北海道 Hokkaidō – Nemuro to Asahikawa to Tomakomai.
My arrival at Nosappu Misaki signals the end of the ride to the four corners of Japan. The remaining section of the Hokkaidō ride is in part a kind of 20th anniversary journey. In 1992 I spent 6 weeks cycle touring around the island. Included below are some of the photos taken at the time.
Monday 16th July 2012 (continued) – Nosappu Misaki to Nemuro.
The return to Nemuro is uneventful. On the way I realise that all the large gravel car parks I have been passing on the way to the cape are in fact seaweed drying areas. The seaweed harvest is just about to get under way, something I have been wanting to see since the first time I was here. Except that I am still just a little early. The large barns are actually drying rooms, which explains the humming noise and steam coming from them.
Decide not to stay at Nemuro as it is early enough to make it to Swan 44. Even though the fog has lifted a little it is still as gloomy as before. Yesterday Toshi assured me that come September the area is nice and sunny, if somewhat cold early and late. On my way out of town meet another cyclist heading in the opposite direction.
Arrive at the destination just before dark. It is on the shore of Lake Furen, a tidal lake similar to Saroma-ko. Next to a wetlands, many swans reside on it in winter.
Get talking to a 70 year old retired gent from Nagoya who was born at Nemuro but no longer has family here. We are attacked by insects. They are really bad so we retreat inside. Discover that apart from the usual mosquitoes, there is a smaller biting insect. I eventually hide in my long pants and raincoat to put up my tent.
Tuesday 17th July – Nemuro to Teshikaga.
Up early and away, still foggy and cold. By the time I return to Betsukai the clouds have evaporated, sun is out and warming up the day. A few large trucks rush past a little too fast – just like in NZ!
Betsukai is a hive of activity. Before I enter the supermarket children are being organised for a march, on my return to the car park the local ladies are doing a full dress rehersal for the summer festival. Impressive!
After returning to the long straight roads stop at a Onsen Shimafukuro, or Fish Owl. Hence the imitation owls perched everywhere, including on the roof. The intention is to get an ice cream but end up ordering ramen in the restaurant. It is quite peppery and makes me cough and almost spray the room with noodle soup. There are footbaths under some of the tables in the restaurant. I like it.
By the time I leave the headwind has become quite strong. Arrive at the town of Nishihunbetsu, it has a couple of old locomotives and carriages parked at what remains of the railway station. There is a sign with open hours for the small museum, it should be open but it isn’t.
Continue the ascent, arrive at the small settlement of Nijibetsu and go left.
Long climb to a pass and then mostly long descent to Teshikaga.
The road station is about to close, but staff give directions to the camp ground. I’m told camping is not allowed at the road station but think probably no one stops you. I go to the campground anyway.
Wednesday 18th July – Teshikaga.
Nice morning, wonder about going to Lakes Kussharo and Mashu to the north but decide against it. The forecast is for the weather to deteriorate and there is a high pass to go over. While preparing to leave discover that two rivets have come out of the holders that attach the panniers to the bikerack. They need to be repaired so cause a change of plan, stay another day and go to Lake Mashu.
It is a 11km climb to Mashu. Starts easy enough but becomes steep, that require me to get off and push, even though I go light. Mashu is another lake in a volcanic cater. Great views from the observation deck at the top.
Business looks quiet for the professional photographers, whose business mostly comes mostly from groups. Have lunch and hang around for a while. Weather is deteriorating so head back down the hill to Teshikaga. Go to the home centre to get suitable replacements screws for my panniers.
The road station has free internet so spend the rest of the afternoon there. Sign says an hour limit but it didn’t turn off. Said files could not be uploaded but they did!
Stop at the SeicoMart on the way back to the campground. When I come out it is raining heavily and my bike lies on the ground. Pick it up and shelter from the rain and strong wind. Watch a man sit counting cars at the intersection, he is sprayed with water from a large puddle as a car passes too close. After about 20 minutes rain eases and I continue to the auto camp.
