Our next adventure took us to Lake Mashu. After a brief yet delicious breakfast at Kushiro Super Hotel, we headed straight to JR Kushiro station to board the Shiretoko-Mashu rapid train bound for Abashiri. Powdery white snow covered forests and rivers. At one point we even managed to spot a crane and a herd of deer.
Once we arrived at JR Mashu station, we were astounded by the rapid change in the weather. Huge gusts of wind sent the powdery snow on the ground flying in the air. With our luggage in tow, we braved the snow and made our way towards the Lake Mashu bus.
JR Mashu station
When we finally arrived at the Lake Mashu First Observatory, we had to brave though even more snow and ice.
Male student: “The wind was really strong, blowing snow into the air making it hard to see much.”
Female student: “It’s difficult to get from the bus stop to the observatory as we dragged our luggage through the snowy and icy terrain.”
Bus at Lake Mashu First Observatory
At Lake Mashu First Observatory
At the observatory, there was a store selling food.
Store at Lake Mashu First Observatory
Male student: “I got the deep fried potato ball, potato mochi, and warm milk. Once again, the potato mochi was awesome, crisp outside, soft chewy inside. But unlike the ones I had back at Daisougen-no Chiisana-ie, these ones had a sweet soya sauce drizzle, for an extra sweet umami filled kick.”
Store at Lake Mashu First Observatory
Deep fried potato ball, potato mochi and warm milk (Male student)
Thankfully, as we were about to leave, the weather cleared up enough such that I was able to glimpse a small portion of the lake.
After our quick trip to Lake Mashu, we had lunch at Poppotei which is located near the JR Mashu station. The eatery had a quaint café vibe to it and its interior featured clean white walls and mix of wooden and concrete floors. We ordered a mashu pork bowl, a glass of melon soda ice cream float, a cup of French blend coffee and a persimmon and cream cheese tart.
Male student: “I have to say, the tart was spectacular. Juicy, fresh, crunchy persimmons, lemon cream cheese, sweet raisins, crunchy crust, and a serving of smooth milky cream on the side. Let me tell you this, the tang of the lemon was like little bursts of citrus to balance the sweetness from everything else. And the cream was like having a cloud pillow in your mouth, it feels heavy and decadent at the start, but disappears pleasantly the next second.”
View looking out from Poppotei (Male student)
Coffee at Poppotei (Male student)
Persimmon and cream cheese tart (Male student)
Female student: “Lunch at poppotei was good. I was excited to try out the mashu pork bowl since it seems to be a dish that is specific to eastern Hokkaido. It was an interesting flavour as the pork slices were coated in a sweet yet savoury sauce of some kind, they were so tender and juicy. That the dish resembled nothing I have eaten before. Also, I was delighted to try the shop’s melon float and it invoked a sense of nostalgia.”
Interior of Poppotei (Female student)
Mashu pork bowl at Poppotei (Female student)
Melon Soda at Poppotei (Female student)
After lunch, we noticed that there was a foot hot spring bath located near the train station. Unfortunately, we were not able to try it due to strong gusts of winds.
Foot hot spring bath
We then headed off to our accommodation of the night – “Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings”, passing by beautiful mountains on our way there. Once we reached the hotel, we were greeted by wood carved statues.
Various beautiful mountain landscapes (Male student)
Male student: “All of the statues had such an amazing level of detail that made them all seem so realistic. To be honest, the ones that are of humans had so much detail to them that it makes it quite chilling when you look at them. This really gave me a sense of appreciation for the level of skill the craftsman had in crafting these statues. ”
Various wood carved statues at Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings (Male student)
We decided to tour around the area for a little bit since we arrived quite some time before our check-in timing. While walking around the city, we noticed that there were plenty of wooden carvings all over the city, particularly so at the “Akanko Ainu Kotan” which is sort of like an “Ainu Village”.
Akanko Ainu Kotan (Male student)
Female student: “Browsing the shops along Akanko Ainu Kotan where various Ainu wares and goods were sold was another highlight for me during the trip. I was intrigued by the extensive production of owl-related crafts as well as the appearance of a shop that sold Ghibli and Sanrio items. Additionally, the walk was made more memorable by the presence of cats that reside around Akanko Ainu Kotan.”
