The adventure continues. . .

Nagano Travel Blog

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Subject: The adventure continues. . .

       Well, we left off in Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido last.  The Northernmost point in our journey.  Right after finishing with e-mail I went straight to the nearest camera store (all the pictures prior were with a cheapo-disposable one).  The store was gigantic.  K-mart sized, but all camera equipment.  I found a good one for about 15,000 Yen and bought 6-36 picture rolls of film (I have already those up by the time I write this).  I will easily have over 500 pictures when finished.  There is just too much beauty to capture here!  Shortly after the camera purchase it was time to hit Susukino, which is a district of the town exclusively for clubs, bars and other nightlife.  Dave and I were the ONLY caucasians around (I have seen under ten since I left the airport).  The CONSTANT attention really takes some getting used to.  Many drinks and conversations later (my Japanese is probably like caveman talk to them),  it was time to hit the sack for the next big day.  At our hotel room is the cyclist that that flew past us on the road to Sapporo from before.  Talk about a coincidence!  1.7 million people in the town and many places to stay and he's in our room.  The in-expensive Tatami mat rooms are often shared with other guests in Japan.  First thing in the morning it's time to go to Sapporo station for a train to Hakodate, the southernmost town on Hokkaido.  This is were Commodore Matthew Perry "forced" Japan to start trading again in the mid-1800`s.  We had to go to Hakodate first to connect to another train to go through the Seikan Tunnel, which is the longest tunnel in the world.  The train ride to Hakodate was very scenic, but relatively uneventful.  Hakodate was the most beautiful town we had seen so far.  There were dozens of places of interest and we had very limited time.  The first place we had to go was to the top of Mt. Hakodate.  This is labeled as one of Japan's "Three Best Views" as well as being in the top-ten for the whole world.  Oh boy were they right.  We took the tram to the top and the view was utterly gorgeous.  The town was fan-shaped with bays on both sides with beautiful mountain scenery beyond it.  I believe I have some of the best pictures I have ever taken in my life.  We ate at a cafe at the top and it's the most memorable meal I have had here thus far.  I hope my pictures can help convey this incredible view of the city mixed with nature.  After going down and seeing a few temples and graves for ancient Samurai warriors, it was time to go to my first Onsen, the fabled Japanese hot spring baths.  The strangeness of everyone bathing together was the first thing to overcome.  One washes outside the bath and rinses thoroughly first before soaking.  I got over the strangeness real quick when I lowered into the most soothing water in my life.  All aches and pain melted away.  Soon after I discovered that there is an outdoor bathing area as well, with a view of the mountaintop we were just at.  Incredible!  After that there were free massage chairs.  I just love Hakodate!  Well, experiencing the town went into the evening, which was much later than expected.  So, our train options were limited to 1) pay a lot more money and go in two hours 2)pay somewhat more money and go at 2:47am or 3)wait till morning and pay nothing more.  Well, option 2 seemed feasible at the time so it was time to eat a great dinner.  That is when I had the best sushi in my life and the best Sapporo beer in my life.  After plenty of time at the restaurant we headed back to the station and were too tired to bag our bikes and ridiculously conceded that we would wake up and do it before getting on the train around 2:30.  Well, next thing we know it's 2:35am and people are getting off of the train we are supposed to be on.  Groggily, we race to dismantle everything and race to the train.  No dice.  It leaves moments before we get to the stairs.  Well, time to sleep and wake up for the 8am train.  At least our bikes are bagged for this one.  This plan actually succeeds and we find ourselves on the Doraemon train on our way to Aomori through the Seikan Tunnel.  What is the "Doraemon" train you ask?  Doraemon is this ridiculous comic book character which apparently is so popular that they painted the entire train all blue with pictures of him and his fellow comic book characters all over it.  Same with the inside.   Every stop has Doraemon and his friends singing and talking over the intercom.  Not what we needed after a crappy nights rest.  Later in the trip we discover that there is a guy in a huge Doraemon suit in the front car.  I think I will be having Doraemon nightmares for the rest of my life.  Cringe.  Anyway, we got to Aomori and were anxious to get on the move South to Hirosaki and Odate, and then cut West to the coast on the Sea of Japan.  Well, after about two hours of riding a typhoon hit us.  We were soaked within minutes.  We kept riding horribly soaked and cold for a couple hours and then found a nice noodle place that let us in.  The typhoon go worse and we agreed that there was no way to make it through this.  It was drizzling that morning and we were fine.  We expected drizzling and normal rain, but this was way too much.  We then took a train to Akita, where we guessed we would have been if we kept riding strong.  We arrive there still wet, and with all of our gear wet.  Akita is where they are going to have the 2001 World Games, but there isn't much more to the town.   We find a vacant Ryokan (Japanese-style inn) and head there.   This place is very inexpensive and very good.  Each inn-keeper, waiter/waitress, and anyone else we meet is totally amazed at what we are doing and where we are from.  This innkeeper had extra curiosity, and we explained our adventure in more detail.  Luckily, they helped dry some of our stuff.  This innkeeper descended from a Samurai and had his armor up on display and he also had a parrot that was blurting out OHAYO! -- "good morning" in Japanese -- among other Japanese phrases.  Time to go again the next day.  Dave seemed to be in poor shape health-wise, be it either lack of vitamins, water, or proper food.  We didn't make much progress before lunch and we discussed what must be done to complete the journey across Japan.  It was time for another train.  Just before we left the resort area where we had lunch though, a bunch of drum performers filled up the lot outside and did an entire performance on gigantic Japanese drums it was awesome and very powerful.  In the middle of the day out of nowhere, imagine that!  We pressed on to the train station and got the next train to Murakami farther south along the coast.  I forced myself to get comfortable with the fact that complications can and will cause supplementing train rides to occur during this adventure.  Dave slept and I took pictures.  Lots of pictures.  Way too many pictures.  We had to change trains halfway and ate dinner.  There was actually a restaurant with NO RICE!  That's unspeakable here.  We didn't quite understand them at first.  All in Japanese, it went something like this --

