Articles by Simon Bernard    


When it comes to camping or doing something outdoors, itís hard to find a place to please everybody. That is unless you've been to Lake Juniko on the Sea of Japan in Aomori Prefecture.

Do you like swimming in the ocean (without a wetsuit to keep you warm)? How about going down backpack trails on your mountain bike? Would you enjoy a relaxing stroll though nature or an hour and a half mountain hike to a breathtaking view? Fishing, paddling a boat across a mirrored lake, or maybe lounging in a Finnish sauna before retiring for the night?

Located in the village of Iwasaki (now known as Fukuura Town) in southwestern Aomori prefecture, all of the above and the Japan Canyon makes this 3 to 4 hour drive from Misawa well worth it. Formed some 300 years ago by earthquakes, the 33 lakes and ponds make up one of the most scenic spots in Tohoku.
Driving time will depend on how many times you will want to stop and take pictures of the coastal scenery. When you turn off Rt.101 to go up Juniko, you will first see a view of Japan Canyon. Further up the road, youíll find lakes with boats for rent, restaurants and souvenir shops grilling fresh trout. Donít miss seeing the bear here, it was found when just a baby cub.

At this point the road splits. The road to the right will take you to the Refresh Village campground. Here you can for a small fee pitch your tent or check in to one of the Finnish log cabins (if you have reserved one in advance). The dirt road to the right of Refresh Village is an excellent trail for mountain bikes. It will take you past backwood lakes and hydroelectric sites and ends up at the ocean.

To the left of the split, you will encounter more lakes and a visitorís center. Be sure you check out the trout ponds in the backÖ.you have never seen trout this big! Fishing is allowed but only in the third lake on the left as you are coming up from Rt. 101.

Further up the road you will find a Japanese tea house. Mountain spring water makes the tea at this hikerís rest spot invigorating. At the end of the road is a parking area and a short walk to Aoike (the Blue Pond). You will soon understand why it got its name. Just below is the sign ĎOhkuzureí, marking the beginning of the mountain hike to a view of the lakes with the Sea of Japan in the background. Just past Aoike to the right, a hiking trail circles back to the campgrounds.

Aoike ďThe Blue PondĒ. You can understand how it got its name!

Exploring the Gangara coastal rocks and caves can be exciting. Drive or bike down to Rt.101, turn right and take the road before the tunnel to the left. Go past the hot springs and follow to the end. Going around sunset is a must if you want to take prize winning photos. There are stairs leading to the lookout on top of the cliff.

On the other side of the tunnel is Moriyama Beach. Park your car near the railroad tracks and walk over. This sandy shallow beach is perfect for families. There is even a better beach south on Rt.101 called Omagoshi. Fishing is great from the pier or off the rocks at Gangara.

Turning left on Rt.101 will take you to the start of the hiking path to Mt. Shirakami, located in the United Nation World Heritage beech forest preserve. More information and guides for trekking through this area can be located at the office at Awone Shirakami Eco Museum.

Autumn is also a wonderful time to go to view the vibrant foliage of the mountains.

To get to Juniko:
Go out the main gate; turn right at the second street after the light. Turn right at the 4th street, you will end up going around the perimeter of the base. Turn right at the Y and you will be on Rt. 8. From the Y go 16 km. and turn left at the CircleK light. Go 0.7km and turn right, go over the bridge and go straight, this road will eventually take you to the Michinoku Toll road. After paying the toll 820 yen, continue straight till you see the sign for Aomori Higashi Expressway. Turn left to get on the expressway. After getting a ticket, continue straight toward Namioka , this expressway will merge with the Tohoku Expressway. Get off at the Namioka Interchange and pay the toll 400 yen. Continue straight and you will run into the Tsugaru Expressway. Go to the 1st exit Goshogawara Higashi IC (no charge),get off and turn left at the light. You are now on Rt.101.

You can continue on Rt. 101 all the way to Juniko or you can take this short cut:

From the IC light go 5.1km and turn left (9th light) toward Ajigasawa. Follow this road 1.3km through a park and turn left at the light. You are now on Rt.154. Go 4km. to the ďTĒ and turn right. Go 0.8km and turn left at the light. You are now back on Rt. 101. 78 something kilometers later and you will arrive at Juniko! There will be a big blue sign for you to turn left at to take you to paradise!