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Visit Lake Mashu to view the sea of clouds

View sea of clouds from Mashu Third Observatory

“Sea of clouds” is a phenomenon which clouds look like the sea when it’s looked down from mountains or air planes.
Takeda Castle in Hyogo Prefecture or Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Okayama Prefecture are famous sites to view the sea of clouds in Japan, but there are many places to view the sea of clouds in Hokkaido, too.
Hokkaido Likers introduced sea of clouds in Tsubetsu Toge before. This time, I will introduce Mashu Third Observatory. 


Lake Mashu is the sixth largest lake in Japan as a crater lake. The lake is famous for fogs, as a song called “Lake Mashu in Fog” exists. 
Sea of clouds needs multiple requirements:
- The ground gets cold, and air near ground containing water vapor gets cold.
- No wind and cool air stay near the ground.
- Moisture in the air passes the saturated state and form fogs. 
- Before sunrise to early morning. 
And in Lake Mashu’s case, there is another way. Activities on the sea off Kushiro get on the south breeze, then cool down above Lake Mashu or Lake Kussharo and go down then become a sea of clouds… etc.
Sea of clouds is a natural phenomenon so you can’t be assured to observe it. It depends on luck.
Hokkaido Likers team came up with the thought to view a sea of clouds at Lake Mashu in late June and headed there from Kushiro… Fortunately, the timing was good, but if you plan to view a sea of clouds in Lake Mashu, the best solution is to stay in Teshikaga Town. I would not recommend visiting there from Kushiro because it was quite a distance…
We left Kushiro at 2:00 AM and arrived at Lake Mashu at about 3:30 AM. The sky became slightly bright at about the time of sunrise. There were already few cars parked at our destination; Mashu Third Observatory. 

屈斜路湖の雲海▲The sea of clouds in Lake Kussharo

As soon as we parked the car, the sea of clouds like whip cream came right into our eyes. “Wow! This is the sea of clouds in Lake Mashu!” that was what we thought, but we were wrong. This was Lake Kussharo. 
There were other people saying “Wow! Lake Mashu’s sea of clouds!” with their cameras, but Mashu Third Observatory is the opposite side of the road from the parking. We walked up the stairs to go to the observatory. 

摩周湖の雲海。正面にカムイヌプリ(摩周岳)を望む▲The sea of clouds in Lake Mashu. The mountain in front is Kamuinupuri (Mt. Mashu).
There were not great volumes of clouds like Lake Kussharo on the other side, but still, the sea of clouds on Lake Mashu was fantastic. 
There were many photographers with professional cameras at the observatory. Some of them said they visit Lake Mashu every year in this time from outside of Hokkaido. 
As the sun rose, color, light, and the figure of clouds changed. Clouds moved to where there were no clouds a few moments ago, and oppositely, clouds went away in some places, and the surface of the lake came out. The scenery changes every moment, and I never got bored watching that. I only could hear the sound of shutters and birds. People whisper when they talk because it was too quiet. 

摩周湖の雲海。正面にカムイヌプリ(摩周岳)を望む▲The island on the left looks like floating on the lake is Kamuish Island. Kamuish means “old lady became a god” in Ainu language. 
A local photographer who said he comes every day to shoot told us to wait a while. “When the sun moves between clouds, lights will be reflected from the lake, and it is extremely beautiful.” 
And we waited for a while, got this view! 

摩周湖の雲海▲The sea of clouds looked like a dragon stretching to the sun. 

Oh, how mystic and divine. At the moment I folded my hands and thanked the god of Lake Mashu for the view. 
It is said that because Lake Mashu is always foggy, people cannot see the clear and beautiful lake in Mashu color, but fogs have certain attractions. Seeing clear Lake Mashu would be a rare experience, too. 
On August 8, Official Gazette announced the name changed to “Akan National Park” to “Akan Mashu National Park”. Since the park got the name “Mashu”, the number of tourists would increase, but please visit Mashu Third Observatory before sunrise if you have a chance. If you are lucky, the nature of Hokkaido will show you the best entertainment. 


Related Link

- Lake Mashu Tourist Association
  • Visit Lake Mashu to view the sea of clouds

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Takako Chiba