 Us - "Rice, please"

Them - "We have no rice here"

Us - "Uh. . .  big bowl of rice, please"

Them - "We have no rice here"

Us - "Please do us the favor of giving us rice, thanks"

Them - "Sorry, there is no rice here"

Us, in English - "No rice!  No way!  Uh, I guess noodles then???"

Them, in English "No rice.  Noodle, OK"

      Alright, now back to our regularly scheduled program.  We get to Murakami about 10:30.  Time for the convenience store, and time to find a beach to sleep on.  The convenience store clerk gives a quick tour of the shop and tells where the most beautiful beaches are nearby.  Most beautiful was not my concern, but we went where directed anyway.  After some searching we come upon a descent beach but the sand was very course and this is not good to sleep on.  We woke up and it was sunny and this was very good.  There was an onsen in this town too and we were seduced to go there as well.   This one had a huge outdoor area with a hot spring waterfall, beautiful trees, pools, and so on.  I had to go back and sneak my camera in with my towel.  More great pictures.  American baths are going to be sorely lacking for the rest of my life.  This all took up a lot of time, so after some riding it was decided again that we would not make it to Niigata the port town in time to catch a ferry over to Sado island (supposedly one of the most beautiful) in time for the last ferry.  So, we supplemented with another train ride.   Just after getting out of the station we were asked if we wanted to be on TV.  I suppose we looked pretty story-worthy with our bikes and all of our gear.  There was a news TV interview, in which Dave was given the Japanese speaking pop quiz of his life.  He did well and translated what I said, which was very little.  On TV!  Can you believe it?!?!   We rushed to the ferry port and made it with moments to spare.  That trip on the ferry was memorable not only for the beautiful sunset over the island, but because of all of the seagulls that would fly right next to you and eat food right out of your hand mid-flight!  I have some incredible pictures of this!  We arrived at port when it was dark, and it was time to find another beach.  This was the best way to go with expensive food and tight money.  After a little over an hour we come upon a very nice beach with soft sand and a bunch of high school students partying since it was the night of their big tests.  They were amazed at our story as well.  After a little partying with them it was time to sleep again.  That was the coldest night camping since the beginning of the trip.  Luckily, I had my emergency blanket that folds up smaller than a wallet.  This thing really does work!  The next morning we awoke to incredible warmth and scenery.  Mountains all around and beautiful flowers everywhere.  We rode through the middle of the island between the two main mountain ranges (shaped kind of like a peanut).  Near the end of our Southerly journey the main road started to climb, climb, and climb some more.   I had a very upset stomach and this was wearing hard on me.  Well, perseverance paid off and we got near the top of the mountain we didn't know we had to climb.   The race down was EXTREMELY FAST.  After going super slow I needed it.  All the cars that were with me at the top of the mountain were long gone by the time I got to the bottom.  Thank goodness I got a good bike!  The bottom of all the hills brought us to Ogi Port where it was time to catch another ferry South back to the mainland.  When looking for stuff in the shop, a lady came right up to me asking if I was biking from Sapporo.  How the heck did she know?  She saw us on TV!   I was stunned.  Apparently, it was the most popular show in Niigata.  Good thing they are sending us a copy of the tape.  The ferry ride back was for resting, which brought us to the port town of Joetsu.  We found a descent hotel in our budget hotel book and it was time to do laundry and find Internet access.  Public Internet access is far rarer than I was led to believe, hence the delay of this e-mail.  After laundry, it was time for a huge arcade, which had all the newest video games we won't have for months.  Then it was bedtime while watching crazy TV.  No whether report anywhere.  Well, we woke up this morning and headed here to InterGate Internet Cafe (very hard to hunt down) so that I could check in and write this.  I can't wait to see what happens next since we are only half way done.  Now it's a hard ride up into the mountains to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.  More to come!!!

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photo by: kumikob