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Friday, 18 September 2009

you are not allowed

Anyone who reads this blog semi-regularly or knows about the issues in Israel-Palestine will know that anyone who has been out of Palestine for six years will not be allowed back in by Israeli authorities. As far as I am aware, though of course those who colonised both Australia and the United States committed acts of genocide and murder, I do not think that any of the indigenous population were not allowed to re-enter the country of their birth and the country of their ancestors' birth, generation after generation, if they chose to leave it for a while. That is the overall country from the western perspective, of course. I am sure that there are Aboriginal and American Indian nations and lands within what became Australia and the United States that the indigenous population were barred and evicted from.

Education is difficult to get in a land under occupation, though Palestinians do strive to educate their children. Even so, to get ahead many leave the area to study overseas. Doing a bachelor of arts, a master of arts and a doctorate all take time. I have written of my friend Toufiq, before, a lecturer with a PhD in linguistics, currently in Oman, fortunate enough to have a Jordanian passport, and soon to immigrate to Canada where, he will at least, have a country.

Considering the state of Israel came into being in the forties of the last century and anyone who wishes to live there, who is of the Jewish faith, or of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses, whether they are from Sydney, the Bronx, or Moscow, can do so, must invoke a particularly bitter chagrin in those denied entry into their land of birth, and not only the land of their birth but the birthplace of their parents and grandparents stretching back to as far as people have lived in the area, or near enough.

During the summer holidays, Toufiq and his family go to Jordan. His sisters come from Palestine, when they can, and another brother, Bassam, comes from the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes the brother working in Saudi Arabia comes as well. Considering that this might be Toufiq's last summer in the region for a while, maybe it was with certain sadness that he realised that his sisters wouldn't be visiting Jordan this time. In his words:
Many times I talked to all my brothers and sisters in Palestine over the phone and asked them to come to Jordan to see us but they said that every year they come to Jordan in the hope to attend Bassam's wedding but nothing happens. So they said if Bassam gets married , they will come to Jordan and if not, they won't.
He comes from a big family. Ten brothers and sisters and Bassam is the only unmarried one among them. He too is highly educated with a doctorate in linguistics.

So, this time around, Toufiq thought he might try and visit Palestine, though in a previous email he had told me he probably would not be able to gain entry. I wrote about it here. This is his account of his thwarted trip.
As you know the last time I left Palestine was in 1984 when I finished my high school and went to Manila to do my bachelor's degree. In the first week of this month (August) I went to the borders of Israel and an Israeli female security soldier returned me [sic] and told me that I am not allowed to enter Palestine and I [got upset] and told her that I am Toufiq from Palestine and I was born and grew up in Palestine she said You are not allowed and she took my passport and gave it to a bus driver and told him to take me to [the]Jordan border.
Yes, Australia exiled Aboriginal people to islands and took children and isolated groups of people. Did it bar them from re-entering the country if they had voluntarily left and now wanted to return? I don't think so. In other ways yes. We had systems similar to the apartheid that exists within the occupied territories. Aboriginal people used to need a licence to travel, to work, and had a curfew imposed. Some of our current policies are incredibly discriminatory. Again, I would not call the policies and times ideal, then and now. I don't agree with them, in the same way that I do not agree with the policies above, in accordance with my belief in the contents and intentions of the Declaration of Human Rights, and the purpose behind the United Nations. And I am constantly saddened that my government fully supports the government that imposes policies which match and currently go beyond its own history of indigenous abuse and apartheid, and fully supports the same government which constantly flaunts and ignores the edicts and writings of international law and human rights organisations.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Day 11, Towadako-Towadaminami-Odata-Akita-Sakata-Murakami-Shibata

From the bus window (hence the green hue), Lake Towada

Magpies and sunlight and glints in the wind. Day Eleven was a long and sometimes pretty, but fairly tedious trip home. It started at 8.30am and finished at about 10pm, if not later. Not because of distance, but the 2.5 stopover in Towadaminami (South Minami), the hour (or was it 1.5?) stop in Odate, the hour in Akita and the hour in Sakata. If I could have caught an earlier train I would have, but it didn't look as if Towadaminami had any hotels to speak of, and I would have got there on the last bus the day previously (about four o'clock) and missed out on the festival. So, it is just one of those prices you pay when using public transport.

