All posts tagged: Hokkaido

Escape from Tomuraushi/Insect Meditations

From a picnic table in the shade in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, the conclusion of my Daisetsuzan saga… I went to sleep, or what passes for sleep at Club Mountaingoat, with the peace of mind that follows a few nips of Nikka whisky and a rare attack of good sense. Ahead lurked two more days of deeper penetration into the back-est of the Daisetsuzan backcountry; again I’d scanned the guidebook, looking for some hint of reward — terrific views, for example — to justify all those “hard”s, “long”s and “tough”s. I found nothing. Again. Outside, the mountain gods hurled volleys of horizontal rain against our pitiful shelters on crazed bursts of wind. I praised the stolid German craftsmen and women who’d manufactured such a sturdy little tent, and not for the first time saluted my own genius in leaving the syl-nylon tarp back in Australia. That merits another nip, my good man. Anyway, the decision was made, and I followed the final nip with the final Snickers in my food bag. The two Sapporo-ites (Sapporoids?) were exiting in the morning, …

Boulder-Hopping in Wildflower Heaven

Well, folks, here I am again in my de facto Tokyo office with the soft-jazz soundtrack and the students frowning over their papers and textbooks with the single caramel frappuccino they’ll ride till the ice melts and beyond, and the convenient power outlets spaced along the window bench — my main reason for hanging here (apart from the tobacco-free policy). Su-tā-bakku-su.  I’ve been busy, and it doesn’t seem like my posts on this trip will ever be less than a week older than the events they describe. Here I am about to talk about Day 3 of my Daisetsuzan adventure and since then I’ve already done two Tohoku hikes and returned yesterday from a magnificent (but very hard) three-day trek through the Minami (South) Alps, highest range in Japan. It nearly killed me, but it was worth it! You’ll remember the busted tent pole from last post. Well, at a little ma-and-pa outdoor store just around the corner here in Kichijoji, an energetic youngster in jeans tight enough to break bones was able to decipher my problem …

Just a Tiny Bit Lost in the Big Snowy Mountains

“I wasn’t lost; I just didn’t know where I was for a few weeks.” ~ Pioneer mountain man Jim Bridger This morning I was able to wash my one set of clothes for the first time since I’ve been in Japan — not counting the odd river-rinse or campground-sink cycle. I feel like a million dollars — or should that be 92,026,068.88 yen? I’m back in Tokyo as of last night, where I bunked down again at the first capsule hotel I stayed in (I’ve since slept in two other pods in Sapporo). Another night there tonight, this time in the mixed dormitory, since the male-only one was full. I don’t know why so many Japanese businessmen stay there, since the atmosphere is very western youth hostel, though pretty quiet, with European longhairs lying about and piles of crap all over the hallway floor. But it’s cheap. Even with all those transient gaijin, 30 bucks for a night in Tokyo is pretty damned good. Today’s a rest day — a zero as we’d say on the trail. …

The Highest Man in Hokkaido

Hey, folks. First of all today, would you like to see my Nikkas? Happy to oblige. First, here’s one of the pair of convenient travel-sized bottles I bought in the gift shop just before boarding the cable car up the side of Asahi-Dake a few days ago. The kind lady even wrapped each one in bubble-wrap without me even asking: And here’s one I took last night as I walked home from dinner to my third (and best) capsule hotel, here in Sapporo, Hokkaido. This is at the other end of the Nikka size spectrum: I do believe in the responsible consumption of ‘alcohol,’ even in the mountains, just like the authorities in Japan. Me, I like to keep the manner, and I do my best swearing in private: That gondola: I don’t really believe in the things. They’re like bridges to islands — they kinda mess with definitions. If you can fly halfway up the side of a mountain in minutes, is it still a mountain? But dang, that pack of mine was heavy. …

