Festivals, Flowers, Food & Friends.

Shimokawa is a fairly inconspicuous little town in the middle of Hokkaido. When I rode into town one dreary afternoon I had no idea I wouldn’t cycle out for another 5 days.

But that was before I met Motoko.

MotokoMotoko is born in Malaysia has lived in Sweden for 4 years, and travelled. A lot. Now she settled in Shimokawa, running a lovely tea-shop, for the time being.

The town is famous for its ski-jump, the small-great wall and a Hot Pool. But more important to me, it had a rider house.On a rainy day that’s just what I wanted.

Not too easy to find, but with the help of local english teacher Vivian, and about 4 other people I discovered it was the empty train wagon in the middle of the towns square.

Rider house / train

And it was free!

My home the first night

I was happy and the care taker too.

The Care Taker

Motoko mentioned she was heading to a festival over the weekend. A 6-hour drive from town. So I joined her and we took a little road trip.

Staying in a traditional hostel on the way down.


I discovered the best place to leave a wallet is not on the bonnet of a car. it cost a bit of stress, a good amount of time and a lot of luck to finally find it in the middle of a busy bridge.

Although a few hours late, due to my wallet-episode, the festival was wonderful, in beautiful setting on the mountainside.

A mixture of Japanese, jazz and folk music. And we didn’t miss the performance of Sogabe, Motoko’s favourite singer.

Motoko's Fave musician

Stalls with lots of food,


cute kids,

Cute Kids

and people dressed like they come out of a book.

The Dress

The views were spectacular, and one mountain in particular kept staring at me.


I had no choice but to hike up Mount  Yotei the next day, while Motoko preferred  to visit the art-galeries, museum and bakery.

Together with a fair part of the over 55’s population of Japan I climbed through the mist the next morning.

Misty Morning

The hike up was great,

And the views wonderful when I got to the rim of the volcano.

The rim

I was a little puzzled when a 72-year old beat me to the top,

Old Man Mountain

I thought I was fairly fit… maybe not so,

The Top

as usual my legs hurt for three days.

Bye Bye MountA well deserved coffee afterwards, brewed in a very scientific way I hadn’t seen before, (And I’ve seen a lot of coffee 🙂
Coffee science

and a meal in traditional style made it a glorious little side trip.

The KitchenThe drive back to Shimokawa gave us the opportunity to teach each other songs in our own language and for me to wonder about the road works in this country.

Where as I’m used to seeing things made purely practical (Australia) here it’s all made to look pretty and cute. I’ve spent a bit of time in different road-work camps but never saw much I could call pretty or cute. Here however…

Back in town I stayed at Motoko’s flat en we enjoyed the company of friends over dinner.

The owner of a little restaurant  Apollo (where the coffee is good too!), and his wife joined us for another traditional-style meal, and a few beers… And maybe a few more.

Food & Friends

This is where I met the lady who’d never seen a foreigner before. And a big white naked one at that, as she first saw me at the hot pools. It’s starting to feel less weird to have the same conversation as usual (“where are you from?”, “are you alone?”) but naked.

As I left town I cycled passed Morena Restaurant,

Morena Restaurant

Where the well-travelled owner makes a mean curry.

The beer slowed me down a little but I was glad to be back on the  road.

Shimokawa has a population of about 6 persons per km². My kinda place.

Ah Deer

Farm Houses

Cycling along small country roads I reached Niupu, where Hiroki just happened to be building a tree-house with a few of his students.

He came over as I was contemplating pitching my tent under a small shelter looking at the storm rolling in.

Hiroki teaches at the local school. Not only that he has also cycled all around Japan and New Zealand!

He invited me back to his family home where his wife Chaya was busy preparing food for the family of 7.

6 at the moment, the oldest daughter is in boarding school.

Tsugumi Family

Amazing to see with what ease a four-year old eats with chop sticks while I’m still struggling. And so nice to experience Japanese family life and hospitality!

For a few days the weather wasn’t all too spectacular. But the hospitality was! Sitting in my tent a little girl came over to give me some cookies.

Little girl with cookies

And a man on a motorbike invited me to come over and have a beer with him. He spoke no english and had a few already. I declined only for him to come up and give me lots of food, Japanese snacks like dried octopus and cans of coffee. I felt a little guilty for not wanting to hang out with him.

This is what I found next.


I almost started to feel at home, cycling along lovely bicycle lanes through very flat rural land with a tail wind.

Bike Lanes

(the only difference is that back home, doesn’t matter what direction you are heading, you will always have a headwind)

Farm Land

That’s when I reached the most northern point in Japan,

Northern Most Point

not half as strenuous as most northern point in europe, or australia. But still a mark point.

