One Man Walking

2008-07-03 A quick Sapporo zero

July 3rd, 2008 · 3 Comments

Not much done today, which a good thing because I’ve a long way to go and I needed some recovery time from the last stretch. I’ve plotted a route, guesstimated distances, packed my food and charged all my devices. Everything is set and soon I’ll heading east to the mountains, my last off-roading before racing to Wakkanai to meet Tania.

This evening I had a really good bowl of ramen with Richard and Masako at their favourite place. The noodles seemed a deeper yellow colour than back on Honshu. Perhaps a sign of more egg or creamier butter used in the mix. Whatever it was it tasted great and i’ll try to eat more ramen on Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Miso-ramen 

Word of the day: jum-bi shi-mas = prepare

2008-07-02 Touring Sapporo

July 2nd, 2008 · 1 Comment

First order of the day was getting my Alien Registration Card. At the ward office I presented the forms that showed I tried to do this in Kyoto and Otaya but this caused more trouble. It seems you have to de-register in your old area first before re-registering in your new place. With Richard helping me on translations the gentlemen behind the desk called Kyoto and when he returned to us I heard him mention ‘walking’ and ‘Kyushu’ so I guess the lady I spoke to back in April remembered me! It’s all sorted and apparently Richard can pick it up next week. But I’ve heard this before so I’m waiting to actually hear that he’s seen it before I fully relax. As we left I was given a “handbook for daily life” which makes settling into Sapporo much easier. It contains such pearls of wisdom as the need to locate suitable accommodation when you’re moving into the area and to notify your landlord when you are leaving.

I'm an ambitious teapot 

Then it was in to Sapporo for a tour of their extensive underground malls. With 5m of snowfall on city streets it’s just too hard to get around during winter, so they solved that problem pretty well. We also took a stroll through the university grounds where apparently you can get paid to study there. If I could think of an area I’d be prepared to spend another 4 years studying it sounds like a pretty sweet deal. The on-campus museum was in one of the older buildings and has that strange smell that goes with it.
The clock tower - oldest building in Sapporo   Local garb 

At TK6, a bar that Richard’s boss runs, we had a few drinks and I talked with a couple of the regulars. Irena, a russian girl in her late 20s I guess, and her older russian friend, were checking out my site on the boss’s laptop for quite a while. When foreigners meet overseas, usually the common language would have been English but here we talked in Japanese. She’s obviously fluent and put up with my stumblings.
Susukino streets 

The last thing that night was to walk around Susukino, an area of Sapporo with 4000 bars and restaurants. It’s the night life spot to be in and even more concentrated and crowded than any of Tokyo’s many hubs. We met Richard’s friend, whose name I forget, and went to a snack bar where inevitably karaoke was on the menu. The friend did that frustrating thing of suddenly becoming the boss, or in this case “the chairman”, and order people about. Flatly refusing to break the ice with one of his well-rehearsed songs and making me start. As much as I wanted to pass the buck it’d have been bad form to argue anymore, and I’m supposed to be absorbing the culture no matter how bad my singing is. So I belted out a couple of songs and will try to be more relaxed about it next time.
Irena the Interested Russian     Karaoke time! 

Word of the day: u-tai-mas = sing

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2008-07-01 Into Sapporo

July 1st, 2008 · 3 Comments

For a town day I was pretty slow at breaking camp, but once I was moving I moved fast, pausing only to check emails and buy more food as I went. I skirted around Sapporo itself and eventually came to the house of Richard and Masako Hopkins. Many years ago Richard lived across the road from me in southern England and our mothers kept in touch well enough that news of my trip was passed on and I’ve got shelter for a few days. Shelter from the sun that is, it was gorgeous today. I should have been working on my tan :-)

The Google car googling! 

Richard’s been here for nearly 10 years I think and knows a lot about fitting into Japanese society. It’s clear he really loves Hokkaido and I’m starting to lean that way too. Great summer weather so far and I’ve seen photos of this suburban house under 6ft of snow. Cool!

