy areas attract large numbers of whooper swans. Sunayu, on the east edge of the lake, is the best place to find the swans in winter. You can even strip off and enjoy the hot spring waters at several outdoor onsen along on the lakeshore.