There are two main lakes in Tohoku (the northern part of the main island). Tom’s been to Tazawa-ko but I needed one with better public transport links, so I visited Towado-ko instead.
Lake Towada is the biggest caldera lake on Honshu, in the middle of a national park. The easiest way to get there is by bus; despite there being a Shichinohe-Towada stop on the Shinkansen, I have no idea how you get to Towada-ko from the station. A couple of buses a day leave from Hachinohe station but more (five) go from Aomori.
If you have a full Japan Rail Pass – but not a JR East pass – the bus is free, otherwise it costs about 3,000 yen in each direction. I tried to reserve a seat as soon as I got into Japan, being worried that the small number of services could mean they’d all be full, but the ticket office in Tokyo station had no idea what to do. Instead I waited until I got to Aomori, where the staff reserved me a place on the 7.50am bus. I needn’t have worried; it was only about a third full.
The bus takes two and a half hours to reach Yasumiya, the main development on Towada-ko, but has several stops at onsens along the way for snacks and toilet breaks. It’s a gorgeous journey through the mountains and you can still see snow packed several feet high even in June.
I got off the bus at Nenokuchi, the other, tiny, development on Towada-ko. From here I walked back up the Oirase stream a little way to look at the waterfalls – you can get off anywhere from Yakeyama stop onwards to walk along the Oirase stream, but the full length is 9km and the most interesting waterfalls are near the mouth of the lake anyway. Nenokuchi has a small shop and restaurant, but what it doesn’t have any more is a ferry linking it to Yasumiya. Unless you can time the buses perfectly, fancy the hike along the lake shoreline or really really like waterfalls I’m not sure there’s much to recommend stopping off at Nenokuchi any more.
There’s a sightseeing ferry from Yasumiya, which does a loop round one of the peninsulas and back to Yasumiya. It only runs April-November and costs 1,440 yen. There are lots of Matsushima-style islands jutting out of the lake and it’s worth getting up close to some of them. There are some more restaurants and shops in Yasumiya and a shrine, and the shoreline on a sunny day is beautiful and not at all busy, even on a Sunday; probably because it’s so remote. It’s one of my favourite parts of Tohoku and even though you’ll spend more time getting there than you will at the actual lake, it’s worth it.
This article is part of a series on visiting Japan, and is inspired by Tom Royal’s Japan on a Budget.