Not far from all those glorious flower fields is Daisetsuzan National Park, home to Mountain Ashaidake.
Wade and I are really getting into the idea of doing some mountain climbing. Our mainland adventure was originally going to include the hike up Mount Fuji. It wasn’t in the cards for us this time. There were too many flowers to see and the route from one place to another just wasn’t logical. I did make up for my selfishness by finding some mountains for us to trek through. It wasn’t hard, Hokkaido is not lacking mountains. It is the ski capital of Japan and once home to the winter Olympics. So I get to keep my amazingly awesome wife title for a bit longer.
Hokkaido is also a home to a few of Japan’s national parks. We visited two on our trip and used the time to enjoy a few trails and other amenities located there, including the campgrounds. Though it is possible to camp anywhere off the main roads, July is a very active bear season and since our only defense was some bear bells we bought at the local Mont Bell and we didn’t come equipped with all the essential backwoods camping gear, we chose to pitch a tent in the campgrounds.
(Heres a tidbit I just learned. Names of mountains tend to be followed by “dake”. My assumption was, as they usually are, wrong and “dake” does not mean mountain, it means “just” or “only” when referring to numbers. So Asahidake would literally mean “just Asahi”, not the whole Ishikari range that Asahi belongs too. You’re welcome!)
Anyways, we packed our tent for this trip and camped the rest of our way through Hokkaido parks. If a tent doesn’t fit your luggage, no worries, Japan rents camping gear for such occasions. You will have to reserve it prior to arriving at the park. In hindsight, I wish we opted for renting an adorable mini RV. The price tag seemed huge at the time but we could have slept comfortably and cooked more meals rather than eat out, saving us more in the long run. Lessons learned.
Arriving mid-July meant that it was actually the beginning of the hiking season in Hokkaido and Daisetsuzen. Located on the tops of the mountains were piles of snow and the trails were muddy and slippery from the thaw. The summit was just showing signs of life as little mountain flowers were coating the grounds. Animals and birds were moving about, enjoying the short-lived “warm” season. We really wanted to climb and descend Mt. Ashai but time and daylight were against us by our arrival so we opted to take the cable car up, walk around the beautiful trails and then descend by foot.
The ropeway does not take you to the summit. In order to get there, you would need to continue hiking for a 1.5 hour roundtrip trek. The weather wasn’t the best and so our view would have been nonexistent. We opted out of the climb and chose to enjoy the small trails before heading down.The trails took you around several lakes and ponds. While walking the air is quiet and you can hear the roar of the geysers as you explore.
The trail down was stunning. Vistas popped up periodically while we traced our way through the trail, that follows a stream, downward. The hike was a little slippery but otherwise safe with well-marked trails and clear pathways. The vegetation changes as you descend, from short and stubby wildflowers to tall alpines trees and meadows of grasses. We saw one other couple on their way down in the distance otherwise, it was just us and our bear bells chiming in unison.
Bear bells are to warn bears you’re coming, as to not sneak up on them. And yes, there are bears, and yes there are lots and yes you have to be bear aware! We didn’t see any in this park though. Daisetsuzan park has signs warning you of then latest bear sightings, which included the day we visited. The bear population is growing and becoming a little more dangerous, since hunting the bears is no longer allowed. There were parts of our hike that felt a little eerie. Dusk is bear foraging time, aka hungry bear time. I was thrilled and petrified through the whole thing. We came to the clearing and parking lot as the sun was sharing its final rays and we headed back to our campsite in the dark.
In Daisetsuzan campground, you could only have a fire in the community fire pit. This is for the safety of the park of course but I was a little disappointed. The other facilities at this location were wonderful. A large log cabin housed clean and well kept bathrooms. There was a “kitchen” in an A-frame pavilion with sinks, counter space, and animal safe food storage. The sites were clear, flat and well defined which is what I’m used to from camping in the states. The stay overnight cost ¥300 and have your pick of campsites. We pitched the tent, crawled in with some bentos, and drifted to sleep while watching a movie on our laptop.
While in the Daisetsuzen National Park there are quite a few waterfalls to enjoy, other hiking trails, but my favorite was the mountain side Onsen in Fukiage. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring spa. Nowadays, many use modern means to pump the natural water to an indoor facility. However, if you have tattoos, getting inside these popular places can be hard. I adorn no ink, but Wade is a different story. We asked around and got directions to one hidden in the woods.
On arrival we were apprehensive but encouraged by a Master Roshi type to join and down the trail we went. With fencing, smooth flagstone walls and a privacy tent to change, I don’t know why seeing as everyone was bare ass naked, Fukiage spa was well cared for. The Onsen had two pools, one much hotter than the other. We willingly climbed into the cooler spa with over 10 naked Asian men. I won’t lie, it was a bracing experience.
We met a few young men from Taiwan and Thailand. We swapped stories and experiences of each other’s home countries. Naked. A few Japanese men joined in our conversation and challenged us to venture into the hotter spa. We had to get in up to our necks and stay for 10 seconds before leaving. I could feel my skin cooking within milliseconds of entering. We both made it in deep enough with quick dunks before scrambling out of there into the cool mountain air. I will never boil a lobster again!! We all had a good laugh. Naked. Going back into the cooler spa we relaxed quietly taking in the scenery before exiting, wrapping ourselves in towels and cracking a Sapporo beer to wash away the awkwardness.