The train ride from Towadaminami to Odate runs only in the warmer parts of the year (snow makes it either uneconomical or impossible later). The train guide book I was kind of referring to (mostly talked about shinkansen and limited express, so I used it only as a vague kind of route reference, and for some of the information it had aside from trains) highly recommended this trip. It was half an hour or so, and from a scenery point of view, not bad, but I don't know if it was worth the wait. The bus trip, though, from Towadako to Towadaminami was, climbing the hills and affording a view of the lake from the Akita side of things.

Small shrine with gardens where I whiled away at least an hour in Towadaminami while waiting for my 12.30-ish train

Between Odate and Akita

Additionally, I saw a beautiful sunset as the train followed the coastline into Sakata. I guess I wouldn't have seen that at any other time of day. But if you can get the first train of the day, it nearly always pays to do so.

On the way to Sakata, following the coast

Lost in Sakata

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Day 10, Oirase Stream, Yasumi-Ya, Kunikazai Festival

The walk along the Oirase Stream starts at Nenokuchi closest to Towadako, or starts from Yakeyama at the other end. The most popular walk is an 8.9 km walk (I think) from Ishikedo (Ishigedo)to Nenokuchi. The walk from or to Yakeyama is about 14km.

Looking at the bus timetable, from the Minshuku to the start of the walk was about ten to fifteen minutes. This translates into a conservative hour walk. The bus wasn't going to arrive until about 8, so I set off at about quarter to seven. The beautiful flowers above were wet from last night's rain, and soaking up the morning sun
This sign was on my walk and the road leads to Shingo in Aomori prefecture. Japan's Christians were martyred in the 1700s, I think, possibly earlier, in quite a horrific way. Still, some have always existed since those times, and maybe before. However, the tomb of Christ came about in 1933
when discovery of supposed "ancient Hebrew documents detailing Jesus' life and death in Japan" [5] that was supposedly the testament of Jesus. These documents were allegedly seized by the Japanese authorities and taken to Tokyo shortly before World War II and have not been seen since.
Further from the Wikipedia article:
The town claims to be the last resting-place of Jesus, buried in the "Tomb of Jesus." According to the local lore, Jesus traveled to Japan at the age of 21, where he studied theology for 12 years, after which he returned to Judea at the age of 34.[1] He did not die on the cross at Golgotha. Instead his brother, Isukiri,[2] took his place on the cross, while Jesus fled across Siberia, Alaska, and finally to Aomori, Shingo, Japan, where he became a rice farmer, married, and raised a family.
On reflection, the story is no more bizarre than that of the Mormons, or if we really look back at the more established sects of religion, no stranger than any of their founding stories. There was, as far as I was aware, no bus to this area, or if there was, I just don't think I had the time. I have been fascinated by it for a while, though.
I woke early enough to break the morning's cobwebs, but not early enough to avoid the tour buses, except at this very early stage of walking alongside the road (cars zooming past when they were about) circling the lake. It was before eight, before the first ferries ran, and the minshuku was located in an area where most people would drive, not walk, to the next tourist spot. So, I was able to get pristine shots such as above. The morning was beautiful. It was about a 2 kilometre walk, maybe a little more, to Nenokuchi. My 14 km walk around Lake Onuma told me that the whole walk would take me about 4 hours, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, depending on rests, and inclines, and my own speed, which is generally pretty fast
After taking some pictures from the jetty at Nenokuchi, I started the walk. The stream was very pretty. I have just read that the 'se' of Oirase means rapids. I'm guessing the 'oi' means a lot of, and there were. I really enjoy gentle walks along peaceful, grassy, waterways. I guess most people do. It seems I can just keep going, so long as there are not monster hills, and even then, I usually do okay. I am glad I was early, though, even though I did run into those tour groups. I reached my destination at about 12.30 and caught a 13.18 bus back to Nenokuchi. From the heights of the bus I could see that the path had become crowded, and as I approached Ishigedo, the place where most people start the work, there were more and more people as the day wore on.