For dinner we went to Gyu Kaku, a yaki-niku (you cook your food over a grill at your table) restaurant nearby. It was quite a feast and I’m sure I’ll come out of this homestay with a few extra kilos hidden on me somewhere.

Yakiniku with the Hopkins 

Word of the day: kinjo = neighbour

Distance today: 41 km

2008-06-30 Lost with the beasties

June 30th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Throughout the night I heard footsteps nearby as Okura-san continued his rounds, checking everything was still safe. Somehow I managed to sleep through the time he got close enough to leave a note on my tent peg.

“Ganbare!! Gureisu!! by your friend Kura”

Which I think translates as “Do well Craig!!”

Dead end? 

Three more police stops on the way out of town. The first a simple deal. The second took longer but still no passport check. It’s an important lesson to learn that just because someone doesn’t speak your language you should not assume they are stupid. I’ve been on the receiving end of that assumption enough times on this trip. This time I was speaking their language but they still didn’t come off as the brightest tools at the picnic.

“I’m walking from Cape Sata to Cape Soya”
“Walking?” *acts out walking to be sure I’m using the right word*
“Yes. It’s a long way. Today is day 78″
“Good times”

We discuss that I live in a tent and that after finishing the walk I might stay in a hotel. Actually thanks to Tania’s mum we will be staying in a hotel. Then a bus turns up.

“Is this your bus?”
“No. I’m walking”

It's big, it's heavy it's wood! 

The third and hopefully last police encounter was with some plain-clothed detectives just after lunch. They started by asking for my Alien Registration Card. With all my moving about I haven’t been able to get one of these yet and today is the last day I’m allowed to be without it. So I played dumb until one explained he was a policeman by showing his badge.

“Ahhhh, passport?” I said and that changed the subject nicely. My favourite part was after I had said I’d be arriving in Sapporo tomorrow.
“Do you know how far that is?!” He said, as if I was stupid, crazy or both. He hadn’t listen when I said I walked here from Cape Sata
“Yes. 55km”. That shut him up. A few minutes after I was allowed to continue I saw the 54km sign. I’m pretty good with distances.

If you’re ever driving along Route 230 south of Sapporo I advise you to stop at Nakayama Pass and check out their photo galley/museum. There are some beautiful landscape shots and a special exhibit right now is a darkened room with huge photos of owls at night and sound effects.

Photo board at Nakayama-Toge

I took an unpaved road from the pass hoping to bypass the heavy traffic and massive police convoys of the main road. For about 2 hours it was great. As the road started to get overgrown I was stopped short by a rustling in the bushes. It was the Japanese equivalent of a badger, often seen as a statue outside restaurants holding a bottle of sake. It noticed me too and as it turned to flee it let out quite a snarl. If I hadn’t actually seen it (only 2ft long), that noise and the racket it made escaping down the hill would have made me walk all the way to Sapporo tonight. As it was I had enough trouble just getting where I am now. The dirt road stopped and I had to fight my way through the undergrowth for a long time. There were stinging nettles taller that me and bamboo as thick as that on Ishizuchi-san. Something in there was giving off a white power and when I stumbled onto the main road again I looked like a statue from Trafalgar Square that the pigeons love to sit on.

Away from the road Dirty Craig 

Word of the day: te-ga-mi = letter

P.S. One more Japanese conversation I had, this time with a guy in a minivan that pulled over and tooted at me
“Where are you going?”
“Soya Misaki” (Cape Soya)
“No, Soya Misaki”
“Toya is back that way!”
“Ssssssssoya. Misaki. North Hokkaido”
“Aahhh. Do you want a lift?”
“No thanks. Only walking”
“Hahaha. Good luck”

Distance today: 47 km

2008-06-29 Men in Blue

June 29th, 2008 · 2 Comments

The seventh, and presumably last, time I spoke to police today was definitely the best. It’s a shame we live in a world where the gathering of eight elected leaders of big important countries means throwing a security blanket over every road within 50km. The first group seemed more like traffic cops and I hardly paused as I answered the usual questions about where I’m from and where I’m going. I don’t really count that one. The second group were more thorough, not only copying every word of my passport but searching my bag too. They didn’t do a very good job though, simply believing me that that sack was a tent, this one of clothes and the other one of dirty laundry. Had I been in a rougher mood I may have let them discover that for themselves. I was a little worried when one of them got on the walkie-talkies and was clearly talking about me, but eventually I was allowed to continue and I assumed I was now in the safe-zone. But not much later a van stopped and started to question me. They were easy to fob off by explaining that their colleagues had just inspected everything.

