Just outside the small city of Kumamoto, natural beauty can be found in a variety of places, from forests thick with trees to open parks and riverside walks. Of all these scenic spots, Lake Ezu is sure to be a favourite with any Kumamoto visitor.
Actually made up of two lakes (Shimo-Ezu and Kami-Ezu) the lake is shaped kind of like a lopsided pair of sunglasses. A length of two and a half kilometres is the total size of these two parts. It has a perimeter of about 6 kilometres and a total surface area of roughly 50 hectares. So while this is no gigantic body of water, it’s certainly substantial enough to warrant half a day’s visit if you plan to have a good walk. For the best entrance to the lake, take the Kumamoto tram to the Suizenji Koen station – from there you can walk down the idyllic steam that branches out into the lake at the Kami-Ezu end.
Kami-Ezu is often bustling with activity, particularly in the summer. In the shallows under the bridge, children wade in the waters – bucket in one hand and fishing net in the other. You can hire paddle boats shaped like swans, or the less traditional motifs of Kumamon, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse or Doraemon. There are also traditional rowing boats for those who prefer using the muscles of their arms to their legs. The waters are not too deep, yet you can see large fish swimming around the boat and weaving through the reeds, and ducks floating on the surface.
There are several shady spots to have picnics, and a multitude of benches that overlook the peaceful scene from different aspects. If you forget to bring a packed lunch with you, pop over to The Boathouse restaurant which stands behind the paddle boat dock. The Boathouse was established in 1881, but it wasn’t until the 1940’s that it got its name – American soldiers frequented the lake and first gave it the name ‘The Boathouse’. The restaurant looks like a British pub with a summer garden, decked out in ornaments. It’s cute and kitsch, and the food is good too, with burgers and hot dogs as their mainstays.
From Kami-Ezu, the walk down to Shimo-Ezu first requires you to cross the bridge at Route 57, but after that it’s a peaceful, winding walk beside the waters. Don’t be alarmed if you suddenly see elephants and giraffes at the lakeside – the river runs past the Kumamoto Zoo and you can catch a glimpse of the animals if they’re outdoors. There are some springs of natural drinking water a little further on, and soon after that you reach the wide expanse of Shimo-Ezu, with grassy fields beside which are filled with youngsters playing ball games and purchasing sweet treats from the ice-cream vending machine.
Honestly – there is not that much to say about Lake Ezu. It’s not spectacular or anything, it’s just a nice place to visit if you value peace, quiet and being surrounded by nature. You’re only 15 minutes away from the centre of the city, yet the lake feels like a million miles away. If you’re looking to escape the shopping crowds and find a relaxing place to hide away and read a good book, Lake Ezu is just what you’re looking for.