The camp is quite large but the manager squeezes us all into a small area. Light rain continues, so shelter in the kitchen.
Fixing the pannier holders is easier than expected.
Thursday 19th July – Teshikaga to Aioi Tsubetsu.
Morning is fine but still unsettled with strong wind and rain in the mountains. After packing up go to the road station to see the weather, as I need to go over a couple of high passes to get to the day’s destination. Talk to a motor cyclist. Long gradual climb out of Teshikaga on Route 241. On the way another motor cyclist goes past, stops and asks for a photo so I oblige.
Pass through several half tunnels. Part way up to Akan Touge it starts to drizzle and going round bluffs becomes difficult in the strong blustery wind.
Rain stops during the long drop down to Akan-ko and join Route 240. Lunch at the bus station. Use the internet in the info centre and a quick visit to the Ainu Village then off again. Fish-owls are an important part of Ainu culture, who consider them gods. Much of their natural habitat has been changed through modern farming and are now endangered. Read National Geographic article from January 2003 – http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/features/world/asia/japan/winter-text/1 part of which comments on these and other birds.
Light rain resumes during the climb to the turn-off to Bihoro and go right on Route 240. Riding into the rain and northerly wind is cold. Climb to Senpoku Pass afterwhich the downhill doesn’t require much effort, so try pedalling to stay warm. The 10km to Aioi seems to take a long time and I’m soaked and cold on arrival.
Decide to have soba for my evening meal in the nice, warm restaurant. One of the other guests remembers passing and waving to me near Nosappu-misaki two days ago.
Friday 20th July – Aioi to Onneyuonsen.
Still raining in the morning but stops soon after. Head towards the dark clouds and expect to encounter rain at some point.
The clouds retreat as I keep going north until arriving at Tsubetsu. Get talking to the ladies in the info centre, they say Prefecture Road 27 (the one I want to take) has a steep hill and I should go north on Route 241 to Bihoro instead. That means going double the distance. I decide to go west on 27. It’s not too far to Kitami – if the hill isn’t too high.
Easy going, mostly flat, then short easy climb up to the pass, afterwhich it is an easy ride down to Kitami and join Route 39. Head westward, remains cloudy with rain on the surrounding mountains but mostly not in the valley.
Arrive at my destination of Onneyuonsen and head in the general direction of the campground. Beautiful location set amongst mature trees and manecured lawns.
Saturday 21st July – Onneyuonsen to Sounkyo.
Nice sunny weather and get talking to the other campers. I like the awning on one of the campervans. Home-made by the owner.
They have been coming to Hokkaido for many years, perhaps 15 times. We have a few laughs. One of the other campers has a bike and joins me to go up to Sekihoku Toge.
On the way up I am not paying attention and cause a truck driver coming the other way to sound his horn as I drift across the road in front of him!
At a run-down looking building we come to a very sad looking (stuffed) bear standing outside. Bits of it have obviously fallen off and been sellotaped back on. There are several mangy foxes of various colours tied up. They are obviously there to attact tourists but I find the place a put-off. The owner is out talking to people in a car.
We continue up Route 39 as it winds its way to the top, counting down 10 stations on the way. We stop for a rest and my friend gives me a rice ball.
It is on this road I came off my bike 20 years ago. Coming down off the pass at about 15kmph in gentle rain, my wheels suddenly disappeared from under me and I aqua-planed on the road, face down for several meters before coming to a halt. The latest resurface of the road had left a raised lip. Most roads in Hokkaido have such an edge and I was aware of the hazard. I had crossed over them many times without incident. Not this time, probably due to the rain making the road surface more slippery than previously and coming at it at a too narrow angle. I was more shaken than hurt, the rain and coat providing lubrication to reduce the gravel rash. Fortunately traffic was light. A truck driver going the other way saw it happen, turned round and took us to Kitami.
