But that was before I met Motoko.
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.
And it was free!
I was happy and the care taker too.
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.
Stalls with lots of food,
and people dressed like they come out of a book.
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.
The hike up was great,
And the views wonderful when I got to the rim of the volcano.
I was a little puzzled when a 72-year old beat me to the top,
I thought I was fairly fit… maybe not so,
as usual my legs hurt for three days.
and a meal in traditional style made it a glorious little side trip.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
(the only difference is that back home, doesn’t matter what direction you are heading, you will always have a headwind)
That’s when I reached the most northern point in Japan,
I accidentally stumbled across the Arumeria pension. Named after a flower.
And her 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.
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.
Then there was the peace Bell,
And a statue to commemorate Hokkaido reaching one million ton of milk production and half a million head of cattle. How wonderful!
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.
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.
The ferry was not as luxurious as the last one, but very social as you all sit together on a bunch of platforms.
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.
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.
Apart from tourism fishing is the main industry on the islands.
Here’s a fisherman looking for sea urchin while steering his boat with his feet.
The roe can sell for as much as $450/kg.
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.
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.
It’s also a good place for Seaweed. Being in the sea and all that.
But what really very much surprised me was the night I camped at the lighthouse on Rebun.
Together with a few hundred seals that like to bark, wheeze, clap, growl and moan all night.
I woke up at 2 am, had a look outside and saw what I never thought I’d see in Japan…
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..)
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.
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.
Lucky there were a lot of long aaahs, eeehs and oooohs, so I could join in every now and again.
The things you do…