David Chart's Japan Diary

May 7th 2007

I've had a video chat with my sister today, which was nice, but took up rather more time than I'd initially anticipated, so I think I will only get one further stop on the trip done today. That will leave two more, to be done as and when I can spare time from work over the next week or so. Fortunately, work doesn't look like being too busy for a little while, so I might actually be able to get it done.

Lake Tazawa

Lake Tazawa was a day trip from Tsuru no Yu; we went on our first full day. The bus from the station to the stop near the ryokan goes via the lake, which meant that it was easy to get there in the morning and back again in the late afternoon. Once again, we had glorious weather (this was the Monday, the 30th). The sky was blue and clear, and so was the lake, and the temperature was really pleasant.

I suspect that Golden Week is not actually high season for Lake Tazawa. There were quite a few people there, but it wasn't heaving in the way that Kakunodate had been, or that some other stops would be. The lake has some nice beaches, and there was a swimming changing hut on one, but no-one using it. Obviously, the water would still be too cold in late April, but it's probably quite pleasant in August: I suspect the beaches would be heaving if you went then.

Yuriko and the lake Yuriko by Lake Tazawa.

Anyway, since we didn't want to swim, that was no problem. Lake Tazawa is beautiful. It's a caldera lake, in the crater of what used to be a volcano, and it's the deepest lake in Japan, over 400 metres deep. The second deepest lake in Japan is, apparently, a little over 150 metres deep, so it's not really a close competition. As an ancient caldera, it is surrounded by mountains, including one that is an active volcano, which last erupted about thirty years ago. It wasn't looking very active while we were there, although the activity is, of course, the reason why there are so many hot springs in the area. As a result, the view from the lake is gorgeous, and its remote location means that there is not much building around it.

The first thing we did when we got there was buy tickets for a ride on the sightseeing boat. This does a circuit around part of the lake, going near to two of the main tourist sights along the bank. One is a shrine, which has a big red torii right near the water, rather like the one at Miyajima. The other is the symbol of the lake: a golden statue of Tatsuko.

Tatsuko's statue The golden statue of Tatsuko.

Tatsuko is the central figure of the legend associated with the lake. It is said that she was a princess, born many years ago, who was beautiful beyond compare. As she grew up, she became aware that she, too, would grow old and die, and that her beauty would be lost. She prayed to the Bodhisattva Kannon, begging to be allowed to keep her beauty. Kannon replied that there was, in the northern mountains, a spring, and that if she drank from the spring, her beauty would be preserved for ever.

Tatsuko set off, and after searching for some time, she found the spring. She knelt to drink from it, but as she did so, the ground shook and split, steam billowing from the cracks, and a violent storm rapidly gathered overhead, thunder and lightning adding to the chaos. In the midst of this, Tatsuko felt her body changing, lengthening, her skin becoming drier and tougher. Soon, as things settled down, she was a dragon, hovering over a new lake. Horrified at her new appearance, she dived to the bottom of the lake, where she lives to this day.

Her beauty is preserved in the golden statue.

The moral of this story is, obviously, that you can't trust Kannon any further than you can throw him. Er, actually, I don't think that's the moral normally drawn, but still...

When we got off the boat, back at the starting point, it was about time for lunch, so we consulted the guidebook to find somewhere to eat. We chose a restaurant a short distance along the lakeshore, which meant that we had a nice walk to get there. One of the reasons I suspect that Golden Week is not high season there is that we had the walk almost entirely to ourselves. We saw maybe half a dozen other people, once we left the beaches immediately in front of the bus stop and sightseeing boat pier. Partly as a result, it was a very pleasant walk indeed.

Lunch was also nice. The food was good, but the best part was that we got a table next to the massive windows overlooking the lake, so we had the advantage of a superb view while we ate. After lunch, we walked back. There was still some time left before we had to catch the bus back, so Yuriko decided that she wanted to go out on the lake in a rowing boat.

There were several boat-hire places, and the rowing boats were cheaper than the tacky plastic pedal boats in the shape of swans and dragons. So, I let myself be talked into it. Guess who ended up actually rowing the boat? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't Yuriko. She sat in the boat, feeding the fish that were following the boat around (because the boat hire places also sell fish food), and sending text messages to her parents saying "I'm in a boat on Lake Tazawa".

I think it's about twenty five years since I rowed a boat, so I'm astonished I could remember what to do. On the other hand, I'm completely unsurprised that we displayed a strong tendency to go in circles; my right arm would appear to be rather stronger than my left. I did manage to correct it well enough to not crash into anyone, or sink, and we got back to the pier in good time to catch the bus, so I suppose it counts as a success. Yuriko really enjoyed it, so that's good. (Yes, all right, I enjoyed it too, in the end.)

And then, we got the bus back to Tsuru no Yu.