Lake Akan

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Lake Akan, in a photograph by Adam Isfendiyar.
  • Japanese: 阿寒湖 (akan ko)

Lake Akan is a lake in northeastern Hokkaidô. A major tourist destination for its natural onsen (hot springs), Akan has also become home to one of the most major Ainu villages (kotan) since the 1950s.

The placename "Akan" derives from Ainu words for "eternal" or "unchanging." It is written in Japanese kanji using ateji (characters which emulate the sounds of a placename, without intending the meaning of those characters).

Lake Akan became a major tourist destination in the 1920s; the increased market for tourist goods led to many Ainu craftsmen setting up shop in the town to sell woodcarvings, especially in bear forms, as well as other craft goods. Though these Ainu craftsmen were originally largely seasonal, returning to their hometowns in the off-season, by the 1950s Ainu workers' appeals to the local land owners yielded an agreement by which Ainu could lease the land for free, establishing an Ainu village (kotan) in the area. The Lake Akan Ainu community is today one of the most significant in Japan, and is home to the annual Marimo Festival, the largest annual Ainu gathering in the world, in which rituals are performed to protect the marimo algae balls which grow naturally in the lake.

A mountain overlooking the lake is known as Pennishiri (J: oakan), a placename which means "male mountain" in the Ainu language. The corresponding mountain on the other side of the kotan is known as Matsuneshiri (J: meakan), or "female mountain."


  • Gallery labels, "Master - An Ainu Story," photo exhibit by Adam Isfendiyar, SOAS Brunei Gallery, Fall 2018.
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