I have written about this before, the things that people lose along paths that Japanese put to one side in a fairly obvious and safe place, in case that person comes back to look for it. Small things. I guess that wallets and so on get handed in to the rightful authorities or possibly kept. That make-up bag, though, looks as if it has been tied to the railway tracks. Haaalp! Haaalp! the bark is encroaching!

The paths were a little wet from the rains. It was another reason why I was pleased that I had set out early. They were going to be slush later in the day.
A gorgeous walk with waterfalls all the way along which the tour buses stopped at with predictable regularity. The JR bus had a loop recording, and the driver pulled over at each spot for people to try and grab a glimpse at the very creatively named falls. This one is Kumoi Waterfall, but the guide books just tell me that it is magnificent, not the background of its name.
Kumoi waterfall.

There is a stone slab approaching Ishigedo from the Nenokuchi side which leans over a giant Japanese Judas tree. Ishi means stone, and Kedo, or gedo, means hut. A woman thief, named Omatsu is said to hide in the hut, so, once you've passed that obstacle, the rest of the walk is pretty much without obstacle.
I got to Ishigedo and had a bit of a rest, a soft drink, something to eat (or did I?); avoided or went with the many tourists, including quite a lot of foreigners, thereby proving this site's claim that the area is bustling with foreign visitors. They're the obvious foreign tourists. I am sure that there were a lot who slipped beneath my fellow foreigner radar.

The last third of the walk to Yakeyama is a lot quieter. That's when I started whistling to scare off the bears. There are signs all along the stream indicating flora and fauna and the way the surroundings change in the different seasons. I think the mushrooms above were some form of shiitake, but really, my ability to read Japanese is next to zero.
Walking a lot is tiring, but I think I could cover a kilometre in about twenty minutes. I can swim a kilometre in 25-27, so it seems about right, maybe a little faster, a little slower. Even so, seeing this sign made my heart sing!

It didn't take me long to get to Yakeyama which was an anti-climax after the beauty of Lake Towada and the actual Oirase Stream. There is a youth hostel in town, though, which is good to know if I ever plan any future trips, and my legs were too tired to really explore further. It was pretty warm, pretty humid, still.

I did pass the Oirase Brewery and considered going in, but it was a warm afternoon and would not have been wise. I tried their pilsner later, but it didn't taste any different from the usual Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi lager and so on. I would have liked to have popped into the brewery and seen what else was on tap.

I tried an apple ice cream, or soft serve, which was quite nice. The woman accidentally dropped my first one. I'm so glad that everyone else was being clumsy, rather than me, considering that it's usually my stock in trade (the four falls on Mt. Asahidake aside).

My bus came in forty-five minutes, so I sought out a cafeteria below the gift shop, but I can't remember what I ordered. Something with noodles. It was good value. Again, below ¥1000. The soba in this area is green, flavoured with ocha, or green tea.

The bus took us back through the whole area I had just walked. Nice to travel like this on the way back. Very peopled, now, too, so I felt all smug and self-righteous, or at least thankful and grateful that I'd enjoyed my walk in relative peace and quiet.

The day was hardly over, though. I took a boat from Nenokuchi across to Yasumiya. It was a fifty minute cruise. The pictures were pretty, but similar to the one at the start of this entry, or throughout this one, so I won't post more. They are up on flickr.

Once in Yasumiya, I had an hour and a half before catching the last bus back to my minshuku at 16.30. I could have caught two earlier, ones, but that would have only given me half an hour or so in Yasumiya. The lake, as in Onuma, has paddle boats, both swans and dinosaurs, and statue of two maidens reaching out to one another which is pretty famous. The sculptor is Kotaro Takamura, and the model is said to be his wife who suffered from schizophrenia and died young. It went on display in 1953.

