Canoeing on Lake Toya

A small adventure in a big lake

By Clifford Bernstein   Aug 17, 2012 - 3 min read

Summer in Hokkaido is delicious, both metaphorically and literally. Escaping from the urban heat in mid-August, my 7 year old son and 10 year old daughter joined me for a multi-day exploration with one goal to achieve – maximize adventure potential. Top on our list, canoeing in the gorgeous waters of Lake Toya. I contacted a couple of outfitters who advertise canoeing, but none appeared willing to rent us a canoe without also hiring a guide, something we were not willing to do. Fortunately, we were staying in Hanazono, Niseko at Freedom Inn and found out that Black Diamond Lodge, just down the road near Niseko Village, has a couple of canoes to rent and the whole kit (paddles, life vests and the boat) cost only ¥3,000 / day.

We loaded the canoe on top of our car (Black Diamond also rents cars through its affiliate, Niseko Auto) and set off under the shadow of Mt. Fuji’s half-sized twin, Mt. Yotei, and along rippling fields of sunflowers, corn and lettuce for the one hour drive to Lake Toya, a spectacular deepwater lake set in the caldera left by an enormous volcano that blew its top about 100,000 years ago. As we descended off National Route 230 towards the lake, the sharp, forested peaks of Naka-no-shima (the “Internal Island”) rose into view before the bright, blue water followed. We originally intended to paddle out to the island and picnic on its forested shores, but Clay Kherigan, Black Diamond’s owner, warned me that it takes a strong adult about 90 minutes to paddle to the island in a kayak. One adult with two schoolchildren in a canoe will take much longer, and strong winds can make it impossible to paddle back. We elected to stick to the shore and explore the many inlets and coves instead.

There are a number of parking areas along the shore just by the Lake Toya Hot Spring District. After a quick provision stop at a SeicoMart convenience store at the entrance to the District, we turned right and drove about 200 meters to find a good launching spot. The shore was filled with tents and families swimming and barbecuing away their Obon summer holiday, and we squeezed the canoe between a couple of tents and set up for launch. My son could not resist a few gleeful splashes in the cool but extremely refreshing lake water and dragged me in, not unwillingly behind.

We set off southbound along the shoreline and paddle for about an hour before turning into a tiny bay from which 3 loons emerged and we could see clear to the bottom with schools of minnows swimming around. My kids launched their fishing lines into the water in the hopes of catching something bigger, but the mid-afternoon is not the best time to hook fish, so it became pure quality time of laughter and banter instead.

We turned back to our launching point and understood Clay’s warning about the wind, which had picked up considerably.  Every time we paused to take a picture or untangle casting lines, the wind blew us decisively out towards the center of the lake. Fortunately, my daughter figured out her paddling technique and together, we drove the canoe home. Back in Niseko, farm fresh ice cream and a soothing hot spring awaited.

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Clifford Bernstein

Clifford Bernstein @Clifford Bernstein

Cliff has lived, studied and worked in Japan for over 20 years, almost matching the amount of time spent in his home of New York. His time in Japan has spanned from student to salaryman, lawyer, investor and inn-keeper. Always an avid traveler, Cliff has experienced and continues to experience a full range of destinations in Japan, from camping on mountain outcroppings to indulging in the luxurious pleasures of centuries old ryokans, and has enjoyed witnessing the nature of travel in Japan evolve with his own perspective.

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