I accidentally stumbled across the Arumeria pension. Named after a flower.

ArumeriaI was only looking for water. But somehow ended up being a guest of Yuki,


And her mum.

Yuki's mum

Yuki did not speak English, and my Japanese really isn’t up to scratch either. But somehow we managed to communicate and I was told by the one other person in the place that this is a famous place for food. I could see why as well.

Food, Glorious Food

The best sea-food! I feel like I have to learn to eat all over again with all new and exciting things I haven’t tried before.

Yuki took it upon herself to show me a little more of the area while I was there. There is a memorial for the Boeing 747 that was shot down by the Russians in 1983. Killing all aboard.

Memorial monument

Then there was the peace Bell,

Peace Bell

And a statue to commemorate Hokkaido reaching one million ton of milk production and half a million head of cattle. How wonderful!

Statue for Dairy Farming

I’d say more statues for dairy-farming!


Because of the little side-trip I missed my ferry. Very lucky indeed since there happened to be a festival on in Wakkanai.

A festival

I still haven’t figured out what kind of festival it was, but it included a parade and a lot of very pretty girls. Lots and lots of food stalls.

Street View

Pretty behinds

The old man and the sausage

The ferry was not as luxurious as the last one, but very social as you all sit together on a bunch of platforms.

Fun on the Ferry

Most people come on bus tours. The Japanese seem to love their bus tours. Not alone everywhere in the world, in their own country too.

But one man was by bicycle as well. Slightly different set-up from mine.

The man and the bikes

We kept running into each other and having coffee’s and cakes without being able to speak.

After pitching my tent on the side of the bicycle track I woke up to the sound of an electric glockenspiel playing ‘Edelweiss‘.

I thought this very funny and slightly ridiculous until I discovered the islands are famous for its alpine flora, Rebun Island is the only place in Japan where you find Edelweiss and is also known as the Flower Island.


Ranger with Edelweiss headpins

Apart from tourism fishing is the main industry on the islands.

Fishing village

Here’s a fisherman looking for  sea urchin while steering his boat with his feet.

Fishing for Shell fish

The roe can sell for as much as $450/kg.

Cleaning up

The whole day I was on Rishiri Island, I never saw the mountain. It was covered in clouds. It cleared by the time I left.

Leaving Rishiri

I did see a lot of trucks carrying rocks, they seemed to come from one directions and I had the suspicion they were just driving around the island in circles. It’s only 55km around.

And a Caterpillar

It’s also a good place for Seaweed. Being in the sea and all that.

Seaweed Drying

But what really very much surprised me was the night I camped at the lighthouse on Rebun.

Island street

Together with a few hundred seals that like to bark, wheeze, clap, growl and moan all night.

One of them

I woke up at 2 am, had a look outside and saw what I never thought I’d see in Japan…

It's her, really!

The Milky Way! Not as bright and clear as in NZ or OZ, but clearly visible non the less.

And finally I managed to crawl out of my tent for my first sunrise in the land of the rising sun (yes it was 4am..)

Seals and sun

Time for coffee…


And heading up to the most north point of the island,


where I blend in perfectly with everybody else. And ran into my bicycle-friend again.

When the ferry left the harbour a group of people did a Japanese version of the Haka.

The Japanese Haka

Where in the world, being a stinky cyclist using a flash hotels free wifi for a couple of hours, does the reception lady hurries over to give you a present when you leave? A stack of postcard with scenes of the island. Only in Japan!

Back in Wakkanai I visited a ‘Sento’ where an ‘Onsen’ is a pretty flash hot spring usually in resort-style, a sento is more a simple local bathing house. Still the same rules and regulations. After washing myself I stepped into the bath but instead of a gentle ‘Atsu! Atsu! (Hot! Hot!) I accidentally screamed ; “OUCH, FUCK!’ Not your demure Japanese reaction… whoopsie. But it was fair enough as I suspect the bubbles was actually just the bath boiling.

That evening, in yet another wonderful riderhouse I looked around me as I was standing.

Locked arms with 8 Japanese bikers, swinging gently and singing a japanese pop-song, the words were written on the wall… in Japanese.

Swinging in the Rider House

Lucky there were a lot of long aaahs, eeehs and oooohs, so I could join in every now and again.

The things you do…

9 thoughts on “Festivals, Flowers, Food & Friends.

  1. Erg grappig, dat zingen met die japanners 🙂 . Sowieso weer een geweldig verhaal met mooie foto’s. En eindelijk een opgaande zon…
    Leuk om je net ook even gesproken te hebben en geniet van al die fietspaden (en de groeten aan Motoko),


    pap & mam

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s