Saturday, March 31, 2018

Usuzan Ropeway & Toya Caldera and Usu Volcano UNESCO Global Geopark @ Lake Toya [Hokkaido, Japan]

This shall be my last post focusing on Lake Toya and once this is completed, i can proceed with the day 4 summary before proceeding to the much awaited day 5; when we stepped into the capital of the island prefecture and the fifth largest city of Japan!

Anyway, we woke up early as the rooms in Daiwa Ryokan didn't have curtains and i am the kind that sleeps better in darkness! Hence, i dragged Alex out of his futon and we took the car for a short exploration while the rest of my travel mates continued to sleep in!

After getting bored with the quietness of Lake Toya, i decided to drive further and stopped at this car park bordering an active volcano; Mt Usu.

It was so active; eruption has occurred four times from year 1900 to 2000 and during the eruption in 1943, a new mountain known as Shōwa-shinzan was created over a two years' period.

As you can see, the 398-meter tall mountain continues to smoke!

Parking fee of 500 yen would be applicable to park your car at the carpark; not cheap as it would have been converted to about S$6 by our Singapore standard.

We were too early though and no one came by to ask us to pay; i believe you can't save the parking fee by coming early, unless your intention is not to take the rope-way, as the parking attendant would likely approach you upon your return when the booth opens for business.

Drove to the other end of the carpark so that i can take this spectacular picture of the 733-meter tall Mt Usu with the rope-way track! Although i have indicated Mt Usu in my planned itinerary, i was unsure if we should take the ropeway as we just took the one at Otaru Mt. Tenguyama the day before!

We returned at 10.00 am and paid the 500 yen. :(

As expected, the attraction upon entry was Shōwa-Shinzan which is a great photo spot as the mountain wasn't big and you can easily capture its formation in one shoot and can still see the humans standing in front of it.

Informative panel on the UNESCO geopark. 

Created during World War 2, the new mountain was initially kept a secret as it could be seen as a bad omen for the Japanese invasion. Maybe just for information - traditionally in Asian culture, natural disasters can be interpreted as a rejection of the current administration / rule / dynasty.

Further exploration for those who are interested.

With the slightly warmer weather, us Singaporeans prefer the cooler comfort and hence, we proceeded to the ropeway ticketing counter!

Admission at 1,500 yen an adult.

Useful information that would allow you to make a better judgment if you should pay for the tickets; aside from temperature and weather, you should take into consider the number of binoculars indicated for mountain view.

A model of the gondola lift system.

Information on Mt Usu, including an amazing picture of the eruption in 1977! From the picture, i also gathered that there's a change in the gondola lift even though i am unsure when the change was effected.

More informative panels, in Japanese.

Time to ascend the peak! Opened in 1965, the line stretches for about 1.3 kilometers, over two stations and the top-end of the station provides visitors with a view of Lake Toya, Shōwa-Shinzan and the crater of Mt Usu.

Each cabin can hold a staggering 106 persons and my primary legitimate concern was what if the volcano erupted when we took the ropeway and the rope snapped! A horror thought but i guess our era is blessed with advanced technology that can help predict a volcano eruption.

Views surrounding us on the ropeway; two of the pictures were taken from Alex's phone as i was taking a video facing the station on top of the mountain and i have only a pair of hands.

Pictures showing the views in different seasons! Hokkaido is extremely pretty and a Japan-fanatic friend of mine has already visited Hokkaido in almost all the seasons, except for spring.

Change in landscape due to the 1977 eruption!

Reaching the top; total ride was only about 6 minutes.

At first, i thought the ropeway would only open at 10.00 am and it's ridiculous for someone to pay almost S$20 to check out a place for less than 30 minutes! Turned out the ropeway opens from 8.00 am everyday!

Stepping out to the observatory!

Breathtaking view of Lake Toya and Shōwa-Shinzan; while the latter is less than a century old, the form is a grand lady that's over 100,000 years old.

One nugget of information about Lake Toya; despite the harsh freezing temperature during winter in Hokkaido, the lake never freezes.

Sign and information of Shōwa-Shinzan; to take better pictures, a selfie stick is strongly recommended as where we stood was almost doubled the height of Shōwa-Shinzan.

Like the above photo which was stolen from Alex's phone and published without his permission although we had a standing agreement that i can use photos of him in this blog...

The expected panorama!

Spot where the photos were taken before and after the eruption in 1977; in the past, the view came with a full view of Mt Yotei (the Mount Fuji lookalike). The eruption then actually expanded the crater to about 200 meters in the north and 20 meters to the east.

Actual summit of Mt Usu.

I am trying to think of something that resembles the rock on top and the best i can do is that it vaguely looks like standing bear; honestly, you can replace it with a dog too.

Seems like something will light up at night but the ropeway stops operations at about 6.00 pm; i am guessing this could be relation to an event. Maybe?

