The Volcanoes of Toyako – Scaling up Mt Usu (Usuzan)
Our itinerary was very light today, we originally planned to visit only the summit of Usuzan via the Usuzan Ropeway. We subsequently included Tenboudai after we reached the summit of Usuzan. Usuzan, standing at 733m tall, is an active volcano and has erupted 4 times since 1900, with the last eruption in 2000. During the 1944 eruption, a 398m new volcano, Showa-Shinzan was formed. After breakfast, we took the 9.33 am local bus from the bus stop in front of our hotel to Usuzan. To get to Usuzan Ropeway, we took the bus to the terminal stop of Showan-Shinzan.
Winter local bus schedule, plying between Tenboudai and Showa-Shinzan
Alighting the bus at Showan-Shinzan stop, the majestic volcano is the first thing that caught my eyes. Today is a snow day. At this point, I almost forgot what we were here for. My eyes were set on the young volcano, which is still displaying its rage with the smoke emitting from various points on the volcano, as though reminding locals and visitors that it is not ready to sleep. We hurried up a flight of snow-covered steps and took pictures of the partially snow-covered red and brown volcano.
Taking wefie with Showa-Shinzan in the background
Me with Showa-Shinzan
Usuzan and the Volcano Village
My friend with Showa-Shinzan signage
After containing our excitement of seeing Showan-Shinzan, we headed across the road and straight to the Usuzan Ropeway. Usuzan Ropeway gondola can take up to 106 passengers. We were the only ones who will be travelling up to the summit of Usuzan today, as it was snowing. The ride up Usuzan takes around 6 mins. As the gondola makes its way up to Usuzan, we could see the entire Volcano Village and Showan-Shinzan. The higher the gondola goes, the more of Toyako Onsen was visible. Nearing the summit of Usuzan, we entered into a cloud of snow. At this time I knew that it is unlikely we can see Lake Toya from Usuzan.
My friend in front of Usuzan Ropeway
Riding Usuzan Ropeway up to the peak of the volcano
Me inside the gondola as we were leaving the station
Usuzan Ropeway making its way up to the summit
View of Toyako Onsen
Showa-Shinzan from Usuzan Ropeway
The entire Showa-Shinzan area is covered with snow
Our view is becoming obscured as we enter into the low clouds
We were the only visitors at the time we arrived at the summit station. It was snowing outside and was cold. We headed outside the summit station and found it rather cold. My friend and I then headed for the theatre in the summit station on Usuzan and watched a short video clip on the local efforts for living with the volcano. After the short clip, we headed outside the summit station and turned right for the Lake Toya Viewing Platform. As we had expected, the low snow clouds have obscured our view of the lake. I felt rather disappointed to have come all the way and to miss out on the view. I told my friend we might not see anything at the Mt Usu Crater Basin Viewing Platform. Since we are already here, we decided to head for the Crater Basin Viewing Platform anyways. As we were walking towards the station, we came across a slope with a basket of sleds placed at the base of the slope. Instead of feeling dampened by not able to see Lake Toya from Usuzan, my friend walked up and grabbed a sledge and slide down the slope. Although the slope is not too high, we had fun nonetheless. We had so much fun that the whole area was filled with our laughter. Sliding down the slope in the snowing weather at the top of an active Usuzan volcano was something that we did not plan for. It is an unusual experience.
We saw a snowman Pikachu went we exited Usuzan Ropeway Summit Station
A sign outside the Ropeway Station points out where to go. The Crater Viewing Platform is about 7 mins walk from the Ropeway Station
We would have seen Lake Toya here from the Lake Toya Viewing Platform if not for the low clouds
Not to be damped by not able to see Lake Toya from Usuzan, my friend grabbed a sled and slide down the slope
My friend having fun sliding down the slope on a sledge
My turn to slide down the slope
I had a go at sliding down the slope. It was great fun, especially when doing so in the snowing weather and on top of a volcano
After sliding down a few times, we headed for the Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform. The feeling of walking in the snowing weather along a cleared path with snow either sides of the path reaching thigh height with the low clouds is serene. The low clouds made our visibility of the path ahead of limited, plus it felt like we had the whole volcano to ourselves making me feel a sense of mysticism. The snow made an otherwise boring place looked beautiful, as though we are in some fairy tale land. We can’t resist building a snowman. We had fun building a snowman each, despite the size isn’t that big. We started by gathering snow to form the base and then the head. To add icing to the cake, we plucked twigs and dried berries from the nearby plant. Building a snowman in the snowing volcano was a first for us. This is my very first snowman! After taking some pictures, we continued our path towards the Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform.