This time there is no such accident. This time it is in beautiful sunshine, and going in the opposite direction. Traffic is still light and much of the road has been re-routed. At the road works the safety crew try to make me stop even though there is nothing coming the other way, but I keep going.
At the top enjoy taking a few photos, a drink in the shop and talk with a couple from Singapore. He really looked like he wanted to join us!
After saying good bye to my companion, (whose name I didn’t ask) I continue on the journey. At Sekihoku Pass enter Daisetsuzan National Park. At 226,000ha it is the largest national park in Japan, and with 16 peaks over 2,000 metres, it is big in more ways than one.
On the way down to Sounkyo arrive at Lake Daisetsu at the junction with Route 273.
Continue to Obako, a scenic steep gully. I remember it from 20 years ago. The cycling road tunnel we used is now closed with barriers preventing access. A cycle hire business no longer operates. The dilapidated look makes me feel sad.
After travelling down the gorge mostly inside tunnels arrive at Ginga and Ryusei waterfalls. The cycling road here is also closed. Only a couple of buses are in the car park so not busy.
Nearby is Ryusei waterfall. Together they are referred to as Meoto Taki (husband-and-wife falls), with Ryusei-no-Taki as the husband and Ginga-no-Taki as the wife.
Down to the village of Sounkyo, it seems much quieter than I remember. Go to the nearest campground but on arrival it doesn’t look like it. Explore the area going back as far as the waterfalls, but cannot find anything that could be it.
I’m so sure it is not the right place that some time later I have another look. The only option is up a narrow cordoned-off track. Go along this for 1km and come to it. A few people are already there, including 3 cyclists. I can’t work out how a car got past the barrier though.
One of the camping cyclists is Mark from Taiwan who has been taking a few unusual roads. I tell him his planned route up the middle of the island from Pippu is boring. The other two cyclists are nowhere to be seen.
After pitching the tent and while making tea another gaijin cyclist wheels in. He swaggers around looking for a suitable site before coming over to the kitchen. My inital guess was a German but learn he is from North America.
He is a bit of a weekend survivalist, complete with a jungle hammock, which is set up amongst the trees, and hence his hunt round the campground. Later he pulls out a huge folding machete-like implement.
I ask is it for slaughtering other campers while they sleep, or defence against being attacked by bears lurking in the undergrowth? No, it is for the mozzies. What, stabbing them? No – cutting up vegetation for a camp fire, to smoke them away.
After a frenzied attack of a nearby bush he emerges with suitably combustible material and successfully fills the campground with large clouds of smoke. Which really does get rid of the mozzies.
Then he pulls out a catapult – this is for the bears!
I ask if I can take his photo holding the knife and catapult while standing in a Rambo-like pose but he declines. Even when I suggest he can hide his identity by wearing his balaclava! I’m very disappointed.
Sunday 22nd July – Sounkyo to Pippu.
When morning arrives there are no dead bodies or gory scenes. He didn’t run up to the mountaintops at dawn either. We ride down to the village and say good bye.
Nice weather again so enjoy riding slowly down through the scenic Sounkyo Canyon, stopping often to take photos.
It is a short day so take my time, going off Route 39 several times to look at small settlements. At one village, a family are standing outside and smile and wave as I go past. This is so unusual that I don’t know what to do, so smile and wave back but keep going. I think I should have stopped.
Stop for lunch at Kamikawa. After refuelling join the cycling road to Asahikawa, remaining on it until leaving it to go to Pippu.
Pippu Rider House is closed until 4:00pm and I must wait. This is my 3rd time here. The manager arrives shortly after me and checks me in. I’m short of cash so he pays part of my fee. Go to the supermarket but it is closed, permanently! Find another shop so get supplies there.
About 8 people plus me stay, including a female motor-cyclist. I have not seen many female motor-cyclist in Hokkaido this year and no female cyclists. There is also a man with his daughter, she sleeps in the men’s dorm with dad, rather than the female room.
