Hokkaido and Akan National Park

Hokkaidō has earned the honor of presenting Japan with two National Parks: Akan and Daisetsuzan. Time was not so very long ago when the word Hokkaidō (some called it Ezo) bore a far-away, foreign ring. Popular notion pictured it as a region congenial to the hearts of the Ainu and their quadruped friends, the bears, and to exiles sent there--a barren unprofitable sort of region clothed with snow and discomfort all the year, just as Siberia was in the eyes of European Russia of the 18th century.

It is another proof of the all-conquering boon of communication miracles that the entire aspect of this once neglected island is being fast transformed. Some flourishing modern cities, as good as any in the mainland, have grown in Hokkaidō, i.e. Hakodate, Sapporo, Asahigawa, etc. The selection of the two National Park sites in this island marks an epoch in its history.

In recent years mountain-climbing has become one of the commonest pastimes of youth and flapper as well as of the middle aged. In olden days it was the exclusive pastime of priests and pious folk, performed as an act of devotion or self-purification, and no women would ascend or were even allowed to. Nowadays it is done for profane or utilitarian purposes, many climbing simply for health, scenery, or for fun and sport, or merely for the sake of climbing, perhaps, for the sense of adventure and conquest attached to it. The tendency of modern climbers, therefore, is to seek new mountains or those off the beaten paths of holiday-makers.

To such enthusiasts, Hakone and Fuji have lost their lure; they must try newer and more difficult ones, away from the common pleasure resorts. And as to scenery, their ideal has also changed. It is something new, primitive, as fashioned by old nature herself that they seek. To such people the two parks of Hokkaidō under review are just the places, and indeed both are drawing an ever-increasing coterie of devotees. Anomalous as it may seem, it is the absence of modern appointments such as those possessed by other mountain resorts, which is making Akan and Daisetsu the latest fashion, as it were, especially for the sensation-seekers in mountainclimbing.

Akan's claims to national distinction are twofold, its mountains and its lakes. Of the two, however, the lakes come in for the larger share of praise. Akan, it may be remembered, is properly the name of a small lake and its near-by mountain ranges, apart from other lakes and mountains in the neighborhood, known by other names, but it has been chosen to cover a whole district of 18,644 acres. Thus Akan Park is much bigger than the word may suggest. This district is divided into the three basins of Kussharo, Mashū and Akan, all noted for their threefold wonders of lofty mountains, primeval woods, and crater lakes.

In Kussharo there are two crater lakes, known as Kussharo and Mashū. The distance of 10 miles yawns between the two with the smoking volcano, Atosanupuri (1,485 feet above sea), towering in between. The lake Kussharo (400 feet above sea and 35 miles in circumference) is the largest in the Akan Park, second only to the largest lake in Hokkaidō. It has an islet in the center, the effect of which, when seen from above, makes a beautiful picture, though somewhat of a weird, haunting aspect. The other lake is Mashū (1,160 feet from sea level and 121/2 miles in circumference) of which the walls in many parts are so craggy and precipitous that it seems impossible to get to the water's edge. These mountain lakes, coupled with densely-packed virgin forests, make one feel as if transported from the region of contemporary history to that of the mythological age. These features alone justify the selection of Akan as a National Park.

Akan district, half of Akan Park, is of course the more beautiful. Its mountains are male ("O") Akan and female ("Me") Akan, and its lake is Akan Lake. The latter is a perfect gem, roughly triangular in shape studded with five picturesque islets. It has rocky shores and steep walls, but it is a paradise for anglers, as it is so well stocked with fish, especially " hime-masu" (lady-salmon) or salmon-trout, that one could almost pluck them from the waters with the hands.

The most famous product of this lake, however, is "marimo" (ball-moss) which is a perfectly lovely ball from 0.5 to 10 inches in diameter, green, velvety water-moss rounded into a perfect sphere. How it is made is a wonder and mystery doubtless known only to scientists, but it is a sheer miracle of shape and color. Indeed, its like is found nowhere else except in some lakes of Saghalien and Kurile and northern Europe, and it is protected by the Natural Monu- ment Protection Law. Hence the tantalizing spectacle of numerous sapphire-green balls floating and swimming, as it were, in the lake, clear to the view, and which none but the hands of the authorities are permitted to take. Near the southern shores of the lake are a number of hot springs of which every visitor is advised to take advantage.

On the eastern side of the lake stands O-Akan (4,524 feet above sea) with the two marsh-like lakes of Panke and Penke on the far side. It is an extinct volcano, and is thick-set in contour, characterized with bold straight lines. The lady Akan (4,960 feet), on the other hand, is taller and more graceful in shape, having many charming curves, though she is a fierce active volcano, cherishing fire within and always emitting smoke. On a clear day the two Akans are beautifully reflected in the waters of the lake -- a sight well worth seeing. It is said that Lake Akan was the result of an eruption occurring to O-Akan long ago, which in consequence has been disfigured, and become silent, permitting Me-Akan alone to belch fire and smoke. Me-Akan has four peaks of which " Akan Fuji" is the highest. Bears are believed to frequent the summit of the mountain, but they are not at all fond of human flesh, and therefore seldom attack men unless driven by sheer hunger or self-defence. This park promises to become a great favorite with lovers of mountain-climbing, O-Akan being not so enthusiastically spoken of.

The average temperature during summer is about 60 degrees F., which makes of it an ideal summer resort. In winter, though severely cold, it affords good skating and skiing, and interesting angling through the ice.

Another attraction of Akan district, if it may be called as such, is its nearness to the straggling villages on the shores inhabited by the Ainu. The once savage but now gentle race of men who formed the pre-Japanese inhabitants of Japan, and whose race are slowly disappearing from the earth, to the great regret of the whole world, live in this part of Hokkaidō enjoying their peaceful, happy-go-lucky existence.

A word in conclusion to the haters of history, if there be such at this time. Akan ought to be their ideal resort, for history here is conspicuous by its absence, unless it be its associations with primitive epochs in which only the deities, good and bad, thrived. On the other hand Akan makes a happy hunting-ground for botanists and geologists, as it abounds in plants and flowers peculiar to Hokkaidō, and in curious geological formations.

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