It’s been nearly a week since I reached the cape and in that time I’ve travelled south to Hakodate, a journey that took 22 days on foot.
It’s still the rainy season up here so while the rain alternates between light-drizzle and heavy-monsoon there are occasional breaks of scorching heat making dressing for the day a difficult choice. Our first stop on the way south was a brief stop at Bifuka Onsen road station where I found Sato-san still camped but Barabara had moved on. As we boarded the bus again the driver politely told us someone had complained about us talking too loudly. Since it was now 8:30am it was a bit late to expect to be sleeping, and anyway if you don’t like talkative foreigners I advise not sitting down right next to them. We’d been first on the bus back at Wakkanai.
Asahikawa is a pleasant enough city with wide pedestrian precincts and a park for napping in during the sunny spells. The real attraction of the area though is south of there in an area known as Furano, famous for skiing and its summer flowers. It was a holiday weekend and the crowds showed it. The traffic jams leading to Farm Tomita’s car park stretched for kilometers in every direction and approaching on foot was the wisest idea. It also meant we stumbled upon a small fair with some local foods and what we thought might be a cultural dance on the stage. It was actually a Power Ranger show with those ridiculous bad-guy costumes, sound effects and audience participation.
We came for the lavender fields and they were very impressive, but there were many other flowers fields to see as well as melon fever that has some people forking out upwards of ¥3000 (about $37 NZD) per fruit! Tania settled for a lavender ice-cream while I held out and made her follow me 2km to the cafe with the “Santa Claus’ Beard” dessert I passed on the way north.
That evening Asahikawa threw a street fair just in time for our birthdays, so we spent a while wandering through it and admiring the kimonos some local ladies were wearing. It’s really cool that there is a distinctive cultural look and people still wear it in public.
Next stop Sapporo and another well-timed festival. For anyone needing a hostel in the area I’d recommend Ino’s Place. Very nice staff and clean facilities. A bit far from the center but an easy subway ride. Though I’m not a beer drinker I’d probably get lynched if I came home without sampling at least one glass of the local drink on the beer fest’s opening night. This year it runs for a month and must be killing the local bar scene. One major task I achieved was picking up my Alien Registration Card. By law all non-Japanese people must carry this card everywhere (passports are acceptable also, you must apply for a card with 90 days of arrival). At any moment the police can demand to see it and, as happened to me in Wakkanai a few hours before Tania arrived and just 30km from the cape. If you accidentally leave it in your bag at the youth hostel while walking to the bus station you’ll get hauled off to the police station and guarded by seven armed officers while you write an apology letter*. That’s for a first offense, if you’re really lucky. It could also lead to more serious trouble I expect.
I should probably send out a big Thank You to the patient sales people at Bic Camera. I had practiced the words to ask for a phone charger and then substituted the word phone for GPS. This totally confused them and I had to explain, via hand signals, that the GPS part was not the important part. Eventually I had the idea of specifying the voltage and amperage and that worked. They could then tell me that I was looking for an a-she a-da-pa-ta not a judenki as I had been saying. So if all else fails try English words with a Japanese accent.
*This is not an exaggeration. The first officer had already taken me to the hostel to retrieve my passport. They were almost all polite, and the female officer was sporting a handbag with pink trim, but they all had guns and they were all in the tiny room watching me. Japan must be the safest place in the world if they all had no actual crime to investigate.