One of the other guests snores, I try to stop him, but fail. It is so loud I make a recording of it! Most of us do not sleep very well.
Monday 23rd July – Pippu to Asahikawa.
Another nice morning, return to the cycling road. Ride along the Ishikari River all the way to Asahikawa, arriving quite early. Leaving the river come to a large round-about and see some crazy driving. Takes me a while to work out that priority seems to be given to the major road – Route 40 and all others must giveway. It doesn’t look safe!
The JR station is brand new, as is the info centre inside. I’m remembered from last year by info centre staff. They say they adopted my suggestion of providing wi-fi for visitors. My smartphone no longer works so I can’t use it!
A nearby coffee shop still has free internet so use that, spending most of the day there. On the way to the campground pass a bikeshop so stop and ask if they can attach my mirror to the bike. Yes they can and with a few adjustments did, and at no cost!
Arrive quite late at Kaguraoka Park. There is a lot of noise from the camping area, so hang around in the large shelter. Eventually the noisy people leave and I go pitch my tent, there are several others there, It seems the occupants are cyclists, are not the noisy people, judging from the bikes.
Later some of the party people return. Go clean teeth, the men’s toilet light doesn’t work, nor the tap, so go use the ladies but someone is in there, so I look for another place,
On the way back to my tent some of the party people leave. I ask them to be quiet. It works for a while but as with most drunks the noise gradually increases again. Just before I get up to go talk to them they leave again.
Quiet at last!
Tuesday 24th July – Asahikawa to Furano.
Sadly they return soon after midnight, then go away. This happens several times. Finally as dawn approaches I get up to talk to the four remaining. It is clear they have been going away to look for something to burn. There is a mess but they have cleaned some of it up, or burnt it.
As the sun comes up the other people in tents gradually appear, 5 people from Hong Kong.
I hope park management don’t conclude campers made the mess and close it for such use. Stop to photograph pretty waterfalls on the way out of the park but cannot find my camera. Don’t panic! I return to the campground and find it still sitting on the table where I left it, phew!
Yesterday was told the cycling road to Kamuikotan is still closed so decide not to go that way. It is a long hot sunny day as I head south to Furano on the busy Route 237. I want the cool and quiet of 3 days ago! Pass a few lavender farms, one of which I remember from 20 years ago.
See a yellow motorbike coming the other way and it is my old friend Junzou from Tomakomai, Teshio, Wakkanai and Hamatonbetsu! We have a catch up of where we have been.
Go pass Furuda Melon Farm but decide not to stay this year. I am still offended by the owner calling the police last year. Into Furano then head south to my destination. I thought it was only 10km but seems to be more. I’m slowed by a headwind and it is getting dark.
At the SeicoMart am told to take the road to the right. It is a long fairly steep 3km climb. Near the end it starts to rain, gentle at first but then heavier, but why? There are no clouds!
It is a large campground with the usual facilities. When the tent is up I lie down for a rest for a few minutes and fall asleep.
Wednesday 25th July – Furano to Furanai.
In the morning something is missing, it is too quiet. The campground has no crows. It must be the only place in Japan without them!
To get to the road I want to use I must return to Furano. The map suggests 10kms but last evening’s ride was more like 15km, plus the added 5kms means a 20km ride to the start point. My desire not to return to Furano is more than not wanting to use the same route as the last two visits to Hokkaido.
What confirms the decision is the dark clouds pouring over the mountains in the direction I want to go. It means missing Yubari and a few new roads, but never mind.
Turn off Route 37 onto Route 237.
Stop at the old traditional shop in Minami Furano again. This time it is a younger woman who serves me, not the usual elderly man. When I ask about him, she doesn’t speak English, but he appears shortly afterwards so we have a chat.
Continue up Route 237 and over the pass, down to Shimukappu and stop at the road station. There seems to be two road stations, one at the railway station, which is a few kms before the village and one at the village centre crossroads.
