August 2017
  • Day37

    Leaving Japan ... temporarily

    September 28, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Big day's drive from Kushiro to Sapporo. My goal was to return the car by 2pm. Never going to happen, realistically 4pm perhaps. It's a 330 km drive and I manage to vacate my tiny room with all my luggage by 8am.

    Roundabout alert! Yes, I drive on one to do a right turn over the Nusamai Bridge. So unlike the Yeti and Loch Ness monster, they do exist in Japan. I approach it very gingerly, not knowing how the other drivers will negotiate it.

    It's a long and difficult day driving to Sapporo as I have to drive through the mountains pursued by a lunatic truck driver. Suffering "Duel" flashbacks. Spoiler alert: I don't die!

    Got the car back to the rental shop at 4 pm, so 2 hours late. Penalties apply - 2700 yen or a touch over 30AUD. Haul the megaluggage to Sapporo Station to buy a ticket to New Chitose Airport. Done and done!

    As the checkin for my Seoul flight is 7:10 am, I've booked a room in the Air Terminal Hotel at the airport for the night. No problem catching the train or finding the hotel from the airport train station, it's all well signed.

    The airport has quite a few stores selling fish, other seafood and meat. There's some free tasting where I once again meet my old enemy, the Wasabi Octopus. It's all fascinating and I spend so much time in these stores that when I'm looking to eat (around 8 pm) most of the eateries are closed. Manage to buy an Indian curry in the food court just before the store closes.

    The hotel supplies a free breakfast so I'm in there around 6:10. Then I check out and make the long walk to the International Terminal, which is almost deserted. I have checked in online so just have to pick up my boarding pass from counter B8. The queue for all counters at this point is me.

    Then at 7:30 its time to pass through airport security to go to the departure lounge. Since there's around 3 people going through, I score a pat down from security staff - who probably are bored - then walk into the mostly deserted lounge. The airport is more widely used domestically so not many people board the plane. Surreal.

    Anyway the plane departs at 8:55, ending my first chapter in Japan. Thank you, dear reader, for persisting 😁
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  • Day36

    The Pioneer Navi

    September 27, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    So I'd previously rented a car in Kawaguchiko, not the latest model of the Toyota Vitz. The car was a little gutless but its GPS was easy enough to use and configure to avoid toll roads. No issues there. I was able to pair my tablet with the GPS for Bluetooth multimedia.

    Then in Sapporo I rented a late model 4WD Toyota Vitz. Much better car to drive than the 1st car, but it had a different GPS: the Pioneer Navi. I don't know what "Navi" could be short for, I mean it is to good navigation what Tony Abbott is to good government. But the problems start before navigation ...

    The photos I've attached show the Navi screens. Note that it has been set up to use English, so the fact that there seems to be a lot of Japanese must be a trick of the light. I had to use Google Translate on some of these screens to work out WTF they meant. Route setting was particularly painful as I wanted to avoid toll roads and always had to edit the selected route to do so.

    Bluetooth pairing went only so far as calls, which was useless to me. Multimedia pairing proved elusive as the Navi presented me with multiple dialog boxes to choose Yes or No, all in Japanese of course. So no Bluetooth.

    And to the navigation. The 90 degree deviation driving back to Kushiro from the south east coast. The use of a service road that runs parallel to the Wakkanai freeway. The deviation onto B and C roads on the way to Kushiro. When I went to the Kushiro marshland the next day I used the Navi to navigate back to Kushiro. However when I saw signs for Nusamai Bridge (2 minutes from my hotel) I ignored the Navi's entreaties to make turns. And that went well.

    What really annoyed me is how the Navi had the last laugh. On the way to Sapporo on route 274, I see a sign to turn left for Sapporo but the Navi wants me to go straight ahead. I take the left turn, get held up by roadworks, drive on, see a sign saying that there is no route to Sapporo due to the closure of a crucial mountain road, do a U-turn, get held up for even longer by the same roadworks as before and then take the Navi's requested route. Humble pie indeed.

    The final contribution from the Navi came later in the day in Sapporo when it almost took me onto a (clogged) expressway. I had to edit the route on the fly and was fortunately able to bail out 170 metres down the road before the expressway entrance. Huge sigh of relief when I pulled into the Toyota rental shop.

