by James Mallonee
Lake Towada is almost the complete opposite of Crater Lake in Oregon, while being almost exactly like it. Heavily developed, roads run into the caldera and out again, wooded, has 2 ferry boats that go back and forth during the Summer, and hotels on the lake itself that "empty" their sewage into it. Yet the lake itself is the deepest lake in Japan, with a bottom that was never reached by the subs tried it, it has a mini "cone" sticking up out of the water that reminds me a lot of the cone in Crater Lake, and it is in a "national park/scenic area".
Osore Zan is kind of similar, but only to the extent that it is also in the bottom of a caldera. The lake itself has the bluest waters that I have ever seen, even compared to the Med, which was kind of cloudy... It ranges from a pale sky blue to a deep dark indigo blue and has streaks of sulfur yellow from all the sulfur springs around the edges. There is a road that leads down and back out of the crater, going down almost a 30% grade in one place, winding through the trees until you come to a Onsen or hot springs, then continuing past a small parking lot and a turn off for the other side of the peninsula, to a Buddhist Monastery.
According to records, the monastery was put in place around 1200 AD, but even before that the Ainu, a caucasionoid race similar to Indians (but with more facial hair) had held the area sacred as being close to the spirit world. After the Ainu were forced from their homes on the main island by the Japanese in the 1600's Osore Zan became the favorite place of people trying to contact their "honored" dead. They come here to place stones in small or large karns, and to place coins, toys, statuettes, or saki to appease the "spirits". It was a small fee to get onto the grounds of the monastery, which is on a small promontory that juts into the lake. After going past the concessions, and the small gift shop, we took a quick look around the monastery itself, with the statues and gates. Apparently the place had been recently renovated, because most of the wood was still fresh. After looking around real quick we went to the monastery grounds which is what I had come for. There were fumaroles, and mud pots, and boiling water, and sulfur vents in several areas. Most of them were covered partially or completely by rock karns. Interestingly enough, the coins that had been laid down on these were almost completely worn away, I had found a bronze coin in the parking lot myself that had had the face almost eaten off. Some of the coins were little more than blue smears on the rocks.
After wandering around these areas for a while, we climbed a little hill and went down to the beach on the other side. There were few people there that day, and coming down to the peaceful white sand, both Jody and I see that there was at least some reason in placing the monastery there. The water there lapped up in what must have been a constant breeze, causing the waves to toss small quartz crystals up, which formed the sand. We sat down for quite a while before we started back for the car. I think this place has made the most favorable impression either Jody or I have of Japan...