Wandering along this sandy section of Towadako is pleasant. There are couples rowing, grandmothers entertaining grandkids, foreigners with families and pushers (don't I sound like the redneck?), stalls selling konyaku (yam paste jelly kind of thing, one of my favourites) seafood, hot potato (chips), corn and apples. I bought an apple because my fruit intake had been appalling, but Japanese apples, on the whole, apart from being incredibly expensive, are too floury for me. Still, it did the trick.
I hadn't know that this festival was going to happen. The Kunikazai festival is one of the last big festivals of the season. The best of Aomori, Akita and Iwate prefectures (ken) come to Lake Towada. Lake Towada also has its own festivals, including a horse dance (people pretending to be horses) that I really wanted to see, and I did.

It was early hours as these dancers came through, but they were colourful, and skillful. I really like Japanese folk songs accompanied by the very high-pitched shinobue flute.
There was a lot to see, and I was a bit sad to go back to the minshuku, even though I'd be returning to the festival later. Still, I need a bath. The other four people were from Sendai, and they had come over especially for the festival. 2 middle-aged, or leaning towards elderly, couples. They loved their festivals. The Japanese really do. I guess they understand the skills in them more, and that they also have participated in them ever since they were children. With some, such as the awa(o)dori dances, it is relatively easy to participate.
My camera (phone camera) doesn't work well at the night, so I didn't take too many pictures, but this Nebuto float from Aomori is famous. There are hundreds of them when the festival is held in Aomori. There was this big one, and a few of the smaller fan shaped ones here.

The Kanto festival from Akita Ken involves balancing huge top heavy lanterns in ridiculous spots on the dancer's back, chin, palm of their hand and so on. It was exciting to watch.

I really enjoyed a dance involving older men and younger boys, girls too, which was obviously telling some kind of fishing story. It involved taiko drumming, too. Very funny, very skillful. However, the man from the minshuku had said he'd pick us up at 9.20 and I was tired, so I found him at 9.00. I didn't mind, but the grand finale probably kicked on until about 9.45 which was when the others joined us. I should have waited and seen. All of my reading was retrospective, and then it became far more interesting.

Still, I love seeing the people at festival time. As it is a holiday town, many of the men and women are out in the yukata that their minshuku, hotels and ryokan have provided. Little kids play games, eat ice cream, fan themselves with uchiwa fans. It was a really big deal, too, as seen by the big mix of people. The following day the bus passed the campsite and I noticed quickly with fellow foreigner tracking eyes, the large number who were hanging about. They were probably locals, and living in Japan.
Day 11 was the return journey. A trip from the minshuku to town to catch the 8.30 bus down to South Towada Station (Towadaminami eki) where I had to wait until 12.30 for my connection

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Day 9, Onuma - Towadako

About six a.m., September fourth. The entrance to the train station from the youth hostel side. Just as well the sign is large and easy to spot, right? Lucky I knew where I was going.

Being artsy at 6.05 at the Ikedaen Station, waiting for my train to Hakodate, and then from Hakodate to Kikonai, Kikonai to Kanita (Honshu) and Kanita to Aomori

Robot arms. 6.10 at the Ikedaen Train Station

6.15 a.m.! Two carriages, too, for the early morning students and workers.

Some time after 7.10 a.m., a station a few stops after we had left Hakodate

Way down south. I guess we were nearing Kikonai, the station where those with seishun juhachi kippu had to get a limited express to be able to get to Honshu (no local trains available).

A poster at the Kikonai train station. We arrived here before nine. I remember, because I used the bank ATM once 9 hit (no, Japan does not have 24 hour ATMs). Misogi festivals are basically where guys strip down to fundoshi (loin cloths) and purify themselves by plunging into water in the midst of winter. The Kikonai version, dating from the 1800s, seems particularly severe.

Kikonai station

Torii over the ocean. A few people were reading a sign to the right, but I can't read kanji. A Dutch ship sank here, again in the 1800s, 1857 . Maybe it somehow reflects that.

On this ticket I found it a great idea to get out and stretch when you could, considering how long you spent on the train, or actually waiting, therefore, coin lockers were a blessing, though, in these towns, the Japanese staff of the shops in the stations and so on didn't mind you leaving your bags nearby and they'd keep an eye on them. Usually there was something to see. Like this statue of this boy, though what story it represents, I do not know.

