Lake Chuzenjiko rests 1,200m above sea level surrounded by mountains that peak out at a further 2,400m or so in the Nikko region of Tochigi prefecture.

The plan is to stay for 4 nights at Shoubugahama campsite and explore the lake by kayak over several days, hike around the Nikko National Park, home to the famous Kegon FallsSenjōgahara wetlands, lots of wooden boardwalk and bears.

170km’s due north of Tokyo and at a much higher altitude equates to about a 10 degree C difference in temperature all year round.  Would make a refreshing getaway from the summer heat in Tokyo, and if you don’t mind the cold, incredibly scenic in the autumn.

The campsite is not an auto-camp in the usual sense, its carpark is located 200m off site to the east but there are carts to haul your stuff to and fro.  It’s amazing how easy it is to haul 100+kg of gear, thank god for physics!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

There’s a ratio of approximately 30-70, bungalows to tent sites with the tent sites lining the lakeside and the bungalows set back slightly.  With no unsightly box-cars or RV’s to be seen anywhere, you feel more in the mix, more isolated from convenience, more like how it’s supposed to be.  Needless to say, for kayakers, lakeside gives you the benefit of easy access, the further west you are along the lakeside, the easier the access is.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Our pitch looking towards the lake from the back of the tent.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

In front of tent in the morning.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Our kayak in front of pitch.  There’s actually a 1.5m wall here so getting the boat up and down is a bit of a pain.  Further west along the coast the wall slopes off to ground level for better kayak entry.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

The lake is about 6km in length, 2 to 3km wide depending on where you’re crossing.  The best time for kayaking we were told (and which turned out to be very true) is in the early morning, good through to around midday when the wind starts to pick up.  By early evening the wind is at its strongest and kayaking against the current is a workout, especially over several kilometres.  This was the weather pattern we had every day we stayed there – I suppose there are conditions in the area that make that happen with some predictablity.

I split the exploration into 3 parts:

Firstly we’d tackle the west side of the lake in a clockwise direction (red path) hugging the coastline, the central area next (green path) and lastly the central-eastern area.  I chose to avoid the most eastern part as it looked more built up along that coastline and probably not very interesting.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Planned exploration of the lake.

In reality we only made the two expeditions, the first and second one.  A lot more tiring than I had expected, a 7.6km ride around the lake took us 5 and a half hours but with a 2 hour stop at a secluded beach.  Looking at the GPS data later, I noted that we struggled on the last leg paddling against the current into the wind.  Just a few seconds of rest (no paddling) would take us back several meters so it was a case of either paddling slowly and consistently or never getting back to camp!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Along the north-west coastline of the lake there is a nice little beach area to stop and have a picnic or rest.  It probably has a name but I can’t find it.  It’s the first ‘bay’ 1.2km west of the campsite.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Actual trails from the two expeditions.

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Close up of routes noting the secluded beach.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Coffee on secluded beach

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Deer remains my dog soon sniffed out.

On the opposite side of the lake from where we were pitched there’s another beach accessible only by boat called ‘White Rock’.  You’ll easily see it from the campsite; a huge square rock just plopped on a beach, it looks like some sort of structure from 2km across the lake.  Depending on wind and current, the surf on the beach can get pretty noisy from the tiny pebbles but when it’s calm it’s really a perfect, secluded, quiet place to stop for lunch.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

‘White Rock’ beach.  Mt. Takayama in the distance.

The campsite offers the usual facilities and products.  Firewood, charcoal, gas, snacks, beer, washing products etc.  But if you need to buy real food, fresh meat, vegetables and dairy products you’ll need drive the 5km east into the town as there’s nothing else nearby.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

A deer in town.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

I decided to follow, sat about 3 metres away and while looking straight ahead at the lake just shuffled my way closer and closer until I could reach out and touch her/him.  Turns out watching Andrew Ucles adventures, like this one wasn’t entirely a waste of time.

A short walk from the campsite is the entrance to Nikko National Park.  We made the 14km walk around the park in just under 6 hours.  There’s a lot of wooden planks to walk on which sort of detracts from the feeling of walking around in nature but necessary over the wetlands to protect it.  There were moments of cognitive dissonance though like when I came across this scene:

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational explanation but is using more wood to conserve wood, conservation?  Like I said, I’m sure there’s a rationale behind it.

I don’t know what national parks are like in other countries because walking around with a stick and funny boots looking at trees was never my idea of fun and I’m only now starting to appreciate the alternative to tons of concrete and neon signs, but the course is very structured with the one boardwalk path.  I would say you very much feel as if you have to walk in one direction but that would be inaccurate.  You can only walk in one direction unless you double back on yourself and you’re further restricted to a metre wide boardwalk.  Kind of like walking around a city aquarium on a busy Saturday afternoon.  This place I suppose is all about observation, not integration.   I can certainly understand why and it’s a pleasant walk but the sort of walk you do only once and never feel the urge to do again perhaps.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

May is probably not the best time to see the wetlands.

In the summer Chuzenjiko will make a great getaway from the heat of Tokyo and even the prefectures north of it because of the elevation.  The campsite feels like a place you’ve trekked to with no vehicles in sight.  The lake is beautiful, especially in autumn, lots of peaks nearby to hike.  Popular with kayakers obviously.

The national park is nice.  I think probably popular with bird watchers and landscape photographers seeking that idyllic picture postcard look.  I found it to be chaos, interrupted.  Perhaps making it here before sunrise on a winter morning when there is a mist hanging a few feet off the ground and you happen to see the odd deer would make it a memorable effort, but as I experienced it, it was as flat as the boardwalk you’re guided along.  It’s there for a reason though, you can’t wander around in marsh.  So, if you want to see marsh from a distance, probably wise to pick the most scenic time of year and day if you’re going to hike all the way up there, just saying.

Shoubugahama campsite operates from May through to the last Saturday in October.

1,000 per person, per night.  1,500 per tarp per night!  Recommend something like a Snowpeak Landstation or other all-in-one solution to avoid the option fees if you have.  You’ll need something similar for the wind protection anyway.

Check in 1pm, check out 11am.