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

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Saturday, 12 September 2009

day five. Iwamizawa to Asahikawa to Asahidake to Asahikawa

I left the minshuku pretty early, in time to catch the first train at just after six. This got me into Asahikawa at about 8.20. The first bus up to Asahikawa left at 9.10. This gave me enough time to go to the information office, which opened at 8.30, to organise accommodation, and to get some breakfast and so on.

I'd decided to stay in Asahikawa, but if I were to do it again, I'd probably stay a night at Asahidake-san (the mountain) in the youth hostel there, do one of the walks to the gorges in the area the following day, and take back the last bus to Asahidake. That would mean an extra night's accommodation, but I probably could have afforded it. You need to schedule your travel fairly tightly when travelling on the seishun juhachi kippu because, as said before, you only have use of the slower and more infrequent local trains.

Anyway, the plan was to get the first bus up and take the last bus back. There are only three or four buses a day.

At Iwamizawa station the statue of the horse valiantly pulled the sled. This goes back to the first days of Japanese farming practices in Hokkaido. As the Japanese began to take over the lands in the late 1800's it was the first place in Japan where western farming methods were employed. There is a festival held now in which the horse that gets fully over the line (pulling a heavy sled) is the winner (or its owner is). They might have to drag the sled up an incline. I'm not sure. I'll look up the guide book later and insert the information at a later date.

Anyway, the journey from Iwamizawa to Asahikawa is a long one. Either two hours or an hour and a half. I spent it transferring pictures from my minidisc in my phone to the folder, texting a message and probably sleeping.

At the bus stop, waiting for the bus to Asahidake, I met Jake. Not his real name, but fitting. He was a young American kid from Hawai'i who had just spent a couple of months studying Japanese down in Tokyo. He was cycling around Hokkaido. He'd been on the road thirty days. He actually cycled across Honshu too, and we would have been on Sado Island for the Earth Celebration at the same time.

He was in a bit of a bind, as he was using the last day of his seishun juhachi kippu to get back to Sendai, above Tokyo. He was going to do this from Hakodate in Hokkaido. Impossible, but possible if he paid extra for an express from one small stretch of line in Iwate prefecture. Only trouble was that he didn't have the ¥3000 needed.

He was just telling his story, and I'd tossed up that morning whether I would use the fifth day of mine as it wasn't really economical. The fare from Iwamizawa to Asahikawa wasn't that high. But money is money so I used it. I could have given it to him and he could have bought himself an extra day's travel. I was kicking myself. I had two of the tickets, and I knew I'd have a few days spare at the end of it. I could have easily given him the ticket with the one unused day and go on to use my second ticket. Anyway, I covered his fare up to the mountain, which was pricey, about ¥1800 and offered to give him some cash to tide him over which would mean his trip would be a bit less stressful. He refused, but said, why didn't I pay his cable car fare (ropeway) and we'd hike together.

He was a mountain climbing nut, and had climbed Fuji and the second highest mountain in the Tohoku region. Both of those mountains were from the base, so it was quite some climb. Asahidake was difficult, too, but we started at the halfway point. I was happy to do that. It meant that ¥3000 became ¥6000 for me, but I didn't mind.

Of course he was younger and fitter than me, so that was the only downside. I like going up mountains, I hate coming down them, and neither of us really had the shoes for this mountain. Asahidake is volcanic, so it is very rubbley. I wasn't going to make it to the top because I knew I'd be like an old lady coming down, but Jake convinced me. The views were worth it, but coming down, hell! I don't know where I lost my confidence this way, but I think I'm about the only person I know who takes longer to go up a mountain that to come down it. It took me about 1.5 hours to climb, maybe more than 2 hours to descend, and I slipped four times, once when my leg went under me. I was fine, but worried. The drops were sheer. People going up who I'd passed on my descent were now passing me as I descended. I warned Jake, but he said it was okay.

Still, he went well ahead and spent a couple of hours waiting for me down the bottom. Though my legs were spent, I wouldn't have minded having a bit of time to explore some of the lakes and so on near the ropeway (cable car). Jake had done them already. We didn't have to stick together, but we were. Bears were in the area, too, though, but not seeable. Still, I really didn't want to encounter one, and vice versa, I'm sure.

We had quite a while to wait for the bus to take us back at 5.30. Jake just rested up, but I took a bit of a walk through the nature paths nearby, and also visited the visitor's centre which is not obviously close to the ropeway. Lots of information.

The sunset on the bus going back was phenomenal, or very pretty and Jake and I organised to have ramen together. He heard that Asahikawa ramen was famous for its shio (salt) ramen, but I think it is famous for the fact that they marinade their pork in shochu (a distilled Japanese spirit).

I convinced him to enter a shop that looked run down and shabby with one mama-san running the show. Her left heavily mascaraed eye was a bit dodgy and half closed. I thought she might be a bit sloshed. They only had three options on the menu. Shio ramen, miso ramen and shoyu (soy) ramen. The shop was famous for its miso ramen which came in three varieties of spicy, and which had nuts in it, which is very unusual for a ramen in Japan. The mama-san really recommended that one. There were pictures of tv stars on the wall and signed bits of paper, but it passed as a greasy spoon.

She told us that a Hawai'ian guy would be coming in soon. He would be the 2nd Hawai'in that Jake had met that day after having met none at all on his trip. She then proceeded to spill water on me, but we got a free serving of gyoza (pot stickers) out of it, which were exquisite. She mixed the dipping sauce herself.

I cannot remember the Hawai'ian guy's name. His family name was Fujimori. I wish I remembered the shop name. He'd been on the JET programme in the area for five years. That is a programme where you teach in junior high schools and high schools along with a Japanese teacher. I did something similar in my early twenties in Shikoku. He'd definitely made the most of his time. He loved snowboarding and so on, but he'd also learnt how to actually make soba and was now learning the secrets of this ramen shop. He'd pestered the owner long and hard to teach him. Very unusual.

The owner wasn't sloshed, but very tired, I'd say. She worked from seven in the morning until late at night. Another older lady did the lunch shift with her, I think. The Hawai'ian guy also did lunch and then came back in the evening.

I ordered shio because I'm not a fan of miso ramen, but I'm glad that Jake ordered it because I really wanted to try it. Both were out of sight. The shio had pieces of ginger throughout it, which I have not tasted in another ramen in Japan, either.

Anyway, Jake was camping and cycling and I was beat, so we parted ways about nine o'clock, one to his tent and one to her business hotel. That hotel is called Fuji, by the way, and is right by the train station. It only costs 3000 yen per night, or 3200 with breakfast. Yukata is provided, and the bath is a common one, but they are big and relaxing. The toilet, too, is not en suite, but it's no big deal, really. In Japan, en suite usually means no room to swing a cat. By Japanese standards the bed was huge, too. But old. But very clean and comfortable.

The following morning I left a little too late for Sapporo. Travelling on this ticket should have taught me that catching the first train is about the only way to go. But I slept until about 7.30, ate breakfast, and caught a train in the 8-9 timeframe.

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