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The Mount Usu Ropeway, also known as the Usuzan Ropeway, is a fantastic spot for sweeping views of Lake Tōya (Tōyako) and steaming hot volcanoes.

Mount Usu is very much an active volcano, with four major eruptions in the 20th to 21st centuries alone. It is part of the Tōya-Usu Geopark. Fun fact, the 1910 eruption of Mt. Usu saw the first successful preventative evacuation in history.

What should I see and do at the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Observatory?

Mt. Shōwa-shinzan

Mt. Shōwa-shinzan. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

You don’t even have to go up the Usuzan Ropeway to see the first signs of potential imminent destruction. Mount Shōwa-shinzan is a baby in the geology world, having only formed over two years after the 1945–55 Mt. Usu eruption; however, it still bubbles away ferociously. You can find it just opposite the ropeway entrance at the foot of Mt. Usu.

Mt. Usu Terrace

Mt. Usu Terrace has spectacular views: From here, you can see the aforementioned Mt. Shōwa-shinzan, as well as Lake Tōya and local birds. Following an expansion in 2022, the terrace now has comfy chairs, love seats, and other areas for lying back and taking in the vista.

Mt. Usu Crater Trekking Course

If you want an alternative landscape — one that includes Fuji’s asymmetrical brother, Mount Yōtei — then you may want to go on the crater trekking course. While closed in winter (November to April) due to snow, it is a brilliant spot to visit in the summer months. However, note that there are 600 steep steps on the way.

Mt. Usu Ropeway. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

Is there anywhere to eat? What about shopping?

Cafe Mt. Usu is situated right beside the terrace. They use local ingredients and have interesting take-away dishes; try the grilled sandwiches in the shape of a very triangular mountain. Keep in mind that the café is usually closed in winter.

There are a few more places to eat if you want a sit-down meal, such as Usuzan Restaurant Funkatei.

If you are looking to buy some gifts, then there are a few gift shops that feature apple products and plushies of a cute long-tailed tit (Shimanaga) that lives in Hokkaidō.

How long should I spend at the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Tōyako Observatory?

The round-trip ropeway journey takes around 12 minutes (only 6 minutes up and down). We recommend walking at least to the crater lookout point and back (15 minutes each way). If you have the time you can always go further to the southern rim lookout, but that’ll take an extra 60 minutes each way.

When should I go? Does it get crowded?

To make the most of the ropeway and to have the opportunity to see Mount Usu’s crater, we recommend going in the summer. This is also when fireworks shoot off every night from Lake Tōya.

It closes for more than half of January, depending on weather conditions. Check the website for up-to-date opening and closing times. It is unlikely to be overly crowded at any time.

What’s near the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Tōyako Observatory?

Right next door to the ropeway’s entrance at the bottom of Mt. Usu is a memorial hall for Masao Mimatsu, a postmaster and somewhat of a local hero, who bought the land that Mt. Shōwa-shinzan sits on. He was an avid painter and recorded the formation of the small mountain through sketches — you can see these in the hall.

Of course, there are plenty of other things to see and do near Lake Tōya, including boat rides, hot springs, and Tōyako Visitor Center.

How to buy tickets?

A round-trip ropeway ticket normally costs ¥1,800, but Klook has tickets for only ¥1,620.

How to get to the Usuzan Ropeway and Tōyako Observatory?

If you are coming from JR Tōya Station, take the bus bound for Tōyako Onsen and get off at the last stop, Tōyako Onsen Bus Terminal (15 minutes). Then, change to a taxi (around ¥2,000) or bus bound for Shōwa Shinzan (15 minutes); note that this bus does not run during winter. (The service is currently suspended, check here for an up-to-date timetable).

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