While having lunch a man from a van comes comes over to talk. They are a group touring Hokkaido giving classical India music performances. He lives in India for part of the year. They are going to Furano and invite me to join them. Sadly I am going the other way!
Up over Hidaka Pass and down to Hidaka Town.
Then onto Furanai, staying on Route 237 all the way. It has been quiet until Hidaka but thereafter becomes busy with trucks. One of two of them pass a little too close. Shame really because this is a nice route. It was not always like this.
Prior to the (free) car-only Route 235 being built along the coast it was popular amongst tourist. Then truck drivers found it a preferable to Route 274 for going between Tomakomai and Obihiro. The result is they hastened the decline in tourists going this way. Truck drivers ararely stop to use the available services, meaning there seems not much benefit for local businesses having them there. It is the same in NZ.
Arrived at Furanai Rider House at 6:00pm, enough daylight time to go on to Nibutani, but decide to stay, my third time in 4 years, I am becoming one of their best customers!
No-one else is there, eventually worked out how to use the new shower – ¥200 for 10 minutes. The manager comes at 8:30pm, which explained the meaning of another sign. Went to sleep alone, one of the few rider houses where I have had this luxury.
Thursday 26th July – Furanai to Nibutani.
Another nice morning, set off down the road fairly late and things had warmed up. Still trying to decide if I should go to Hachinohe or Sendai. Better make a decision soon as I should arrive at the ferry terminal this evening.
See another cyclist taking photos on the bridge of a side-road so stopped for a chat. Yuuki stayed at Nibutani last night and is going to Obihiro for a music festival before heading to another festival and home via Hakodate. Sachiko is still in charge and weaving at the Ainu House.
After he left I wonder which way he is going, surely he knows about the reputation of Route 274? Maybe I should have asked, but then he had little choice unless he knows of a route I don’t.
At Nibutani had an early lunch of cold soba in the rider house restaurant, I’m becoming adventurous! And hungry! Except that the noodles are supposed to be dipped in the sauce, not have it poured over them! Another diner kindly pointed this out to me, with just a little embarassment on my part!
After lunch went for a look around the Ainu Museum and watch the video on their old VCR, Surprisingly they don’t use DVD and none are available to buy. Ainu have an almost parallel story as Maori in NZ, native tribes in the Americas and virtually all countries that have been colonised by Europeans, except that in this case it is Japanese who were doing the colonising.
Another traditional house has been added in the Ainu village complex, with shelters for canoes, and a water-powered mill. I go over to see Sachiko, she is still weaving and as cheerful as ever! She remembers me from my previous visits. She is now working with two other ladies, with a couple more down at the far end.
She says something I don’t understand and I when I say “what?” she calls one of the girls, who comes over and speaks excellent English with what sounds like a German accent. She translates for us.
Rather than leave, I hang around, then go have a chat as my curiousity gets the better of me. Throughout much of the afternoon Nana and I had a really good talk about the world and meaning of life in general. They kindly make me a cup of coffee.
I wanted to film the weaving but Sachiko says no, I must get permission from the government. The weaving is hand-made in the traditional way using specially sourced natural fibres. Patterned mats are for wall decoration, plain mats are for the floor. I’m still there at closing time, so decide to stay at the rider house.
Someone is looking at my bike. We start to chat, he is a cyclist but this time is touring Hokkaido in his car. Akiharu is planning to go to NZ for a cycle tour next year. He kindly gives me a snack to eat on my way.
Go for a walk round and take a few photos down at the lake. Afterwards go to the shop for an ice cream and bananas for breakfast. The shop owner remembers me from the previous two times, I’m becoming famous! Am told there isn’t one banana available for sale in the entire village, Lawson 6kms away might have some. I have enough bread so decide to use the chocolate spread I carry for emergencies.