The train arrived at 9.31. We'd been waiting since 8.00 or 8.30. Two trains left at 9.31, which is highly unusual at the smaller Japanese train stations, or any of them, actually. So, my fallback of double checking the time to make sure I was on the right train almost had me foiled. There are only five limited expresses a day from Hokkaido to Honshu, so I really didn't want to miss this one. It goes through the tunnel, pretty long, pretty deep, and there is a station at the deepest point of the tunnel. If you book ahead, you can get out and have a tour, but that would mean waiting a couple of hours for the next train. I don't think I could do it. Imagine all that ocean overhead. Still, I had saved my obento (packed lunch) for this part of the journey, so that my 50 minutes of luxury could be enjoyed to the full

We arrived in Kanita at about 10.30 and were shipping out at 11.30 or thereabouts. I'd already explored the shrine opposite the ferry port on my way to Hokkaido, and it was a little far and a little humid to do it again, and so that left me plenty of time to look at the lovely displays in the JR station. Oh, by the time we got to Kanita, on Honshu, toilet paper once more seemed to be a feature of the public toilets.
Every JR station seems to have small displays, created by the staff, I suppose, illustrating the highlights of the area. To be less than accurate, I am not sure if this small display, obviously promoting the benefits of drinking sake in outside onsens, was actually in Kanita or Kikonai

Another poster. Click on it to enlarge. This one is urging commuters to mind their manners, which is fair enough. It is interesting that it is in English. We foreigners are notoriously bad at not adhering to social customs and mores. Rest assured, there were Japanese versions around the place, too

Well, after I'd eaten too much, and done some yoga exercises and stretches which did a little to alleviate the aches and pains brought about from too much sitting and too much lugging around of baggage, the train pulled in and we could sit on it , waiting until it pulled out again (with us on board!, just in case that sentence confused you). This local was going straight to Aomori. It would still take an hour, I think, or maybe a little less. Many more carriages than the local trains up in Hokkaido and further north in Tohoku. You could feel that you were drawing closer to a city centre.

Someone famous came in off one of the other trains. The ladies in my photo were waiting for him. A big guy. I think I'd seen him on the television. I wasn't sure if he was Japanese or not. I'd definitely seen the interviewer. We were told not to take photos. They, camera crew, talent, back up, all went into the small waiting room to film, I guess. The ladies were definitely giddy and fascinated

My second view of this Aomori bridge, or my second time to come into the city, walk along the path towards the turnstile in the train station, to look out the window, and see its elegant arches sweeping the edge of the city

The bus to Towadako, or Lake Towada, left at 1.30, or a little past. Maybe 1.40. I bought my ticket, and again, had an hour to kill. This lunch was delicious. Hotate, or scallops, were in that big omelette-like thing on that huge shell, and the miso soup was full of asari, (clam). I think it was a speciality of the restaurant. Again, relatively cheap, below ¥1000. I went to get an ice-cream (Baskin and Robbins) but the place was under-staffed, and the one girl too busy to serve me. The bus ride to Towadako was going to take three hours, which always seems ridiculous for 76kms, but then, I forget it is a windy road and a lot of it is urban at first, and that the speed limit is not the crazy 120km plus per hour that the Omanis drive.

It was quite a beautiful ride, for which I was pleased, as I had spent ¥3000 on the ticket. The seishun juhachi kippu does not cover bus rides. It went through the Oirase valley, passing waterfalls and the stream, along the way. Also, outside of Aomori, it passed hot springs and rope ways and had lovely views from the mountains and up to them. Of course, the first view of lake Towada is quite breath-taking, or pretty, at the least.

I'd booked my accommodation in Ikedaen by phone. I'm not great at Japanese on the phone. I can do the basics, but it's best if I know where I'm going to beforehand, or I have some kind of map so that I can listen and reinforce what is being said with a visual prop.

The woman had given me the name of the minshuku, and how much it would cost, but I had no clue where it was. I was hoping it was where the bus stopped at Yasumi-ya, though considering the price, I doubted it. The lake is 46km in circumference, though, and I didn't know how I would get there if it wasn't in this centre. The buses really didn't run that regularly.