    Where A.I should take us in the future is in the ability to inflict some sort of pain on crap software. So it knows we're unhappy and tries to do a better job next time. Ah, you can dream ☹
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  • Day35

    Kushiro Marsh

    September 26, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    The Japanese Crane Reserve is a short drive west from the hotel. It costs around 5AUD admission and contains maybe 10 pairs of cranes. Not all are Tancho (red headed). These are the rarest that are difficult to see in the wild. Winter is the best time to see them. There are a pair of sea eagles flying around as well.

    It's around 13 km to the Marsh Observatory. It costs 5 AUD to view the exhibits, not worth the money so it's more of a donation. I spend much time on the walking trails (3rd photo), especially the 910m circuit from Aosagi square. The marsh is what we would call wetlands and thankfully has NO MOSSIES. In fact there's no particularly annoying insects at all, how Japanese!

    It's a very sunny day so I eat my lunch in the car. I then drive clockwise around the marsh to the Kottaro viewpoint (last 2 photos). I climb the stairs to reach the top viewpoint - took no photos there so it might have been wasted effort.

    Proceeding on, the road turns to unpaved gravel. Just what I need on my 2nd last day of driving! Thankfully route 391 isn't too far away so I drive back to Kushiro from the east.
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  • Day34

    Lake Mashu and Akan National Park

    September 25, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    I'm staying in a hotel in Kushiro which is around 70 km south west of Teshikaga. However I plan to visit no less than THREE (count 'em) lakes on the way by a circuitous route so it will take most of the day to reach Kushiro.

    The first lake is Mashu which isn't that far away north on route 52. It's not possible to get close to the lake so I will drive to 2 observation viewpoints. It costs 500 yen to park at the first viewpoint (#3) and, once again, there is no view due to pervasive fog (1st photo is of car park). However there is a tax free shop and tour buses even at this relatively early time so who cares about the views? I buy a couple of T shirts anyway.

    I drive then to viewpoint #1 which has free parking, no shop and therefore no crowd. The fog lifts a little when I walk to the viewpoint so I'm able to shoot a small video and take a couple of photos. Temporary reprieve I'm afraid as the fog returns with a vengeance.

    These viewpoints are quite high so the road drops away as I continue on. A tour bus slows down to a stop in front of me on the road. There's a red fox jogging along the side of the road. I see a few of these as roadkill so I hope this one takes care!

    The road through to the next lake (Kussharo) takes me to Kawayu Onsen town. The tourist info place there has good material for the lakes I want to see. There's a foot spa in the park opposite tourist information but I'm too pressed for time to partake.

    I drive through to Sunayu on the eastern shore of Lake Kussharo. The smell of sulphur was quite strong in the car coming through. The shoreline is on a hot spring so it's possible to dig your feet into the coarse sand and have a foot spa. This is why you wear thongs 😏. Anyway the (relatively) larger pools are soothing. A smaller pool is way too hot so I retreat.

    The next port of call is Wakoto peninsula which sticks out from the southern shore of the same lake. On the wind protected side the lake is quite calm and serene. On the other side it is choppy. There is an open air hot spring (mixed bathing, swimwear optional) next to the lake on the wind protected side. I'm wearing board shorts but find there's a nude German already in the water. He is travelling for 3 months with his Tokyo-born wife and their daughter who are only spectating here. We have a good chat whilst soaking up the minerals in the spring. Not sure how clean the water is, though. He heads to the lake proper to rinse off and I do the same (water's cold though). After that I change back, buy a bottle of coke and sit on a bench in the sun with my swimwear draped over the bench.

    The way through to Lake Akan takes me back to Teshikaga where I enjoy lunch in a park nearby Mashu Onsen. There's few people in the park as the shop is back at the onsen car park. Then I drive through to Akanko Onsen town and park. The town is very touristy with rows of souvenir shops selling mass-produced "authentic" artifacts. Still, it has good views of the lake so I take some photos from the jetty.

    The day has got away from me (yes, again) so I must make tracks for Kushiro. On the way there my Pioneer Navi car GPS prepares a special "surprise" for me by taking me off the road signed "Kushiro" then putting me on a B road, then a C road on the way through. What's more, a car follows me on both roads, must have the same car GPS, I feel your pain 🤑

    Eventually we're back on track and make it to the Century Castle Hotel in Kushiro. It is next to the river so I take some night time photos, none attached here though.
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  • Day34

    Kushiro at night

    September 25, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Because I haven't posted many night time photos, I'll do a special post for Kushiro. My hotel is located on the south bank of the Kushiro river and is between two bridges. The closest bridge is the Nusamai bridge which is known for its views. Most of the photos were taken in this vicinity.

