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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Japan National Parks: Akan National Park

Hokkaido... a place I never visited, much to my chagrin. Wish I had.

I did eat bear meat from Hokkaido after a Japanese friend went hunting there and either killed a bear or bought the meat at a grocery store... who really knows.

There are six national parks on the island of Hokkaido - the big island north of the main island of Japan.

The six parks are:
  • Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park;
  • Shiretoko National Park;
  • Daisetsuzan National Park;
  • Akan National Park;
  • Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, and;
  • Shikotsu-Tōya National Park.
Let's take a look at Akan National Park first - which you knew, because of this post's headline. I suppose I am going alphabetically. Or maybe because it has something related to my good buddy Matthew, who was in Japan living in my hometown of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, as we both taught English on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Akan National Park (阿寒国立公園 Akan Kokuritsu Kōen was established on December 4, 1934, and is, along with Daisetsuzan National Park, the oldest national parks in Hokkaidō.

Covering 904.81 square kilometers in eastern Hokkaido, Akan is a large park consisting of a lot of volcanic features and forests and clear lakes and hot springs and something called a marimo, which is a large balled seaweed.

In Canada, I used to use small marimo in my aquariums to breed the non-community tiger barb tropical fish. It worked. I had little tiny baby fish swimming around... and then a house fire, which we won't discuss here.

Akan National Park is one park, but can be considered to have two areas: Kawayu and Akan—both of which are peppered, as mentioned, with volcanic remnants.

Kawayu—if you look at the map immediately above, is the eastern side of the park (in green). It consists of Mount Iozan, which has lots of hot springs and fumaroles (vents were volcanic smoke is emitted into the air). Lake Kussaro is a caldera lake (that the crater left from an explosive volcanic eruption that fills up with water), with Bihoro Pass, Mount Mokoto and Mount Nishibetsu surrounding it.

Mount Iozan ie Sulfur Mountain has lots of fumaroles emitting volcanic steam.
The area also holds Lake Mashu (Mashu-ko)—another caldera lake—which is supposed to be one of the clearest lakes in the world—if you stuck your head in water and opened your eyes, you could easily see for a distance of 40 meters (131.23 feet). The lake is deep - 212 meters (695.5 feet), and does not have any rivers running in or out of it. 

My friend Matthew in Japan, was known as Mashu because of the katakana manner the Japanese would say his name. I'm, Andoryu. Catherine was Gasoline...

Anyhow... the image at the very top of this blog is Lake Mashu in Akan National Park.

The Akan area holds the Akan Caldera that is 20 kilometers wide... so think about how heavy that volcanic explosion was to cause that. Within the caldera is Mount Meakan, the highest mountain in the Akan National Park.

Mount Meakan is on one side of Lake Akan, and is the female counterpart to Mount Oakan on the other side of the lake. Lake Akan has, in some places, bokke (boiling mud).

On one of the four islands within Lake Akan, is Churui, which is home to the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center, which is interesting... but if you are traveling all the way to this place, why spend it indoors looking at science, when you could be outdoors looking at nature.

What's kindda neat, is Onneto Yu-no-taki - a hot water waterfall.

Onneto Yu-no-taki - it ain't all that spectacular... but it is pretty hot.
You walk about 1.6 kilometers through a forest to reach the falls. At the waterfalls' base is a small human-constructed bath, that you have to climb up some 20 meters to reach. At the top of the waterfall is a small pond, but it's for viewing only.

You can see the bathing pool from the top view of waterfall.
Also in the Akan part of the park, are Lake Penketo and Lake Panketo, Lake Jiro and Lake Taro, Mount Kikin, Tsumi Pass, as well as the Mount Hakuto Observatory and the Akan Lakeside Observatory.

What's a forest with flora and fauna?

There are brown bears, black woodpeckers, chipmunks, and a type of land-locked salmon called kokanees, the latter in Lake Akan. At Lake Kussharoko, because the hot springs do not allow the freezing of the water, Whooper swans (apparently a real bird) spend the winter.

During the 1930s, a volcanic eruption within the lake nearly killed all the fish in Lake Kussharoko, but nowadays, there is a bit of a comeback. 

Marimo algae balls growing in Lake Akan.
Marimo (毬藻, Cladophora aegagropila) is a ball of algae. I have, as mentioned, kept it in my aquarium to help spawn by tiger barb fish. It doesn't do anything except perhaps make the fish feel more comfortable...

The marimo are between 3-10 centimeters wide... and unlike other algae, this stuff does NOT muck up one's water in an aquarium. It does not grow all over the glass sides, either. The marimo is protected in parts of Japan. It gets its round shape by the movement of waves in shallow lakes.

Andrew Joseph

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