I went to the visitors' centre (had half an hour to spare before they closed) and they directed me to a very nearby minshuku with a name very similar to my own. I was surprised because it was so close to the lake and the centre of town, how could it be so cheap? (¥3700). It wasn't the right minshuku. The guy looked up my name. Nothing. Then he put in a call to somewhere else and I was picked up. The minshuku in town is called kokuminshuku, the one I was going to is called kokuminshukusha. Koku is the kanji for country.

An older bloke picked me up in not the newest of vans. At first, I was really disappointed, thinking I'd be miles from everywhere. But then, I really wanted to walk the track along the Oirase stream, and this was much closer, and later I discovered that the bus actually stopped pretty nearby.

As I checked in, they assured me that they could drive me into the small town so that I could catch my bus out on Sunday (I was continuing south) and they also asked if I wanted to attend a big festival the following night with three other people. Sure, why not? (post, day 10, in the works).

Anyway, my answer as to the cheapness was because it wasn't the newest, as seen by the photo above. I actually got called up on this phone, and yes, it still works. But it was big (the minshuku). It was a faded glory. It had tennis courts, and a good view of the lake, a huge ofuro (bath). The rooms were large, too. I just guess that Yasumi-ya is the place where people want to stay, but perhaps, in the past, this place had been popular.

What the minshuku didn't have in newness, it did have in small touches. It had a male and female version of the yukata, and it had the heavier brunch coats that you need to wear once it gets a bit colder, and wear it I did.
The other way that they minshuku and so on make money, aside from providing accommodation, was obviously through breakfast and dinner. The breakfasts and dinners in minshuku or ryokan are nearly always worth it, but I could afford one ¥2000 dinner, but not two. The ¥2000 was relatively cheap for what I got, too, which was fabulous mountain vegetables, and delectable serves of fish and seafood. Really, I would have loved to have eaten it the next day, but I was being a little bit careful with money in some aspects.
Additionally, having the set meals means that you are limited to a time frame. If you are the only guest (as I was on Friday, or the only one eating, but I have the feeling that I was the only guest bouncing about that great huge building). I think dinner was served at 6.00, or maybe 6.30, but either way, I wouldn't have minded wandering around the bit of Towadako lake where the minshuku was situated for just a bit longer, but felt I had to return for dinner. Ryokan and minshuku are usually run by family, and you don't really want the whole family to wait around for your return.

Likewise, for breakfast, I often wanted to set out before the 7.30 serving time, and I don't get particularly hungry in the early mornings. And of course, an onigiri (riceball) was and is still cheaper than a set breakfast or dinner, but not as delicious.

Another touch that the minshuku had which hinted at former glory, was that the water in the ofuro came forth from a lion's head spout. Rrowrr. Never mind the falling apart, chipped tiles and so forth. It was clean, and once it had been grand. It also provided pumice stones for scraping your feet, in the same way that the Fuji business hotel in Asahikawa (the ¥3200 one, including breakfast) provided disposable razors. Small touches that were not a part of a youth hostel, and often not seen at all in the more modern business hotels.

Before dinner I wandered down to the lake (past the sign which said DO NOT ENTER! BEARS!)

I wandered past some houses, including one where some small kids were playing with a dog. A mother with them looked at me with some suspicion as I walked by. Though a website I have just found describes Towada as 'A city bustling with foreign visitors' (and I was surprised just how many there were for the festival the next day), I don't think that too many came to this neck of the woods. Perhaps.

Later, the small girl who had the dog came down to the waterfront as I was taking pictures. She had a chat to me and declared that my Japanese is very good, but my pronunciation and faking skills are actually pretty good. Still, we got by and she urged me to come to the festival the following night. Absolutely. Zehi! Everyone was looking forward to it.

I said that I would go, and moved on to admire the lake some more and snap a few more pictures.