Cops 2   Cops 3 

Group number four was slightly more serious. The guy in charge there wasn’t so much wearing a uniform as he was combat gear. The black flak jacket, ear-piece and slicked back hair. He could have been FBI for all I know. After they too had copied my passport and visa numbers I tried to ask for him to tell the rest of the security forces that I’m a good guy, but he wasn’t having a bar of it. At least I made them laugh when I told them of my walking adventure. When he asked where I was staying I pulled out my map which got them all discussing where we were right then. A minute or two later they solemnly agreed on a spot at least 8km from the intersection I could see. I’d have expected a team in charge of securing an area to know which area they are in.

So I wandered on to group five, another easy dismissal with “your colleagues spoke to me”.

By now it was clear the back roads, avoiding the scenic one right by next week’s G8 summit location, were no less patrolled than Route 230 so I figured I might as well be over there.

The sixth ones were in different clothes, possible army reservists or something. Black leather boots above the ankles and dark blue jump-suits with only a small motif on the chest. Another passport request, another explanation.

Warning about road closures due to G8 

I reached the road station and found it had a huge park attached. Not only that but the park had another foreigner in it and I just had to take the opportunity to speak to him. Apart from phone calls home I haven’t spoken to a native English speaker since leaving Charles’ house four weeks ago. So Kevin, if you’re reading this, sorry if I talked a lot.

As I set up my tent on the far side of the park I noticed a cop on patrol. I heard the wooden stick (I soooo want to see someone fight with one of those) tapping along the boardwalk a few times and then it stopped and became the swishing of grass as he approached. Okura-san comes from a prefecture near Tokyo where the convenience stores all have Snickers. The fact that I know this much should tell you we got on quite well and I really enjoyed talking to him. He didn’t write anything down and apologised for all the police in the area. “No problem” I said “I understand. Many big people come here next week”. He didn’t want his photo taken but I got him to take one of me in my tent.

Cops 5   Cops 6 

I know the police are doing their jobs and they are supposed to investigate suspicious people. My cousin is a cop and I’m sure he has had to deal some real idiots, so I always do my best to be polite and as helpful as possible. Apart from my lack of Alien Registration Card, I’ve nothing to worry about. But I was beginning to get tired of being suspected. I’d rehearsed the words for the next guy who wanted to look in my pack. “Ok, but it costs money. ¥1,000 please”. Okura-san changed that. He was cool.

Word of the day: ha-na-shi-masu = talk

Distance today: 46 km

2008-06-28 Rinse and repeat

June 28th, 2008 · No Comments

It took a long time for today to get interesting. I walked north on dead flat roads for most of 30km, trying hard not to breathe around the rotting fishing nets and discarded shellfish. The scenery was nice enough but nothing to write home about really. Up into the hills and the road curved eastward. Now I’m running out of water. I’d have liked to have stopped a while ago but since I didn’t want to carry water up the hill I must go down the other side if I am to cook tonight. a fox   Huge ant 

So that brought me to a little town on the coast where I followed a sign that said ‘campsite’ to a strange building with toilets and (locked) showers and a large grassy area in front. I was definitely going to camp here, but then someone spotted me and I thought I was busted. It turned out that the guy picking up rubbish around the building was just telling me that although he was lowering the metal shutter so the toilets looked closed, he wasn’t going to lock it! Awesome! He even showed me the light switches for later. So like Indiana Jones I’ve rolled in under the barrier at the last moment into the foyer with a glass roof and now have water, electricity and a roof for the night.
Tonight's campsite 