Insectorium that's cordoned off (aka do not enter). 

Now, i had no idea what they were for and the group of us actually treated them like swords for a fun sword-fighting moment! Turned out they were walking sticks that would assist your legs in your trek towards the observatory of Mt Usu's crater!

Let's start; it's only a 7-minute walk!

Appeared much longer in reality......

Please stay on the path!

Hm..... think the signs were applicable only in winter! Guess that's the issue with administering a country with four seasons; it would be such a waste in resources if things were to be replaced 4 times a year.

More to go and they were stairs! My elder sister would likely curse and sweat under her breath as stairs were her greatest nemesis! Hello, you must give your heart a 'lift' sometimes - educational message brought to you by National Health Promotion Board.

Please don't over-exert yourselves! Do take a seat if you are feeling breathless and stop to breathe in the fresh air and take in the natural sights. :)

From far, they looked like green chillies!

Do stop, turn back and enjoy the views! Good to take a shot of your travel mates actually or have a wefie! The stairs appeared extremely steep even though personally it wasn't too much of an exhaustive effort; I suffered more when climbing Hallasan on Jeju Island.

The viewing platform!

Sign showing that it's the view of the original crater of Mt Usu - are you excited to see a lava flowing crater that continues to emit smoke like Shōwa-Shinzan?

Eh, i was a tad disappointed as what appeared in front of me was more a mere indentation that wouldn't have generated much of an interest once trees took over the space.

Information panel about the crater.

Panorama again!

There's a mountain trail circling the outer rim of the crater which was said to bring us closer to the crater. However, the journey is about 40 minutes on foot; precious time we could ill-afford.

Topographical changes from 1972 to 1999 shown via relatable photos; it's fascinating how things have changed over just less than three decades!

Crater was just one of the views on the observatory; if i have the fanciful 360 degrees camera, i might be able to show you more of the spectacle in one photo!

Like this view overlooking the uchiura bay.

Common one for Lake Toya and Shōwa-Shinzan; i took so many photos of the aforementioned that i am already showing a very reduced number in this posting!

After enjoying the splendid scenery and making the decision that we were going to give the outer rim trail a miss, it's time to return back to the gondola station.

Flora and fauna of Mt Usu.

Gondala station - we can't wait to step in as it was quite a walk for us pampered Singaporeans and it's always nice to have a sheltered place where we can indulge in cold drinks and ice cream! 

Souvenir buying time! And if you are not keen, you may check out the interesting video that's shown at the Toya Caldera and Usu Volcano Global Geopark Mountaintop Disaster Prevention Theatre.

Or take pictures; yes, it's been seven months since my Hokkaido trip but for those who are planning for a vacation to Hokkaido in the upcoming summer, i guess what i shared/ would be sharing are still applicable. :) 

Let's go! 

Photos of the scenery ahead of me as the gondola lift brought us down to the foot of the mountain; it's much easier to take photographs than to shoot a video! 

However, i did manage a time-lapsed video! 

Want something more to make your 1,500 yen worth the cost of taking the ropeway? Educate yourself with pictures and more information on the geopark at the volcano village information centre.

Some samples for your reference. 

Other places of attraction in close proximity of Mt Usu; i regretted not being able to check out the abandoned buildings that were left in ruins after the eruption in year 2000. 

Volcano Eruption Centre?! Said to allow you to experience the power of a volcano eruption, i was excited; thinking it would be fun! 

Not sure i needed more time as it was entirely boring - there were sounds of eruption and images from a television; nothing excited me and made me go wow. Nothing.

Souvenir shop again! I love it when samples are given as it would give us the incentive (or disincentive) to buy! A pity the cheese puffs didn't taste as good as the super ring snacks we have in Singapore; giving it a miss. 

So tempted to get the melon or the corn... didn't bother as we were on our way for fruit picking at the nearby Sobetsu Fruit Village and it's best to leave more stomach space for the 'buffet'. 

Last look of Shōwa-Shinzan! 

=====

Location
184-5 Aza Showa Shinzan, 
Sobetsu-cho, Usu-gun, Hokkaido, 
Japan 052-0102

Area Map
As above.

Website

Admission (Ropeway)
Adult (13 & Above) - 1,500 yen
Child - (7-12) - 750 yen

Additional Information
There's a bear ranch literally next to the ropeway station at Mt Usu's foot. Compared to the bear park in Noboribetsu, access is much easier here since you don't have to take a separate cable. 

Pricing to enter the bear ranch. 

Treat for the bears; i am actually trying my best not to pay to patronize such businesses as i believe animals are better left for the wild even though i am in a ethical bind as well. Personally, the same should be said about snakes but given my fear for them, i would love for them to be kept away from the wild.

Anyway, i didn't pay to go into the bear ranch. Nevertheless, it's still an option in case you have put too many days to spend in Lake Toya and are in a fix on where to go. 


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