Walking back I took note of all the bus-stops, including the one with the minshuku's name. I could have got off there and then when we had been heading to Yasumi-ya, but at least I had some knowledge of the layout of the main town, and where I stood in relation to both it and the beginning of the walk along Oirase Stream (smack bang in the middle, I'd say, though closer to the start of the walk, so, perhaps not). Then this cosmos waved at me from the road as I walked by. Things are a lot wilder in Northern Tohoku than in lots of other parts of Japan.

day 8, Onuma Koen and Hakodate

Life is verily and mostly and something unexplained. But anyway, on with the journey. Photos for the next few entries and I'll fill in the text later.

Early morning. I set out before 8, I think, and cycled to the park, walked over the bridges that joined the lakes and then continued 14km or so around the circumference of the lake, taking me past Shinrin Park, past the camping ground I hadn't managed to get to the day before, past the youth hostel, and eventually back into the town of Onuma Koen (well, that's what the station is called). Past the many signs directing you towards evacuation spots in case Mt. Onuma were ever to blow (as it had threatened to do in 2000, I think, coating the township with ash).

About 12.30, 1pm, coming into the town surrounding Onuma koen. I had a lavender ice cream which did taste of lavender and was yummy. Hokkaido is famous for its lavender fields.

So I'd been hanging out to go to one of Hokkaido's microbreweries ever since missing the opportunity in Asahikawa, and not having the time to stop in Otaru, so I was really please to find the Onuma Craft Brewery as the sign reads in English. They had three beers on tap but had won prizes for others. I skipped the lager, though I'm sure I would have enjoyed it (or pilsner, or lighter beer, you know... I'll look it all up later, promise) and had the slightly fruity but very smooth alt beer I think.

I ate snacks of dried squid and other seafood. I then had the 8% beer. As long as they are not too dark, I usually like these beers. They have a light touch of malt-ish flavour which disturbs my taste buds a little, until I get used to it, but it is not so strong that I cannot drink it, which is what happens with a stout. However, I know it's always a dangerous proposition. I don't know why, but 8% in a beer is too much for me, whereas 11% or 13% in a wine is not and nor is the 40% in a Pernod. It was going to be a woozy afternoon.

I asked the best place for ramen and was told on the corner, but it was the tail-end of the tourist season and they had finished lunch for the day. The brewery, too, had just me as their only patron. But there were tourists about. A huge group of Chinese tourists had hired all of the low slung tricycle kind of bikes available, which could all join up, and join up they did. They cycled past me, down the road, towards the park, high-fiving the rental guy as they passed him, fifty of them, all joined together. One of the more bizarre sights of my holiday.

I had intended to go to Hakodate to seek out the amazing ramen that I had had at the markets the morning of my trip up to Sapporo, and I wanted to check out the beer hall which also featured any number of local, smaller beers. So, considering I could not get local ramen, off I went. I asked the woman in the Onuma brewery what the local speciality was. She wasn't sure, but then she said Jingis Khan, or Genghis Khan, which is a lamb dish, borne in Hokkaido, served in a dish which resembles an upturned Mongolian hat. I'm not a big meat eater, so I passed it up.

Onuma Lake Station (Onumakoen station)

The lake from the train

It was easy to find the ramen shop, and though it was nearing two or three, they were still open, even though I know they would have been open very early that morning, too. I don't know what their hours of business were. It was just a walk-in off the street place, which also had a table and chairs on the sidewalk. It could fit about twenty at the most. If they were a husband and wife team, it was the husband who did the cooking. He was eating lunch, but he stopped to serve me same ramen dish that I had ordered before. Full of crab, prawns and scallops. Yum. When I wandered past later I saw some more foreigners in there. I was slightly disappointed as I thought I'd wandered across an authentic 'local' place, but that's not to say that they hadn't too. The ramen shop was and is in a tourist area, so really, who am I kidding? All below ¥1000 too. That is the good thing about tourist spots in Japan. You can still always find somewhere good and cheap and of value to eat. Usually.

The owners, or workers, remembered me. It was fun to have a little chat with them.

