37 Jusanko (Lake 13): A forgotten kingdom

Slept in a manga cafe on the bypass, leaving early in the morning to take the 6am train north to Goshogawara.  I took the same journey two years ago in a January blizzard, when the whole Tsugaru plain was carpeted in over a metre of snow, standing behind the grey uniformed driver watching as we ploughed into a world of white.

Today the sky was blue and the sun was blazing.  The rice fields stood green and rigid and the orchards were all loaded with apples – some wrapped and unwrapped.  Above all this towered the dark outline of sacred Mount Iwaki, known as Tsugaru`s Mount Fuji.

From Goshogawara I was heading to Jusanko (Lake 13), named after the 13 rivers that flow into the lake.

“Oh, the lakes are amazing, all so clear and clean,” I was told by the serving lady at the bus stop noodle bar.

“Hang on, you did say you were going to Juniko (Twelve Lakes)?”

“No, I am going to Lake 13”

“Oh that`s not so interesting. It`s just like the sea.”

An hour later I saw for myself.  From the bus window, the black pine-lined Japan Sea on one side and the large lake close by on the other.  The sea fed into the lake, giving it life.  Fisherman lined the sandbanks where the seawater rushed in.  It is a vulnerable spot.  Several fisherman were washed away by a tsunami in the 1980s.

Lake 13 is now home to a small village of clam fishermen.  In the 15 century, it supported much more: it was one of the most important trading centres in East Asia, a Kyoto of the north at the far end of the Silk Road.  Through the Ainu of Hokkaido, Jusanko established strong trade links with China and Russia keeping Japan in touch with the rest of the world.

I heard, from a drunk old man in Hirosaki two winters ago, that the medieval kingdom was washed away in a massive tsunami. He made it into a good story.  But the museum on Nakanoshima island ruined it.  It seems Jusanko`s lifeblood, the martime trade, just moved south to the lumbering, basketball town of Noshiro.  Lake 13 was left for the clam fisherman.

I set up camp on Nakanoshima, a small island covered with black pines.  The new campsite covered the whole island, with several cabins, two barbecue areas, an adventure playground, a museum, a spot for clam fishing and a go-kart track.

The only thing the site lacked was customers: just me in the camping area and one family staying in a cabin.  At least I could dry my socks and underpants without shame.

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