22 September 2019
I was driving around Lake Kussharo looking for lunch and stopped by a parking lot near Kotan Onsen. I spotted an opened restaurant, but was first intrigued by the structure in front of the nearby museum – the Teshikaga Kussharo Kotan Ainu Heritage Museum. At first, I was a bit reluctant about going into the museum after the disappointment at Akanko Ainu Kotan, but I decided to give it a try after reading some good reviews on Google.
The Kussharo Kotan (kotan = village in Ainu) was first recorded in the Kusuri Diary which was rewritten by the 19th century explorer Matsuura Takeshiro. Opposite the lake here you can see a number of structures like the altar “Nusasan” and a bear cage “Eperset”. The Teshikaga Kussharo Kotan Ainu Heritage Museum was first opened in 1983 to introduce and showcase the culture and history of Kussharo Ainu.
I love how informative the museum was and was grateful for the amount of English translations available here. There are also QR codes for commentaries in Chinese, French, and Korean. Speaking about Ainu museums, I was not able to visit Shiraoi Ainu Museum (Porotokotan) before it was closed, but discovered that they were going to open a bigger one, scheduled on April 24, 2020 – the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park (link down below). I can’t wait to visit Upopoy when I return to Hokkaido to visit again someday.
There is also a room where you can watch a video about the Ainu community and the challenges they are facing within the larger Japanese society. The video is a good 20-minutes which is available in English and was really an eye-opener, I recommend anyone coming here to definitely watch it.
An open-air onsen – the Kotan Onsen can also be found right opposite the lake if you are into hot springs. It is supposedly gender-separated, but only with a big rock that does not even cover the full length of the bath, so it is best to see it as a mixed-bath. Also, the bath is not covered and so people going around the lake can see you. This onsen is known for its view of the sunset, the starry skies and the swans in the lake during winter.
Of course before I left the vicinity, I had lunch (my original goal) at this place called Marukibune. I liked their interior and was happy to have a seat at a table looking over Lake Kussharo. I had this wonderful bowl of venison donburi (probably from a sika deer or yuk in the Ainu language).
Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00
Closing days: 1st November to 28th April
Admission fee: 420 yen
Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park Official Site
There are two buses per day from JR Kawayu Onsen Station (1 hour) or JR Mashu Station (20-25 minutes). Timetable can be found here.
Alternatively, driving is the most convenient way to get around these parts of Hokkaido. Mapcode is 731 521 286*55.
Traveling time from:
- Kawayu Onsen Station: 20 minutes
- Bihoro Pass: 20 minutes
- Lake Mashu 1st Observatory: 25 minutes