My friend enjoying the snowing weather, with no one around, it felt as though we own the volcano
The low clouds and the snow gave the place a sense of mysticism. It felt as if we were tracking at the top of a high mountain
My friend building a snowman in the snowing weather
Snowman building in progress
This is the snowman built by my friend
This snowman is built by me
We continued our journey to the crater viewing platform. Crossing a wooden bridge and up a flight of step that seems to stretch forever up the slope, we finally reached our destination. As we had expected, the low clouds blocked the view of the crater. All we could see was a wooden fence, a sign stating that this is the Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform as well as a tablet explaining the crater formation and its properties. The entrance to Usu Outer Rim Boardwalk is fenced off. This path that leads to the view of the lava dome and crater basin is closed during winter for safety reasons. In the middle of the platform are a pole of some sort and a tablet that tells us where Lake Toya and Showa-Shinzan is relative to us. Despite unable to see the crater, we enjoyed the weather and the walk towards the Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform.
The path to Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform
We crossed the small wooden bridge. The view here is very serene
Taking a picture on the wooden bridge
Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform
My friend posing at the sign that marks Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform with the snowball he made along the way
Taking a wefie with Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform sign
Me with the Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform sign
This is what we would see if not for the low clouds
The Usu Outer Rim Boardwalk is closed during winter
Panoramic shot of Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform
Panoramic shot of Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform. It would be the crater if not for the low clouds
A tablet that tells visitor where is what relative to our position
My friend stacking his snowball on the metal pole
We headed back to the Usuzan Ropeway Station. Reaching the station, we noticed the sky seem to be clearing. We can now see the peak of Ousu. At this point, I suggested to my friend to head for Tenboudai, which is the other end of the bus service line, where we might be able to get a view of Lake Toya. Seeing that the next bus is coming soon, we headed down to the Volcano Village.
The peak of Ousu peeking through the clouds
View of Ousu from the Ropeway Summit Station
Peak of Ousu
My friend enjoying the snowing weather
Me with the Ropeway
Descending from Usuzan Summit Station
As we descend the surroundings became clearer
Reaching the Volcano Village, we headed for the bus stop and checked out the timing for the next bus to Tenboudai. We noticed that the bus has just left and the next bus will only come 1½ hours later. We went back to Volcano Village to settle our lunch. After lunch, we went into the shop at the Usuzan Ropeway Station to get some souvenirs while waiting for the bus to come.
Looking for lunch at Volcano Village
My friend at Volcano Village
Taking a wefie at Volcano Village
We found a shrine praying to the Volcano God in a secluded corner of Volcano Village
Model of Usuzan Ropeway System
Viewing Lake Toya at Tenboudai
We boarded the 2.15pm bus heading towards Tenboudai. We were keeping our fingers crossed, we were hoping that we can see Lake Toya from Tenbouddai. The ride from Showa-Shinzan to Tenboudai took around 45 mins, which took us down the mountains to Toyako Onsen and then up some hills again. Tenboudai is located at the west bank of Lake Toya. Finally, we are at our destination. Passing through a building, which houses a souvenir shop and a restaurant, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Lake Toya at the viewing platform. Here we could see Nakajima Island sitting peacefully in the middle of Lake Toya. The sky was overcast, but our view of Lake Toya was not obstructed. The mirror lake reflected Nakajima Island, making it look twice as big. Low clouds started to form, as if it is providing a veil over Nakajima Island in the middle of Lake Toya, giving it a mystical feeling. We were lucky that there weren’t many people when we arrived at Tenboudai, we were able to feel the serenity that this magnificent view offered. As we were happily taking pictures and enjoying the tranquillity, peace was soon brought to an end when busloads of tour group arrived. At any point, there were at least 2 busloads of tourists arriving non-stop at Tenboudai. The area turned into a market place instantly. The next bus will come in around 1 hour, my friend and I found some sitting area in the souvenir shop and observed the activities in Tenboudai while waiting for the bus to arrive. By the time we reached the hotel, the dinner service has just begun. After dinner, we went for our last onsen experience for the trip before heading back to rest early. Tomorrow we will head to our last destination for the trip – Sapporo.
Me at Tenboudai overlooking Lake Toya and Nakajima Island
Panoramic shot of Lake Toya and Nakajima Island. In a clear day, we would be able to see Usuzan, Showa-Shinzan and Mt Yoei
Taking wefie with the magnificent view of Lake Toya
Low clouds started to form on Nakajima Island when it started to snow
Me at Tenboudai that offers a great view of Lake Toya
The low clouds seem to cast a shroud of the veil on Nakajima Island
My friend on a wooden platform with Lake Toya int he background
The red building behind houses a souvenir shop and a restaurant. This building gets busy whenever the busloads of tourists arrive