Beat the Tokyo heat at Lake Chuzenji.
Situated at an elevation of 1269 meters and in easy reach from Tokyo, Lake Chuzenji in Tochigi Prefecture is ideal for escaping the heat and humidity of Japan’s capital. Of course, Lake Chuzenji is worth visiting in any season. The autumn colors are highly recommended, but it’s the cool and fresh summer air that makes Lake Chuzenji really stand out.
In the late 1800s, European diplomats stationed in Tokyo built their summer residences along the lakeshore. Since then, the Italian and British Embassy Villas have opened to the public, offering vintage architecture, serene parks, and mesmerizing lake views.
The lake itself formed about 20,000 years ago when nearby Mount Nantai erupted blocked the Daiya River. Today, the lake is surrounded by densely forested mountains.
Kegon Falls and Mount Nantai
Perhaps more famous than the lake itself is its Kegon Falls. Here, the Daiya River crashes down 97 meters. It’s a powerful view—especially on the hottest days of summer, right after the rainy season. It’s when the water level is the highest, making the fall quite a spectacularly thundering experience. You are also likely to meet quite a few monkeys at the waterfall. They are cute but keep your distance.
Mount Nantai, the volcano whose eruption created the lake, lies next to the shore and stands 2484 meters. Perfectly cone-shaped, the mountain was considered sacred for many centuries. Today, the mountaintop is a popular hiking destination, giving a panorama of great views stretching far beyond Lake Chuzenji.
To get to Lake Chuzenji, you need to take a bus from Nikko, the famed temple town. The bus will climb up the steep and extremely winding Irohazaka. The slope covers a height difference of 400 meters in just a few kilometers.
Looking out the window, you will notice that every road’s hairpin curve is not only marked with a number, but also with a hiragana letter. There are 48 bends altogether counting both the curves on the separate upwards and downwards roads. It’s the same number of hiragana in the Japanese alphabet.
About a thousand years ago, a monk came up with a unique way to organize those letters: a somber poem in which every hiragana symbol appeared only once. The poem begins with the hiragana i, ro, and ha, thus the slope’s name. Japanese travelers tend to know the poem by heart and may recite it on the trip.
Lake Chuzenji Trout
Walking along the shore of the lake or taking a slow row boat trip, you will see many anglers standing on rocky outposts trying to catch Lake Chuzenji’s famous trout.
Trout is the signature dish served by many of the lake-side restaurants. It’s grilled Western style, with a slice of bread and lemon on the side. The restaurants also sell smoked trout to take home.