Meet my old friend Junzou on the yellow bike again – the 7th time of meeting! Then the man and his daughter who were at Pippu arrive. This is turning into a reunion!
Have oyaka-don at the restaurant for tea. The man who gave me instructions how to eat cold soba at lunchtime is also staying at the rider house.
In the evening the owner comes to take photos. We talk about the last time I was there and sure enough find me in the photo album. I say I want to take the owner’s photo, remembering she always refuses. When I go to get my camera, it is not there. I cannot find it. I must have left it somewhere. Not again?!
Take my torch and return to all the places I went after the leaving Sachiko. I look especially down by the lake as it was the last place I remember using it.
Friday 27th July – Nibutani to Tomakomai.
Up at 5:00am to look for my camera again but unsuccessful. Come back and consider the options. There are a lot of photos on it that I don’t want to lose! I am thinking the only place left is the restaurant counter next to the cash register when I paid. It doesn’t open for 3 hours so a long wait. If it is not there, report it to the police.
With no urgency now, I am lying on my mattress with eyes covered, hoping to have more sleep. The door opens and closes. Footsteps are heard crossing the room. I wonder who it is and where they are going. Feel a tap on my foot. I pull the cover off my eyes. It is Katsuhiko, he asks what is the colour of my camera, “Black” I say. He drops it into my hands – he found it!
He found it down by the lake, where I had last used it. I didn’t go back to that area this morning as I had done a thorough look last night, believing it was there.
Happily I pack and leave. Stop at the SeicoMart before turning off my usual route and taking a short-cut. I was told it is mostly flat, but a steep hill greets me almost immediately. It goes round a bend and I cannot see the top so hope it isn’t too far. It is far enough! At the top a person on a motor bike suddenly shouts something and pulls up. It is Misuzu! We finally meet after missing each other over the last two weeks – with only half a day before I leave Hokkaido!
She decided to change her route and take the one I said I would be on, before I changed my plans at Furano.
Soon after we part company I pass a dead snake.
I look forward to having tai-yaki at the Mukawa Road Station again from the small mobile shop. When I arrive it isn’t there. Go inside to ask. The manager points me to another vendor just inside the main doors. He gives me a sample of something similar but it tastes old. I ask where is the other guy but he pretends not to understand. After a couple of failed attempts to find out I leave without buying.
See a surveilance camera in the bike parking area and a touring bike with a nice carrier.
Good tailwind blows me to Tomakomai and I make good time. Decide to go to Chitose 20km to the north to see Kubono-san and tell him of my latest exploits. When I arrive his bikeshop is closed with a message about being away! Oh no! Return to Tomakomai into a headwind.
Arrived at Tomakomai and still can’t decide to go to Sendai or Hachinohe. If I rush to the port I could catch the ferry to Sendai.
My last shopping expedition on Hokkaido is at the large Aeon Mall. Was almost caught out. Something doesn’t feel right, instinct tells me not to fart but instead to hurry to the toilet. By the time I arrive things are pretty urgent. I dive into a vacant squat toilet cubicle and pull down pants. Tight lycra cycle shorts are so difficult to pull down – especially when you are in a hurry. Get out of one leg and just manage to avoid disaster with less than a second to spare!!!
Hard to say but I think the cause was too much fluid intake earlier in the day.
By the time I reached the ferry terminal it is dark, and not long until the departure of the one to Hachinohe. But I am still undecided. I don’t want to wait until tomorrow for the one to Sendai and prefer to ride down the coast. So go to Hachinohe.
Japanese ferries have been under pressure for a long time, especially from cheap flights. Many companies have ceased operating. This is a modern ferry, and the way they are likely operate in future if they are to survive.
The public area is limited, it has no bar or restaurant as in older ferries. There is just a cafeteria-like room full of vending machines with everything from packaged meals, ice cream through to the usual hot and cold drinks. Prices are reasonable. It also has ranges and kettles for hot water. They seem to be popular with plenty of people using them.