The Lake and the Contemporary Town
Towada is a city located in Aomori prefecture, in the north of Japan. The destination is renowned for its natural landscapes including the great Lake Towadako and Oirase River and gorge. It is also home to a contemporary art museum. This rural area of the Tohoku is easier visited with a car.
Not far from the great fishing port of Hachinohe, Towada’s small area was granted the status of 市 shi, meaning "city" in Japanese at the beginning of the 2000s. The new city extends towards west and includes Oirase Keiryu Gorge and part of Lake Towada. The latter also belongs to Towada-Hachimantai National Park that includes in particular the nearby Hakkoda Mountains.
Given its recency, Towada does not have an historical downtown to visit, neither a convenient neighborhood around the nearest station, Shichinohe-Towada. Thus, we strongly recommend to use a car 🚙 to better enjoy the area, as buses are scarce as well. Driving makes it easier to travel and successively visit the various touristic spots on a single day.
Towada Contemporary Art Museum
The Towada Art Center is located in a remote countryside of Tohoku, and shelters great contemporary artworks, literally in size, as well as in reputation. The exhibition starts outdoor in front of the building, with a surprising cloud-like house and installations characteristic of Yayoi Kusama’s work.
Then, the first artwork inside the museum is one of the most impressive of the collection: the huge Standing Woman by Ron Mueck. This statue is amazingly tall, and the character’s hands and face very realistic. Further in the exhibition, is Location (5), by artist Hans Op de Beeck, an installation recreating a restaurant spanning a motorway, with a surprising depth of field.
The stairways to the upper floors are part of a global artwork. They are ornamented with colored geometrical shapes that remind of animals without eyes. On the museum’s roof, which is the last exhibition room, all these missing eyes are painted on the floor. Visitors are then invited to interact with the installation and play with their shadows to become one’s own little artistic creatures.
Moreover, several temporary exhibitions are held each year. In December 2019, when we visited the museum, we could admire the creation of glass shells for hermit crabs. Each of these tiny sculptures looked like intricate architectural structures, and gave the crustaceans carrying it on their back the appearance of giant mythical animals.
The visit path in the museum is well-thought and mixes spaces, materials and colors. Every part of the building as well as the neighboring outdoor spaces are included in the artistic creations. Every artwork’s location has been carefully thought and the interaction with them is very pleasant.
On the road to Oirase Gorge
At about forty minutes’ drive from the museum, Oirase River flows along the road. It is possible to park on the roadside and have a look on the landscape. Water is extremely clear and vegetation lush, especially during summer. In autumn 🍁, Oirase Gorge seems to flare up with the red leaves of the maple trees growing along the river and on the moss-covered rocks.
A trail goes in the undergrowth, for a hike of about one hour along the river and its waterfalls. However, the road is still a bit too close and affects the bucolic charm of the place. Moreover, during high season, tourist buses frequently park there, to the closest of the interesting viewing spots.
The sacred site of Lake Towada
The vast Lake Towada-ko was formed by volcanic activity, thousands of years ago. It is the largest caldera lake on Honshu Island, with a 61 km² superficies, and a 327 meters maximal depth. The lake is popular in summer among tourists who enjoy hiking and camping on its shores or practice water-related activities such as boat, pedal boat or canoe.
Towada shrine is located on one of the two small peninsulas stretching toward the center of the lake. The place is enjoyable in all seasons, and especially in the quietness of winter. A beautiful path under century-old cedar trees leads to the Shinto place of worship that dates back to Kamakura period (1185 - 1333). The main hall has not been renovated in a long time, but the carefully carved ornamentations are still visible. Here, the traditional ema votive plates display the animals of the Chinese zodiac giving a warmer and human vibe to this sacred, natural place.
When leaving the shrine’s grounds, visitors encounter the small Ebisu and Daikokuten Island, named from two Japanese good fortune deities, and that is part of a beautiful panorama on the waters. Then, the road goes back to Yasumiya resort, which is a convenient access to the touristic facilities on the lake, like cruise ships, for example.
Located at the borders of Aomori and Akita prefectures, Towada area is a pleasant passage place, especially in autumn when the green forest turns into warmer colors.