    After checking in to the hotel I find my room is more suitable for a hobbit than a human. Tiny shower; I'm thin and I still struggled to find enough space to wash myself. Tiny bathroom; had to dry myself in the room. Tiny fridge; a small carton of milk had to sit on its side to fit.

    Anyway there's an inhouse Chinese restaurant so maybe that will make up for the room. Well no, it's apparently fully booked so they cannot fit in ONE PERSON. I walk outside to take some photos and walk past the restaurant. Looking at the diners, I try to banish the thought "I hope you choke" to the back of my brain ☹

    So I check online for close by restaurants as I've had enough driving for the day. Niku 18 is a meat restaurant not too far from Nusamai Bridge. This gives me a chance to admire the views from the bridge.

    After arriving at the restaurant (see photo) I order the Niku 18 special, which shall hereafter be known as MegaMeatMeal. It comprises pork, chicken and beef, along with chips. The attached photo doesn't do it justice as the pork obscures 2 pieces of beef. I eat as much as I can but can't finish it.

    After I pay, the staff farewell me and pray that I don't have cardiac arrest from all that meat on my way home. I take a couple more photos from the bridge before turning in.
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  • Day33

    Shiretoko National Park

    September 24, 2017 in Japan ⋅ 🌫 8 °C

    It's a long day driving from Wakkanai to Teshikaga. Much of it is close to the Hokkaido eastern coastline so I'm able to appreciate the scenery. I take a detour to Kitami which turns out to be a complete waste of time.

    It tends to start gradually getting dark in Hokkaido after 3 pm so I'm keen to push on. It starts to drizzle and is quite dark when I arrive in Teshikaga. My hotel is around 3 km out of town and is technically Mashu but I manage to find it.

    The thing about Teshikaga is that it is quite central to the sights I want to see before I fly out. The first of these is Shiretoko National Park which is on an eastern peninsula.

    The way through passes Oshinkoshin Falls, so I stop and take the obligatory photos, sparing you the selfie I took. Then I drive through Utoro on route 334 before heading to the Shiretoko Visitor Centre. There is a track through to Furepe Falls that I take. I pass a notice board that has maps as well as a "bear calendar", which records September bear sightings. The Hokkaido brown bear is believed to be an ancestor of the grizzly bear so it's best to avoid them! Similar strategies to hiking in Canada, bear bells and plenty of noise. Being a Sunday with plenty of hikers around I think I'll be OK.

    I drive through to the Shiretoko 5 lakes entry and stroll on the boardwalk. Unfortunately half the boardwalk is closed for maintenance but I still take some decent photos. That's more than can be said for my drive up to Shiretoko Pass. It's supposed to be an extremely scenic viewpoint but pervasive fog (my 2nd nemesis after the Wasabi Octopus) ruins that.

    I drive back to the hotel at Mashu and stretch my legs, walking past the local golf course. No bears here either. It's around sunset when I return to the hotel, affording me a final photo.
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  • Day31

    Rishiri Island

    September 22, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Since the weather's been so great, why not hit the water and check out one of the outlying islands? The Heartland Ferry company runs ferries 3 times a day to Rishiri and Rebun islands. Although I could take the car, it is a prohibitively expensive round trip to do that so the car has the day off. As it is, its around 50 AUD for the return trip to Rishiri island as a passenger.

    It's an early start as I want to take the first ferry of the day at 7:15. I have the choice of 1st class, 2nd class and no class (economy). Naturally I choose the last option as comfort and luxury are wasted on me (and I'm also tight btw).

    Like all ferry trips, there's interesting views of the port of departure, interesting views of the port of arrival and a lot of boredom in between. I look in vain for whales, dolphins, really just anything in the water but not much is happening. Just the odd whiff of tobacco from the smoking section 😝

    We arrive at Odishomari ferry terminal a bit after 9. The weather looks decent on the island, it might be a good hiking day. The ferry I was on continues on to Rebun Island but that's too far afield for me today.

    Rishiri island is around 60 km in circumference. Mt Rishiri sits seething in the middle of the island, an active volcano around 1700 metres high. It dominates all views of the island interior, and is visible from much of the North Hokkaido coastline.

