this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr

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Monday, 14 September 2009

Day 7, Sapporo to Ikadaen (Onuma Koen, just out of Hakodate)

Well, you can see the time as well as I. I went to bed late-ish the night before, annoying the English girl who needed pitch dark to sleep. So do I, so I understand, though our behaviour no doubt was bemusing to the Japanese girl, who like most Japanese, probably gets by on four or five hours of sleep a night, making up for it with quick naps on train trips. I think trains were made for sleeping (and seeing scenery) and I always wonder at the popular western abhorrence to sleeping on them. Of course, in dangerous areas it is not wise. And I sleep with my mouth wide open, so it is not pretty, but it sure is handy to catch a few winks. Also, anything in motion that I happen to be in or on tends to send me to sleep. Seems I can sleep anywhere except for my actual bed.

I bundled everything into a locker, as per usual, and wandered down the main street of Sapporo (or one of them) intending to to see the main park, a narrow strip, which runs for a few blocks. I didn't make it that far, but was able to catch some of the older government buildings in the morning light,

and to grab a diet Pepsi from a Lawson's. Not just any Lawson's, but a Postal Lawson. To purchase anything you first have to dodge the bullets.

The train left at 6.24 and it hit Higashi Muroran Station at 9.04. There was an hour wait there. The guidebooks write it up as an industrial town with nothing much to see, but I decided to see a little of it anyway.

Stowing bags in coin locker and so on...I walked along the pretty empty streets (nothing much wakes up in Japan until about 10am, business-wise) and discovered a park down one of the side roads. Here, as when I lived in Shikoku, the older people were playing gateball. I hadn't seen that for a long time. Natsukashi, as they say here, or it evokes nostalgic feelings, takes me back and so on.

It was good to stretch my legs and the park was pretty big, though the locals weren't keen on returning the 'ohayo gozaimasu' (good morning). Perhaps because I'd been on the road for so long it already felt like 'konnichiwa' time and that was what I was erroneously using.

The station wasn't the most friendly around. Most modern Japanese toilets offer the choice of Japanese style or western style - the squat or the throne. If English is used, the toilet door usually announces 'Japanese style' or 'western style'. In Higashi Muroran Station you had the choice of Japanese or Foreign.

Now, except for old ladies who have trouble with balance and squatting, the Japanese toilets actually are a lot better for the body and I think they're one of the major reasons why older Japanese people seem to have a much better flexibility and physical assurance than their Australian counterparts, anyway. Not to say that the western toilet is not popular with them, or with me. I think it was occupied, though, so I used the 'Japanese' toilet. I hope it didn't mind a foreigner expelling things into it.

In addition, this station had warnings posted about the place strictly condemning sleeping in the overhead pass. Now, it was a transfer station, and people are likely to get stranded at one point or another, considering the trains all stop at one am or so (a lot earlier for the less frequented lines) so I guess there might be a lot of sleeping in overhead passes going on, or maybe the steel workers of the town had tried to sleep off a drunk there in the past.

One thing their toilets didn't have was toilet paper. This is a characteristic of Tokyo toilets, and from Hakodate northwards it seemed to be a characteristic of Hokkaido toilets, too. Now, Tokyo has the huge population. Hokkaido just might not get enough money fullstop, or maybe it was aspiring to Tokyo-like inconvenience stakes. I took to either using the toilets on the other side of the barrier, which always had paper, or the squat, steel toilets in the train, which were a lot cleaner than they used to be when Japan seemed to have a lot more beer swilling, chain smoking, business men travellers than now. Of course, they could have all been on the shinkansen or faster trains, and of course, smoking wasn't allowed on the trains any more. Some things do improve. You need not wonderful balance, but some balance to use them on the trains, though.

Higashi Muroran did have that cute ramen shop above, though, which had nothing to do with toilets. Ramen in Sapporo is something worth sampling. Not that I did at that time of the morning.

So, as the hour rolled along, 10.04 came about and once again I was on a train heading to Oshamambe. Once I hit Oshamambe, I'd be taking the same way back to Hakodate that I had taken from Hakodate to Sapporo (or to Oshamambe). I'm going to throw this picture of the coast in here now, because I think it was part of this journey (I could have even misfiled it, and it might be part of the Hakodate-Aomori journey, but, oh well! I could look it up, too, but again...). The train journey was really pretty - All the way from Shibata up to Sapporo. Of course with big chunks of urban and suburban sprawl, but it wasn't too long before you left that behind, and the scenery offered you a choice of ricefields, or ricefields and rivers, or ricefields and mountains, or ricefields and sea. Of course, there was also plain old sea, sea with sunset, or mountains with pines and mountains with rain forest. I haven't taken too many train journeys around the world, but I haven't been on one which follows the sea so closely. The train along the Matsushima line in Sendai has some points, too, where I wouldn't want to be stranded if a tsunami were to come in. Beautiful when the tsunami threat has abated, though. I present you with sea, grid, metal post and train station name.

The stop over in Oshamambe was an hour and a half. I'd wandered down to the sea the last time I'd stopped over, this time around I was trying to find a hat for a reasonable price. I'd picked up a hat I was quite fond of for 500¥ in Shibata and it had served me well, and was lightweight and kind of funky, but I'd misplaced it somewhere in between Asahikawa and Sapporo. I'm figure it's riding the trains still. Hatless when travelling in the still summer-like September is not a good idea, but all the hats I could find were close to ¥3000, and I wasn't going to spend a night's accommodation on one.