Flying by Falcon, Rocking with Rose

Travelling in Japan is all about the trains — well, except for those annoying mountain-hiking parts. The whole country is a train-spotter’s paradise, with prizes including the almost obscenely streamlined Hayabusa, one of the fastest shinkansen (“bullet trains”) in Japan… ..within which I sped yesterday from Tokyo to Aomori in the extreme north of the main island of Honshu, and the Hamanasu… ..at the opposite end of the train-technology spectrum, which rocked and rollicked through the night, beneath the Tsugaru Strait to emerge onto vast Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island. Even the names are cool. Hayabusa means peregrine falcon, and Hamanasu is the Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa,a name which captures its rambling, exuberant energy, even if it’s not especially macho name for a train. I’m typing this aboard the final phase of my Daisetsuzan-bound railway odyssey (there’s still a bus to go after that), a Super Kamui Limited Express from Sapporo to Asahikawa. A quick check suggests that kamui translates as “divine or powerful”. This seems like a favourable omen before my upcoming excursion. That ride aboard the falcon …

Good Things Come in Eighty-Eights: My Latest & Greatest Japanese Odyssey

Konnichiwa from Nippon, folks! I’m tapping this on my laptop, via some sweet Japanese wifi technology, from a table in my favourite Starbucks, right next to the park in Kichijoji, Tokyo. I got in to Narita last night on a half-empty flight via Cairns, and crashed in an airport hotel room smaller than my bedroom at home. Dinner was omu rice, some inari zushi, a “steam cake” and a big-ass can of Sapporo beer, in one hit checking four favourite konbini (convenience store) culinary delights on my to-eat list. I’m here for 88 days — nope, not in this Starbucks; that would be excessive. In Japan, I mean. I wanted to make the most of my 90-day tourist visa, and I’m covering a fair bit of ground, old and new, revisiting some favourite old haunts and walking some new paths. Let me backtrack, briefly. My American plans have been put on hold for some personal and legal reasons I won’t go into here. It was a rough year, and I hit rock bottom for several months. …

Warning! Deadly! But Cute!

Walking through Hokkaido, and then Shikoku, Japan, in 2008, I would often pause for a quick snap of the hilarious warning signs so common along roadsides, on creek banks and electrical facilities, and at trailheads. For me, with my feeble Japanese-language skills, the seemingly infantile imagery was a useful aid in comprehending the supposed danger looming ahead.

Bastard Dogs of Backwoods Japan

There is something about my appearance that brings out the worst even in a normally well-mannered dog. It may have to do with my hunched-up pack or rapid gait. Or the way I swing my arms. Perhaps dogs know intuitively that I dislike the sound of a bark as much as the cry of babies or Siamese cats. Or it could be that I just look and smell a bit trampish. Whatever the reason I view all dogs on the loose as potential assailants… ~ John Hillaby, ‘Journey Through Europe‘ I have been harassed by dogs while walking on four continents.They are easily my least-favourite local fauna. I have nothing against the creatures in theory — the idea of them. I’ve had a few mutts in my life and we got along nicely. But Mr Hillaby might be right about the pack: It sets the buggers off. Many’s the time I’ve been grateful that I usually walk with trekking poles. But even pack-less, they will often take me on, or at least give me a …

Hokkaido Bound in a Floating Bathtub

LATE MARCH, 2008. I was up on the hill among the crumpled ramparts of Sendai Castle, looking down on the city, the languid river, in my rabbit-fur hat and lugging my monkey. The Monkey: my big, new, brutally heavy pack. We were getting in a spot of sight-seeing before I departed for Hokkaido that night. I wasn’t taking it easy on my last free day, though — I’d hiked up there from a friend’s apartment downtown. Raising a sweat hauling that beast through the City of Trees and up to this mossy 17th-century pile of rock had felt real. Two young tourists in fashionable denim and leather and heels obliged when I asked them to take my photo . “Where are you…? Eh, nani? Go? Go-ing?” “Un!” Her friend. “Where are you going?” “Hokkaido tomorrow. And then walking.” “Walking, un!” A glance at my pack. “To Kyushu.” “Ehhhhh?! KYUSHU? By walking?! But Kyushu is very far place!” “Yeah.” “EHHHHHHHHHHHHHH?!” The ferry was a mini-ocean liner, with several floors, an abundance of cabins, restaurants, a stage …