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Swimming & Cycling at Lake Tazawa

Just 20km (13 miles) in circumference, Lake Tazawa is popular for its small swimming beach a couple minutes' walk from Tazawakokohan bus stop. Outside the swimming season -- mid-July through August -- you'll find nary a soul there. You can rent bicycles here for ¥400 for the first hour and ¥300 for every additional hour; mountain bikes run ¥600 per hour. It takes about 2 hours to ride around the lake; unfortunately, you have to share the road with vehicular traffic, but because this is a popular cycling route, motorists know to keep a lookout. (Still, it may be prudent to avoid weekends and the mid-July and Aug vacation crunch.) Except for one small stretch, the road is mostly flat and is pleasantly wooded and relatively unspoiled; circle the lake counterclockwise in the left lane, which puts you on the inside track closer to the lake. Along the way you'll pass a nice restaurant and a golden statue of the legendary Princess Tatsuko, a nymphlike beauty just off the shoreline. According to myth, the princess drank from Lake Tazawa hoping for eternal beauty; instead, she was turned into a dragonlike serpent as punishment for her vanity.

Sightseeing boats, some of which make stops to explore the surrounding woods, operate on Lake Tazawa from late April to early November; a 40-minute trip costs ¥1,170.

Laka Tazawa is a 15-minute bus ride from Tazawako Station. All buses going to Nyuto Onsen stop here -- the name of the bus stop at the Lake is called Tazawakohan -- and the fare is ¥350.

Skiing

Of several area ski resorts, largest is Tazawako Skijo (tel. 0187/46-2011), with nine lifts. A 1-day lift ticket costs ¥3,800 and ski-equipment rental costs ¥6,000 for everything; snowboarding is also available. Buses from Tazawako Station (traveling in the direction of Nyuto Onsen) reach Tazawako Skijo in about 30 minutes and cost ¥510.

Climbing Mount Komagatake

Visible from Lake Tazawa, Akita Prefecture's tallest mountain is actually a 1,637m-high (5,402-ft.) dormant volcano. It's a popular destination for hikers, though a bus that deposits hikers at the 8th Station makes it a fairly quick hike -- you can reach the top in about 1 1/2 hours. At the peak, you're rewarded with grand vistas of the surrounding mountains, as well as more hiking trails. It's also said to be the best in northern Japan for alpine plants. Because the path is steep at times, wear nonslip soles. (All Japanese you see will be outfitted head to toe in hiking regalia.) From Tazawako Station, six buses a day make the 1-hour trip directly to Mount Komagatake's 8th Station for ¥810. Or, take a more frequent bus 37 minutes to Kogen Onsen (¥580) and transfer there for a 25-minute ride to the 8th station (¥410). Buses run daily July and August but only on weekends June, September, and October.

Hiking Oirase Stream

To my mind, hiking along the Oirase Stream is the major draw for a trip to Lake Towada. A clear-running, gurgling stream that runs 67km (42 miles) on its way from the lake to the Pacific Ocean, it's at its picture-perfect best in Oirase Gorge, where hikers are treated to a myriad of waterfalls, rapids coursing over moss-covered boulders, and a dense wood of ferns, Japanese beech, oaks, and other broad-leaved trees, particularly stunning in autumn. A trail runs beside the stream from Nenokuchi on the lakeshore 14km (8 3/4 miles) to Yakeyama. Most hikers, however, go only as far as Ishigedo, hiking the 9km (5 1/2 miles) in about 2 hours (there are kilometer markers along the path in English). Disappointingly, a road runs through the gorge beside the stream, but the pathway often diverges from the road, and the roar of the swift-running river and the 13 waterfalls masks the sound of vehicles. The hike upstream (toward Nenokuchi) is considered the most picturesque, as it affords a full view of the cascading rapids.

There are nine bus stops on the road beside Oirase Stream, including Nenokuchi, Ishigedo, and Yakeyama. Because buses run only once an hour or so, you might consider taking a bus first and then hiking back. For hikers traveling onward, there's luggage transfer service between the JR bus stop in Nenokuchi and the Keiryu Tourist Center (just west of Oirase Keiryu Grand Hotel in Yakeyama). You could, for example, drop off your luggage at the JR bus station at Nenokuchi, hike, and then pick it up at the Keiryu Tourist Center (or vice versa) and then catch the bus back to Hachinohe or Aomori. There are transfers in both directions three to four times a day from Golden Week (Apr 29-May 5) to early November; the cost is ¥400 per bag. For more information, contact the Keiryu Tourist Center at tel. 0176/74-1121.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.