    I decide to take the Soya bus to Kushtugata, which is 12-13 km from the ferry terminal. Owing to my inexperience with Japanese buses (what with having a car and all) a young lady has to help me out paying the fare (750 yen or just under 9 AUD) when I exit the bus. My idea is to walk back to the ferry terminal along the coastline and catch the 2:35 pm ferry back to Wakkanai.

    As it turns out, 13 km is a long way. The day is a bit warmer than I would like, not too much sea breeze coming through so I eat my lunch on some rocks at the beach (cue 4th photo). I'm able to stretch out and rest in the cool air for a few minutes, but unfortunately I still have over 7 km to walk and time is getting shorter.

    Eventually I make it back to the ferry terminal. Plenty of time up my sleeve. The ferry pulls in around 2:10 and what seems to be a thousand people disembark. Yet there's a queue of around 40 people standing by to get on. Why do this, everyone will get a seat! What's worse is that I'm IN the queue, regretting my decision as my tired feet yammer for a break.

    Fortunately I'm able to rest up in the 105 minutes or so it takes to return to Wakkanai. There are fewer people on board than when I came over, at least in economy. Still are some smokers doggedly pursuing their dreams of an early death 😜

    We disembark from Wakkanai and go our separate ways. A few people are in front of me as we walk back into the town. I hear the man in front of me exclaim, then I see what he sees: there's a STAG munching on vegetation in a car park. It's very close to the footpath we're on, so a little disconcerting 😯
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  • Day30

    Wakkanai Park

    September 21, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    So I've driven back to the Hotel Saharin at Wakkanai. After a breather, there's still some time left in the day. Wakkanai Park is close(ish) by, so around 5 I walk on in.

    I hadn't realized that the park is on a hillside so it's a bit of a climb to reach different stages of the park. The entrance of the park is fronted by the Hokumon Shrine (a Shinto shrine) and shortly after that I walk past a small group of deer grazing on park vegetation. There is a fence between them and me, but a largeish stag is close to the fence. Easy, big fella, I don't want any trouble 🤐

    Some of the views over Wakkanai are magic. There's also sadness in some of the monuments over the loss of Japanese lives during the Russian WWII annexation of Sakhalen Island.

    I'm in a sober state of mind heading down from the park. I pass another grazing deer, it can't be more than 3 metres away. It's been one of the best days I've had in Japan as far as photos go, also one of the most affecting days. Vale ...
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  • Day30

    The White Road

    September 21, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Soya Park is around 14 km WSW from Cape Soya. There's nobody else in the park when I arrive so I'm able to eat my lunch in peace and quiet.

    The real reason I'm here is that there is a 2.3 km thoroughfare known as the "White Road" that winds through some countryside and has excellent views. I don't have a lot of information as to where it is, but in an unprecedented event I actually find it 🤤

    Conditions are perfect today as I traverse ... one guy taking photos of his motorbike is the only vehicle I see for ages. There are quite a few wind turbines in the area but the wind is not blowing today.

    Because conditions are so good, I continue on at the end of the White Road. Eventually nature calls, which of course coincides with the arrival of the first car I've seen in over an hour. Sod's law, I suppose. Move on, nothing to see here ...

    The total walk I do is around 8.6 km. On the way back I spy a couple of deer in the distance. As I'm upwind of them they see me rather than smell me. They snort a couple of times, run a short distance, look back, snort again and run off. I take some photos but for reasons made clear in upcoming posts they're not attached here.

    The sunlight shining off the sea is extremely picturesque, especially with Mt Rishiri in the background (an active volcano on Rishiri Island). I drive back to Wakkanai, but there's more to come ...
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  • Day30

    Cape Soya

    September 21, 2017 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Wakkanai is a border town for Japan with Russia. Consequently the road signs contain Russian interpretations, which I haven't seen before.

    The 2 countries have been in territorial disputes over the islands between Russia and Hokkaido since the 1800s. The end of the 2nd world war allowed the Russian army to retake Sakhalen island, which remains in Russian hands.

    I drove around 40 minutes along the northern Hokkaido coast to reach Cape Soya, the northernmost point in Japan. The weather was excellent, affording great photo ops. A kind lady who was in charge of a tourist group took my photo for me at the monument.

    I walked up a road and stairs to a park that overlooked the cape. The Japanese built a watchtower here due to the tensions with Russia. I was there at midday and there was what appeared to be a service marking the downing of a Korean Air flight by the Russians in 1983 because it strayed into their air space near Sakhalen island. Lest we forget ...
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