Word of the day: ka-ni = crab (not cow as previously reported)

Distance today: 47 km

2008-06-27 A few differences

June 27th, 2008 · 1 Comment

I’ve spotted a few things that are different on this most northernly island and I thought I’d share them with you. The convenience stores all have Snickers. Since the only other energy-bar type thing I’ve found is SoyJoy (very tasty but not enough in it) the presence of Snickers is a great thing. Some of the bigger petrol stations have showers for truckers. I reek so I should probably use one soon. There are more independent travelers here. There are still loads of busses carting the crowds around but I’ve seen quite a few mini-vans with mattresses in the back, proper campervans and bikes laden with camping gear. I filmed one such cyclist as he approached so he pulled over to say hi. He’d just ridden from Cape Soya and was heading to Okinawa the very, very southern most island. I think it’s hundreds of kilometers further south than Kyushu. Cool young guy and happy to talk. He said there was another walker bound for Soya about 20km north of me. That’s quite a distance to catch up before Sapporo so maybe I’ll see him on the final section.

South-bound cyclist 

Things that haven’t changed include the driving. People are still overtaking where they can’t see oncoming traffic. I saw one guy overtaker drive into the verge (where I was walking) to get past someone where the central barrier was blocking overtaking. Huge trucks sit so close on the bumpers of little soft cars that if that car had trouble changing gears and slowed even for an instant they’d be crushed beneath the behemoth behind them.

Also unchanging is the Japanese spirit of giving. I got a huge iceream yesterday for less than the stated price, plus a free bottle of mineral water, and tonight a fisherman who had parked near my tent left and returned with a hotdog and coffee he had purchsed just for me.

This afternoon turned into evening as I staggered along the beach trying to find somewhere hard enough to pitch a tent with a clear view of sunrise. In the end I had to settle for a bit of the seawall to my east and the noisy road not far away. But it’s free and I need that right now.

beach front shrine 

Word of the day: mo-hi-to-tsu no = another

Distance today: 48 km

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2008-06-26 Oniushi Park

June 26th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Hakodate seemed like a really interesting place. As one of the first Japanese ports to open to the outside world it’s been heavily influenced by that trade. In the ‘Western’ area (not actually at the west end of town) the streets were wide like American ones and the houses seemed different. The map showed lots of churches rather than temples. It’s another place I’ll have to return to later, though I don’t think I’ll make an effort to see the stone commemorating the site of the first photography on Hokkaido (!).

I road walked all day and spoke to a few locals who were interested in this funny foreigner. None of them asked for my passport.

I’ve ended up at Oniushi Park which is great for camping. And only a few kilometres from the very important ‘Monument to the Establishment of the First Frozen Food Enterprise’, another stone I think I’ll skip. It has a few paths but is mostly grass and low trees. My spot has lots of mosquitoes too and I bet the dozens of crows in the trees above will be up before dawn. Sunrise is at 4:02. Craigrise is hopefully much later.

Word of the day: sai-go no = last (as in the last island)

Update: I’ve just been listening to a group of children practicing their taiko drumming. A few noticed me through the 1st floor window and waved, but the building was locked at ground level so I just listened and returned to my tent.

Distance today: 40 km

2008-06-25 Hellooooo Hokkaido

June 25th, 2008 · 3 Comments

This post could also have been called “Under suspicion” or “Dinning in eternal Christmas” for reasons that will become clear later.

All morning, and I start early, I watched Hokkaido come out of the haze as I approached Honshu’s northernmost town of Oma. As I cleared the last hill I saw the morning ferry leave and when I reached the terminal found I had 3 hours to waste. Unfortunately my method of wasting time is to stand on street corners mooching free internet and this caught the eye of the local plain-clothed policeman. He was really nice, almost apologetic for having troubled me. Once satisfied I was a nice guy he left, then came back because with all the chit-chat he’d forgotten to check my passport.