So, I discovered a supermarket and stocked up on tissues (probably a little too late. We were entering an area where there wasn't such a paucity of toilet paper, but still, a girl's gotta blow her nose every now and then) and wandered over the lines to check out the wild and viney forest that seemed to be just beyond the town. But, it was humid, I was hatless, and I didn't want to wander too far, so I turned back and then spent a pretty boring half an hour waiting for the train to come in.

Train lines into and out of Oshamambe

Well, my writing's pretty prosaic in these pieces, so I'm sure you know how I felt.

Shoes were off more often than on on the trains. Most of them were just one carriage, sometimes two. Often, even on the one man carriages, you managed to get a whole four seater to yourself. That is, your seat faced the other. They also had two seaters which were similar. On a normal train I avoided these seats as they involve knocking knees and too close a proximity to your three fellow passengers, however, if you're the only one in the seat, then rock on baby. Shoes off and feet up. Following local custom, this is okay, as long as your shoes are off and as long as you take your feet off the seat if someone else happens to share your haven with you, or you both kind of check if it is okay to be so relaxed.

Alcohol consumption on the longer train journeys in somewhat rural Japan is not really a problem either. It's all a bit of a holiday, a rest away from the ordinary, and I saw a man on a train at 9 or so in the morning the other day, enjoying his first beer. It has to be said that this would be looked down upon on a normal commuter train if it wasn't obvious that you were setting out on some kind of journey, and were relaxing in some kind of way. Even so, I avoided it, as it makes me too sleepy in the middle of the day.

As we approached Hakodate and Ikedaen (Ikada Park) where I was staying, things got closely mountainous again.

Onuma Koen, just outside of Hakodate, is a popular holiday spot. It borders three lakes, the largest of which is Lake Onuma, and I think the mountain overlooking it is Onuma San, though I'll look that up for you. Definitely do not quote me on it. The youth hostel I was staying at was about twenty minutes walk out of Onuma Koen and had a reputation for friendliness and for good dinners, which was not unwarranted.

I arrived there about three in the afternoon and was thankful to my guidebook for directions to the hostel as the station was unmanned and I doubt I would have understood any instructions given to me anyway. It wouldn't have been easy to find the place without instruction, and as it was, I misunderstood what was written, even though it was in English and I'd read it enough times to now know it by heart.

The couple who run the hostel really are lovely. I wanted to stay two days, but had to figure out my Lake Towada accommodation for day nine and day ten. Once done, and it took a while, I booked and paid for an extra night and then hired a bicycle (500¥ a day, I think) and went touring around the lake a little, which really was quite beautiful. I was washing clothes as well. The downside of travelling lightly - you need to wash your clothes regularly, and it's great in places like youth hostels and some minshuku which have amenities, but not all places have amenities, and some of the hostels have special rules so it seems a bit of a burden to ask to wash your clothes again. Consequently, I handwashed my clothes when I was in Towada-ko (and from Aomori) and wore them wet. Body heat dries things out quickly, and the lightweightness of them all (even when wet) meant that there really wasn't too much threat of rashes and chafing and so on. It's not ideal, though.

So, I initially went left from the hostel towards the main park area. I took photos of the lakes that afternoon, but have either put them in an incorrect folder or deleted them somehow, so I'll put a picture below from day 8. I like the picture, but the mountain does have a peak, which I saw, believe me!

Returning to the hostel to transfer my clothes to the dryer (takes 90 minutes to dry), I ran into a couple who were travelling around, both on the older side of things. He was pretty lively. Impish, leprechaunish... They were travelling around in car that he had converted so that it fit two beds and I am assuming a small kitchen, or maybe they just carried a small gas stove for cooking. Later I found that they were from Kumamoto in Kyushu and travelled a lot. He was on the eccentric side of things. She kept him in line, I think.

The hostel owners convinced me that my clothes were okay (I was afraid of impinging on someone else's time) and sent me off to see the sunset. It was some cycling away, considering I had to get the bike back by 6.30. They said that the best spot was the campsite and I probably made it to within five minutes (by bicycle) of the campsite. I still took in a beautiful sunset, even though I hadn't reached the desired destination, and cycled by some pretty spots. Everyone was setting up to take pictures of the sunset. It's quite funny, taking a holiday through the lens of a camera. Sometimes you (wrongly) think that something isn't worth seeing just because you can't get a 'capture' of it.

Dinner was lovely. A mixture of classic Japanese and western. Salmon was on the menu. Yum. There were only six staying at the hostel that night, including one guy who didn't have dinner. I had a two-bed room to myself. It overlooked fields behind the hostel, and I was able to see the rising moon which was kicking into fullness. There were mosquitoes galore in the area, but the flywire worked well enough in my room to keep the window open.

The other two people enjoying their dinner (other than me and the car converter and his wife) was an older lady and a younger woman. Later I found out that she was a tea ceremony teacher and the younger girl was her student. Very cool, very sharp, very kakkoii (the older woman). The older woman said she'd lived 24 of her years in other countries, and she was from Nara. She said that she hadn't learned any other languages though, so I wonder if she is and was a very famous tea ceremony teacher, or just very adventurous.

The girl wanted to speak English with me for a while as she missed her English lessons, which was kind of a drag, but also fine. We sat in the common room, which had a computer (so later I was able to figure out how I was going to return home more precisely)and chatted about her friends (she wasn't really interested in talking about current travel), eating a few of the snacks the owner brought in and drinking the soft drink she had purchased as a thank you.

Lights were out (my lights) by eleven or half eleven I think. The next day was the lake, and hopefully a chance to revisit Hakodate.

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this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr