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On my trip to Japan’s northern Tohoku region, I stayed in Morioka because in addition to great noodle dishes, it’s also a convenient place to stay for day trips to places like Tono & Hachimantai. Another great day trip from Morioka is to Lake Tazawa, which is less than 30 minutes away. The lake has gorgeous water & is surrounded by mountain vistas.
Getting to Lake Tazawa from Morioka is easy. You can take either the Akita Shinkansen or a local train to Tazawako. The shinkansen takes about half an hour & costs roughly $20 USD each way, while the local train takes about 1 hour & 10 minutes & costs about $7 USD. Since I had JR East Rail Pass days remaining, I traveled by shinkansen.
The train heads into the mountains a bit, and in mid-October, some of the leaves are starting to change color. Little streams & waterfalls can be glimpsed as the train speeds by.
Once at Tazawako, there is a local bus called the Lake Circular Line which goes around the lake, or the Nyuto line will also take you to the shore. Tickets can be pre-purchased at the tourist information office, which is nice if you don’t want to attempt to figure out how tickets work on Japan‘s unique local buses (hint: you take a paper ticket when you get on the bus, then pay based on the number on that ticket, which determines the distance & fare). At this writing, the one way ticket to the lakeside is 370 yen, and the ride takes 10-12 minutes.
Things to do at Lake Tazawa on a day trip
There are several ways to experience Lake Tazawa. You can see it by boat, by bus, by bicycle, or on foot.
Boat rides depart from the pier just near the bus stop. The boat ride lasts around 40 minutes, and takes you near a couple of the most famous sights at the lake. It costs 1200 yen.
The previously-mentioned circular bus is another option. The bus stops at a few places around the lakeside where you can take photos.
You can also rent a bike at the shop that is at the bus stop. The tourist shop also has food & local products, including Tazawako beer from nearby Warabi-Za.
The final option is to walk around the lake. The lake is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) around. It’s a perfectly walkable distance if you enjoy walking, as it’s mostly flat, but later I’ll get to why it might not be the best option. Still, since it was a gorgeous fall day, and I love walking, this was the option I chose.
The fish at Lake Tazawa
Before I started my walk around Lake Tazawa, I spent some time down at the dock at the shore. This beach is the best place for getting close to the water.
Around the dock, there are huge schools of fish. A couple who were visiting from Hokkaido told me that the fish are called “ugui.” They also told me that they are not delicious, in case that is how you judge fish.
These fish are trained to be fed. They follow people back and forth when they see them walk along the dock. On the dock, there’s a box with bags of fish food available for purchase.
I spent a good 40 minutes at the dock, watching & feeding the fish. I was there so long that the boat cruise had gone out & come back in that time. I kept some of the food in my pocket so I could feed more fish.
My walk around Lake Tazawa
I finally started my walk around Lake Tazawa around 11:45am. I headed south, opting to do the walk clockwise, since I had a plan to reward myself at the end. Along the shore, the leaves were starting to change a bit. There were so many dragonflies & butterflies dancing around them in the cool autumn air.
Not far from the dock & beach, there are campsites. You can also rent kayaks if you want to go out on the water on your own.
Lake Tazawa is the deepest lake in Japan. If the water is not also the clearest, I would be shocked. I didn’t go out onto the lake since I opted to walk instead (though in reality since I spent so much time at the shore, I could have easily done both the walk and the boat cruise).
The next landmark is called the Citizen’s Forest. Here, you can hike up into the hills. There were signs up about bears. I suddenly became very aware of the fact that I was walking alone, and I hoped that Japanese bears were more of the cuddly sort rather than being ferocious. I also hoped that they would not be attracted to the fish food in my pocket, but I was prepared to throw it, if necessary.
Most of the walk around Lake Tazawa is along a road. On an October weekday, it was fairly quiet. Given the general niceness of drivers in Japan, I never felt remotely in danger, unlike how I would have hiking along a road in many other countries. Occasionally, I would encounter a cyclist or jogger.
Along the walk, there were a few breaks in the trees, but not many. One of the largest gaps was at a field where a farmer was plowing.
At one point, I faced a bit of a problem. I’d followed a residential street expecting it to meet back with the road. It did, but what Google Maps didn’t show was that the road was along an inaccessible bridge above. This resulted in having to keep walking a bit out of the way into a silent neighborhood to continue. I didn’t want to go through the edge of any fields along the road. I did pass this pretty building as a result of the detour.
This south end of Lake Tazawa had more signs of life, then there was a path that once again led off the main road for a bit. There were signs up about the path being repaved. From here, a sign said it would be 0.8 kilometers to a harbor & a local museum.
I wish that all of the walk around Lake Tazawa had been like this brief section – a nice quiet path rather than along a road, although it was still just a bit inland from the shore so water views were still brief.
I reached the harbor & museum. At this point, I was about a third of the way through the walk. There are also a couple of cafes here, one of which was open. There are also vending machines (of course, it’s Japan) and restrooms, the first of the walk to this point. I bought a drink called an Aquarius Sparkling, which mentioned having 2000mg of something. I had no idea what it contained 2000mg of before purchasing it, but I decided that whatever it was, it couldn’t be a bad idea during a 12 mile walk.
The next portion of the walk was not particularly notable (but it was still pretty), passing a symbiotic tree habitat, which looked just like all of the other trees I had seen.
Statue of Tatsuko
I then arrived at the one of the busiest areas around Lake Tazawa. It’s roughly halfway through the walk or bike ride. I arrived there around 2:15pm, which was 2 hours & 30 minutes into my walk. At this southwest part of the lake, there is a hotel called the Rose Park Hotel, one hotel that looked abandoned, as well as a couple of cafes & shops, one of which sold craft beer. The buses that circle the lake stop here for a while so visitors can relax & see the sights.
The most popular attraction here is the Statue of Tatsuko.
This golden statue is of Tatsuko, the maiden of beauty. It’s said that she wished for undying youth and beauty & was turned into a lake-goddess.
Nearby, there is also a tiny shrine called Kansagu.
I didn’t spend too long in this area, as I wanted to circle the lake before it got completely dark, not knowing how much of the walk might be on roads. I continued my clockwise walk around the lake.
For a long time, the walk had no particular landmarks, but it was still perfectly nice. On the western side of Lake Tazawa, the road clings somewhat closer to the water, allowing for more views of the water like these.
After a while, there was another lakeside path that led off the road, closer to the water, but I didn’t realize it until it was too late because it wasn’t marked as such. More of these paths popped up along the northern shore of the lake, which made for a nicer walk.
Soon, the walk started to get more residential again. Women were out gardening in the yards of the houses along the lake. One of the older women smiled & waved at me. I returned the favor. It made for a beautiful photo, with her in her green fields, and the lake glimmering behind her, but it’s one that will remain only in my mind. The pretty scene felt like it would be an intrusion if I had taken out my camera, so it will remain a moment just between us.
As I followed more of the nice trails along the edge of Lake Tazawa, I arrived at Gozanoishi Shrine.
First, I encountered the Spiritual Fountain of Katagashira. It is here that it is said that Tatsuko drank the water and was transformed into a dragon.
Just past the fountain was the main shrine complex. There were several paths leading up into the hills. My legs would have exploded had I attempted this hike in addition to walking around the lake. There is also a tourist shop with a snack bar, ice cream, & vending machines, as well as restrooms.
The rocky shoreline here has other spots to stop at, including a torii gate & another shrine to Tatsuko.
Not far past here, I encountered the Statue of Himekannon. The sun was starting to get lower, and the sky was turning golden.
This northern shore, in addition to having more residences, also has more points of interests scattered every so often along the walk. There were a couple of poem stones.
Nearing my last section of the walk around Lake Tazawa, I passed under this Horai Pine, which is around 300 years old.
Finally, I arrived at the beginning of the beach at the eastern shore of the lake. It was perfect timing, as the sun was setting with pink & orange fire behind sporadic grey clouds just above the mountains on the other side. My walk was complete. Now it was time to relax & reflect upon my day.
Craft beer at Lake Tazawa
After nearly 5 hours walking around Lake Tazawa, I arrived at my reward around 4:40pm. I hadn’t taken many breaks, figuring I would relax at the end. The reward was a stop at ORAE, a craft brewery that is fairly close to where I had started my walk.
I walked through the parking lot, which was nearly empty, though there was a light on inside. I walked up to the door, and that’s where I found this.
The brewery was closed.
I had checked their hours online before my walk. I had checked social media to see if any schedule changes were posted. Everything had seemed fine. Until I encountered this printed sign, which I used Google Translate to read. They had closed at 4pm that day for some unknown reason. Though with the lights on & a couple of cars in the parking lot, some people were clearly still there out of sight.
I get that there are sometimes emergency reasons why a business might need to alter its hours. There’s nothing wrong with that. But please post those changes on your social media pages in addition to at your building. Otherwise, someone might show up who has expected a life-affirming cold beer after a 12 mile walk, only to end up thirsty. Had I known even just a couple of hours sooner, I would have stopped for a beer halfway through my walk at the place near the statue, or at least bought one to drink later while I watched the sunset.
To top it all off, it was going to be too late to catch the next bus back to Tazawako train station. I missed it by just 5 minutes. The next one wasn’t for 45 minutes, even though there had been 5 buses in the preceding half hour. With the town along the lake completely dead & no restaurants open that I could find, I ate a snack I’d wisely kept in my bag all day, rather than my remaining fish food.
The bus arrived on time, and it was nicely synced with a shinkansen to Morioka that departed about 15 minutes later.
Lake Tazawa day trip summary
The brewery being closed was a bad end to what was an otherwise nice day trip. Lake Tazawa is gorgeous, no matter how you experience it. That said, as much as I love walking, I can’t say that walking is the best option. Given that the road is mostly just inland from the lake, much of the journey is not spent close to the water. There aren’t a ton of viewpoints along the 12 miles. In hindsight, I would have seen exactly the same sights on a bicycle, just much faster. I could have taken a bit more time at the stops along the way. Then I still would have easily made it to the brewery on time (though I don’t know how late I would have been able to rent the bike, since the shop was completely closed when I returned).
Still, a day trip to Lake Tazawa from Morioka is a pleasant outing. The lake & surrounding mountains are beautiful scenery, and it’s a great way to experience nature in Japan.
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