Ghibli Shop at Akanko Ainu Kotan (Female student)
Interior of Ghibli Shop (Female student)
Various cats around Akanko Ainu Kotan (Female student)
After we settled down, we quickly headed to the baths as we were ecstatic to try out the open-air baths and get a view of Lake Akan. Guests at “Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings” can also visit the hot springs at “Yuku no Sato Tsuruga” since they are part of the same company.
Male student: “It’s really an experience that I strongly encourage everyone to try out. The mix of heat from the onsen’s water and the chill from the air. As you soak in the onsen, with snow just a small distance away, with the calm expanse of the lake in front of you, and the gorgeous mountain at the back. A one of a kind experience that you really can’t get anywhere else in the world.”
Female student: “I managed to make it in time for the sunset view. Despite the freezing temperatures, I rushed up the staircase to get to the rooftop open-air bath. Once I made it to the top and plunged myself into the hot waters, I was finally able to appreciate the sight that laid before me. The sky was painted pink and lilac on one side where Mt. Oakan-dake stood and a bright orange yellow colour on the other side where the sun was setting. I was blown away by the view and watched as the colours in the sky transitioned from a pink-lilac colour to a deep blue one. Once it was night time, I made my way down to the lower floor and tried out the various hot springs and other facilities they had. The types of indoor hot springs and facilities include a misting room, sauna room, cool room, high temperature bath, low temperature bath, reclining bath, waterfall bath, and cold-water bath.”
Aside from hot springs on the 8th floor and 1st floor in the “Yuku no Sato Tsuruga” building, there are hot spring baths available at “Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings: on the 2nd and 3rd floor.
For dinner, we went back to where we had first spotted the cats, “Flavour of the North Banya”. This restaurant, at the time we entered, had only an old sweet looking lady working. We had ordered shishamo, venison skewers, and venison sashimi.
Male student: “The entire place feels like a person’s house, warm and welcoming, full of trinkets. The venison sashimi was smooth and don’t really taste much of anything. The sauce that came with it, however, was what made the dish shine. It’s a type of ginger soya sauce that compliments the meat really well, cutting through any gamey flavours the meat would have (But to be honest, it did not have any in the first place).”
“Flavour of the North Banya” restaurant (Male student)
Shishamo (Male student)
Venison skewers (Male student)
Venison sashimi (Male student)
Leaving the store, we bumped into some adorable cats! Right at the restaurant’s door step!
Male student: “I was very shocked because it’s freezing outside, how are they okay with the weather?”
Bump into cats at the restaurant’s doorstep (Male student)
Once we were done, we headed back to the hotel to have our buffet dinner. The hotel offered three different types of cuisine – Italian, Chinese and Japanese.
Male student: “We were spoilt for choice at the buffet, we had a little bit of everything to choose from. Sushi, sashimi, ochazuke, Chinese cuisine and a cheese selection! And yes, we are overeating, but can you blame us? The food here is just too good!
Buffet area at the hotel
My meal at the buffet (Male student)
After dinner, we played a game of air-hockey at the arcade right outside the buffet dining hall. We marked the end of our day with yet another soak in the bath, but this time in the Tsuruga Wings hot spring.
Air-hockey game (Female student)
Female student: “Unlike our earlier soaking session at “Yuku no Sato Tsuruga”, there were only three indoor baths available at “Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings”. The baths were of varying temperatures and set at either 37 to 38 degrees or 41 to 42 degrees. Also there seemed to be an Ainu story about a bear and an archer that was printed on the walls of the hot spring area, giving it a different feel from Yuku no Sato’s classy, hot spring bathing area feeling.”
And with that, we ended our day.
Female student: “The best part of the day had to be the onsen, specifically the outdoor onsen where one can see Lake Akan and Mt. Oakan-dake from the onsen. The panoramic view is definitely a sight worth seeing and enduring the freezing temperatures. Additionally, I loved how there is a wide variety of onsen to choose and thoroughly enjoyed the temperature contrast during my outdoor soak.”