Snail thingy

Hakodate is famous for its seafood

Hakodate clams

Weighing up whether to come into town or not is a bit of a concern, as I was still taking local trains and there could be an hour and a half between them. Even the faster trains didn't necessarily stop at Onuma or Onuma Koen (where I had left my bike), and definitely not at Ikadaen (the station closest to the youth hostel). So, a trip into town had to have some kind of purpose. I was pleased to get the ramen as the next venture was to the beer hall where I was hoping to sample some more of the produce of the micro-breweries of the area.

It was getting cold, rainy and approaching the latter part of the day. Four-thirty or so. Anything I wanted to do I had to fill into the next half hour to hour. The train, of course, was not available until about half past five.

This was all that I got to see of the beer hall. My time for travel was perfect. It was just outside of the tourist season, so all the buses and so on that catered to tourists were still running, and the weather was still warm, and tourist traps were not tourist traps as they were not overrun with the tourists that made them so. The downside, of course, was that many of the tourist must-see places closed due to lack of interest, I guess. On a now become rainy, grey Hakodate afternoon at 4.30 the beer hall had given up the ghost. Closed.

Well, I took photos of the sign, as you can see, and the possible sacrilege of some very inventive shandies (on the menu); let's see - grapefruit beer, green apple beer, Cassis beer. Returning to the train station I took photos of the above seafood, and the profusion of flower baskets that adorned the light poles. They just wouldn't survive in Australia. Not just the heat, but vandals would attack them or steal them. I wonder why we don't have a sense of everything belonging to all. I guess it is being such a mix of different nationalities origin-wise, and the rugged individualism that is the spawn of capitalism.

I was full, still slightly tipsy, and kind of out of the hours for museums and such. I guess I could have gone shopping, and I did buy some Hokkaido chocolate, but mostly I found a room on the second floor of the train station, looked out across the railway tracks, went back to my seat, rested my head and had a little nap. Then wrote, then texted, then transferred pictures, then finally caught my train. The waiting, the waiting.

I had to return the bicycle by 6.30 and the train arrived at 6.10 to the weather seen above. Quite a contrast to the morning's weather. I also wanted to wash my clothes. I was travelling with two pairs of cotton trousers, three shirts, three pairs of socks, and enough undies. Great travel companions, let me tell ya. Washing needed to be done every day, if possible.

However, when I got back to the hostel the owner offered to take those of us who wished to a local onsen (hot spring). Cost, only ¥370, about $4.00. It was after dinner, and I could have put on a wash, but at the hostel you needed to ask the owners (who were busy with dinner) and it took a good ninety minutes to dry, and I know they'd be thinking 'She just did them yesterday', or at least that is what my 'fear of imposition self' told me.

The onsen was great, though, keeping with its low cost, shampoo and body wash was not provided. They usually are, and I had almost run out of my supply. Even so, after washing myself down with shampoo, hair and body, it was wonderful to relax in the creamy, buttery water. And for a good price. There are local onsen nearby, quite famous, but I think their cost is about ¥1500. Of course, they are all modern and shiny and new. Going to an onsen was the one thing I hadn't done on my Hokkaido trip, too, so it was a nice way to wind it up. There were huge paintings, not abstract but not in the school of realism, either. Pretty old. The girl behind the counter said that the artist was well-known in the area.

Heading towards the onsen the hostel owner had asked me if I'd seen any wildlife while I'd been out walking that day. There were lots of foxes, he said, in the forest and greenery that surrounded the lake. 'Ka', I said 'Plenty of ka. And a kaeru.' Mosquitoes. Man were they bountiful. You didn't want to stop for a moment - the dangers of standing still to take a photo. They actually prevented me from going further in the woods in Shinrin Park. The frog, I can't remember where I saw him, I just remember saying that.

Two guys also went to the onsen, one from east Hokkaido, where I had wanted to visit before I realised I just didn't have the time, and the other from Honshu. It was a full moon that night, having risen over the hostel just before our departure to the baths.
So, I left early again the next morning, my train coming through Ikadaen at 6.15 and taking me through, with the inevitable stops and waits along the way, to Aomori where I was going to catch a 13.40 bus to lake Towada, or Towada ko.
this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr