The God’s Crossing On Lake Suwa
By John Asano
On September 15, 2014
Lake Suwa is a picturesque part of Japan situated in the central region of Nagano Prefecture. We had a chance to stop by and pay it a visit after visiting the famous Matsumoto Castle which is located nearby.
One of Japan’s largest fireworks festivals is held at the lake in summer, making it a popular summer destination in Japan. The skies over the lake are illuminated by around 40,000 fireworks with over 500,000 people descending on the lake from all over the country to see the two hour spectacle.
You can enjoy a relaxing swan boat ride on the lake and feel the cool breeze to beat the summer heat.
Lake Suwa is also home to a natural phenomenon called “The God’s Crossing” or o-miwatari (御神渡り) in Japanese. The lake has a natural hot spring under its surface, which causes this natural phenomenon to occur. During winter when the top of the lake freezes, the lower waters are still warm and circulating. The results of this warm water with the cold ice are the formation of pressure ridges or ice patterns on the surface of the lake. Some of the ridges reach heights of more than 30 cm and appear to look like small mountains on the surface of the lake.
The God’s Crossing is like a glistening white road upon the frozen surface of the lake. The locals believe that a god descends once a year to cross the lake via this mysterious road. This sacred journey takes place from the kamisha (upper shrine) to the shimosha (lower shrine) of Suwa Taisha (Suwa Grand Shrine), a 1,200 year old Shinto shrine, which is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. It is believed the god is the god in kamisha (upper shrine) who goes off to see the goddess in shimosha (lower shrine) through the road. It is a fascinating myth or maybe love story if you are romantically inclined.
A crack in the ice caused by the temperature difference between daytime and night is said to be the identity of the holy o-miwatari. The crack is studied and analysed by the locals to predict social conditions and even the crop harvests of the year. The records of such cracks started in the 14 Century, making it one of the world’s oldest weather records.
The crack is certainly a good omen when it appears and the locals anxiously wait for it every year. Unfortunately, the frequency with which the ice patterns appear has steadily dropped since the 1990s. They no longer appear every year and it is starting to become more of a rare sight. A trend which has been blamed on the impact of global warming.
The thermal activity under the lake also means that therapeutic hot springs (onsen) can be found along the shores of the lake in the Kami-Suwa area. The town has long been known for its “Kami-Suwa Onsen” and is one of the most prominent hot spring towns in Japan.
If you are driving to Lake Suwa don’t forget to stop by the cool Starbucks located at the Lake Suwa service area off the Chuo Expressway. There are amazing views of the lake and it’s a great spot for a photo or two.
Lake Suwa is a beautiful part of Japan full of stunning nature and refreshing hot springs. If you are looking to get out and explore a new and interesting part of the country, then put Lake Suwa near the top of your list of places to visit.
From Tokyo you can take a Limited Express Azusa on the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku Station to Kami-Suwa Station. The journey takes about 150 minutes. Lake Suwa is a short 8 minute walk from Kami-Suwa Station.
By car, take the Chuo Expressway and exit at the Suwa exit. It is about 170 km from Tokyo. From the exit it is around 6 km to central Kami-Suwa.