The heart-shaped Lake Aoki or “blue tree” lake on the south end of the Hakuba Valley is one of the cleanest lakes in all of Japan. The clear blue water is fed by natural springs, rain, and snow-melt coming down from Japan’s northern alps. Thousands of pictures have been taken of the incredible reflection of the Japanese Alps on the surface of the mirror-like lake. Spring is a fantastic time to visit with abundant cherry blossom trees ringing the lake creating a pink reflection on the water. Autumn is an equally amazing time to enjoy Aokiko as it’s ablaze in the red, gold, orange, and yellows of the fall leaves, or in Japanese koyo. But for us here at Events Hakuba, our favorite time of year to visit is summer when the lake is alive with wildlife, greenery, and the sounds of fun. Here are our top 5 reasons to visit the amazing Lake Aoki in the summer.
August 5th, 2020 | by Jared Kubokawa
A Refreshing Dip in Lake Aoki
As many of you know, the summers in Japan are hot, hot, hot, and you will hear people every day saying the words, atsui ne or “it’s so hot…” Hakuba is blessed with so many natural wonders and needless to say there aren’t many swimming pools around. The rivers here are gorgeous but often fast-flowing and extremely cold. Lake Aoki on the other hand is cool, clear, and incredibly refreshing. Being spring fed, Aokiko is one of the clearest lakes in Japan, especially because no motorized boats are allowed on the lake. You can see up to 10 meters down into the water on a sunny day!
Many Japanese tourists come to Aokiko just for bird-watching. There are hundreds of types of birds that can be seen including woodpeckers, finches, buntings, hawks, eagles, flycatchers, thrushes, waxwings, and robins, just to name a few. There are also many different species of fish that live in the lake. One of the main attractions though are the snow-monkeys or Japanese Macaques that live in the forest surrounding the lake and have been seen coming down for a drink and a swim. If you are really lucky, you might even see a Japanese serow or Kamoshika, a type of deer/mountain goat that lives in the alps. Just watch out for the little brown bears…
Camping and BBQing
On the shady southwest side of the lake, there are a number of different campgrounds and hotels where you can rent anything from a fancy hotel suite to a basic mini-cabin that suits all budgets and needs. You can also just do a day trip and have a BBQ or a bonfire next to the lake with the beautiful views. One of our favorite activities is to spend a day on the lake, have a BBQ, and then in the evening unwind in one of the many Japanese hot springs, or onsen near the lake. And don’t forget the famous Nagano soba noodle shops, wineries, and breweries in the area.
The Magic of the Fireflies
Maybe it seems like an insect shouldn’t be number two on our list, but if you’ve ever experienced the magic of the fireflies at night on the lake—I’m sure that you would agree. In Japan, the firefly represents fallen warriors who have died in battle. They are also the inspiration behind Akiyuki Nosaka’s famous short story and anime, “Grave of the Fireflies”. Around the country, in July and August you can participate in a hotaru matsuri or firefly festivals. At Lake Aoki, there are many trees that grow along the shore. Their branches hanging over the water are the perfect environment to see the incredible fireflies light up as they try to attract a mates. The otherworldly effect is almost supernatural. There are a number of evening firefly tours that you can take in jumbo canoes with a guide—we recommend Evergreen Outdoor Center for an enjoyable, professional, and comfortable firefly tour.
So Many Outdoor Activities
With easy access, crystal clear waters, and the many outdoor adventure companies around the lake, it’s almost impossible to fit all the activities into one day. We recommend starting out with a morning canoe ride around the lake to get warmed up. Enjoy the mist and the reflection of the Japanese Alps on the mirrored surface of the pure water. You might even see some wildlife coming down for a morning drink. Then have a snack on the shore and hop in a kayak to get a bit closer to the water. Head over to the northwest corner of the lake which is nearly secluded and spot some fish in the angled late morning sunshine. Head back to camp and enjoy a BBQ with some friends and family. In the afternoon heat, get out on the SUP (stand-up paddle board) and go for a refreshing swim. Finally, in the evening go out for a magical tour and see the famous fireflies. Get a glimpse of the stars reflecting off the lake and know that you’ve had one of the greatest days ever.
Have you been to Aokiko during the summer? What’s your favorite activity? Let us know in the comments
For more summer ideas, check out more of our summer content here.