Policeman getting my details   Moomoo Taxi 

Finally the ferry left Honshu. The skies were clear and I really felt like I was making progress. As I stepped off the boat I recorded a few words to camera and found myself talking to someone who was dressed like a fairly nondescript local port worker. Then two more turned up and they looked slightly more official. Black suits, ties and flip out notepads. The port guy spoke enough English but I was letting them know I was making an effort by replying in Japanese as much as I could. He mentioned something about the G8 summit and increased security, as if that explained why only the foreigner was being questioned. I was cheery and they were nice, but they were only speaking to me because I was different to everyone else. Again slightly apologetic for troubling me, and they rushed around to find maps, show me the bus schedule and even called ahead to my hostel when I asked if there was a public phone nearby. But they were still only talking to me because I am different. I didn’t dare to turn on my GPS when they were around, that thing looks really suspicious.
Mileage sign 

Anyway, with them still standing by me the bus turned up and I got on. I’ll have to return to that spot tomorrow to make sure my line is continuous. In town I stopped by the tourist info office to get a city map and once all that was sorted in Japanese I asked the nice young lady behind the counter if she’d been to southern England. I’d overheard her speaking in English to the asian-looking couple before me and sure enough her accent was from Brighton, 15 miles from where I grew up!
drying seadweed on the road 

The Hakodate “Youth Guest House” (YGH) Hostel is not what I expected. It gets 0 for atmosphere, but maybe it’s just not the season. To me is seems more like a business hotel with communal showers, and small ones at that. A one-person bath and three shower heads around the walls is not nearly enough for the size of this place. But it’s cheap and I am clean. I could have camped in any of the dozen parks between here and the train station though. For dinner I tried The Happy Pierrot where the upstairs is over-decorated in fake pine needles and hundreds, maybe even thousands of old Christmas ornaments. Glowing Santas line the stairs and painted wooden candy-canes hang from the ceiling while naff old carols are played to the dinners.

Hokkaido is the last island. All that exists now is 600+km and the 22 days that separate Tania, Cape Soya and I. Even with two days off at Sapporo I’ll only need to average 6 hours of walking per day. I don’t know what I’ll do with the rest of my time.

Oh yeah, discover Japan, I keep forgetting that.

Word of the day: chi-ga-u = different

Distance today: 33 km

2008-06-24 A bus-load of friends

June 24th, 2008 · 4 Comments

The storm hit early this morning and when two pegs got blown out at 6am my tent collapsed and I figured it was time to leave. The weather improved enough to stow the umbrella and a few hours later I was at Osorezan. On the way I’d been offered a lift by a friendly Japanese couple who turned out to be guides at the temple complex. I showed myself around, recalling what Alan Booth had written about this place. I think he said it was a place where the spirits of children that died during birth come. It’s another volcanic land of steaming rocks and sulfurous rivers. The piles of rocks are said to have been made by those spirits and many are adorned by colourful pinwheels from families who have suffered a loss.

Bridge beside the lake at Osorezan 

Back in the car park I was drying my tent and sleeping bag as a group of old ladies came by, one dared to ask and soon news was spreading about me and my adventure. I could hear them passing it on “He came from Kyushu” they’d say, “walking” and “to Soya”. Quite a few people came to confirm the story themselves and wish me good luck. I wish I could have got it on camera but I know they’d have shied away or just smiled and waved instead of carrying on talking.
Small shrine above Osorezan 

Pinwheels at the shrine    Osorezan

As the tour bus left I got waves from everyone and felt pretty good for the walk to the northern shore. Near the end of the road a car drove south past me, and a little while later it came back tooting its horn. The lady inside said she was Japanese though I’d have also believed native american, especially with flawless english, her Boston accent and braided hair. She offered me a ride but I had to decline,
“I’m trying to do the whole country on foot”
“Well you must have big feet then!”

So I made it to the coast and found a windy but soft campsite. 31km of Honshu left.

Word of the day: ka-zan = volcano

Distance today: 42 km

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