I finally made it to Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan, and right on time. My plan was to spend one month getting from Tokyo to northern Hokkaido, then one month to return. The best weather in Hokkaido is in August so I planned to get to the northernmost point on August 15th. By luck, chance or good planning, I arrived in Wakkanai on exactly August 15th. Below is my current location.
But let me back up a bit. Since my last post I made my way into Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido and home to Sapporo beer. I got there and had a lot to do. My solar charger quit working, my rear view mirror broke, I needed a haircut, my odometer quit working, I lost my tripod somewhere, my phone fell and the screen cracked, my Japanese SIM card expired, I needed to buy a new shirt… blah blah blah. A whole bunch of things went wrong in a short period of time. So I decided to stay two nights in Sapporo, the first time I have stayed in the same place twice in Japan. But I got a decent deal on an Airbnb for $40 one night then got a warm showers host for the second night. So I did manage to save some money. Good thing too because I went out for sushi my first night in this tiny mom and pop sushi place which was super good. I had tuna, flounder, shrimp, salmon roe and scallops. But that and one beer cost $40. So I need to be smarter about my restaurant choices. Here is the owner preparing one of my sushi pieces.
The next day I ran all my errands. The highlight had to be my haircut. I’ve never had a haircut like I had in Sapporo, and it reflects the Japanese culture of attention to detail and quality.
I was riding by this place and saw it was for “men” so I stopped and the barber was an old Japanese guy. The price was 3000 yen, about $30, which I thought was a tad expensive, but his wife explained that it included everything, whatever that was. I had to wait a couple minutes but then I was in the chair trying to explain how I wanted my hair cut. He spoke no English so we struggled for a bit but I think he got it.
I was there an entire hour. He carefully and meticulously cut my hair then massaged my shoulders before giving me a shampoo and shave, complete with a hot towel, shaving cream and a straight razor. Donning a surgical face mask, he even trimmed my eyebrows, ear hair and nose hairs. He is brave. Finally, when it was done, I paid him the 3000 yen but he returned a 1000 yen note to me. I’m not sure why, but I think he was impressed that I was cycling around Japan. Anyway, I felt like a million bucks after leaving that place. If I lived in Sapporo I would definitely be a regular customer.
Here are some random views of Sapporo. A dog beauty shop?
A coffee shop. OK, is there a dress code?
Not all Japanese obey the rules I guess.
After getting a new bike computer, tire, sim card, shirt and more mosquito repellant, I made my way to my warm showers host, Aki. It started raining and he lived on a hill so I was a soaking mess when I showed up at dusk. But after showering we went out to a great ramen restaurant and had a huge delicious bowl of ramen with pork. Returning to his house we talked late into the night about everything from traveling to economics. Aki studied graphic design in Seattle so he spoke very good English. Here is Aki in front of his house.
Japan is frustrating if you don’t know the language. I can’t talk to anyone really, I can’t read the street signs, menus or anything else, so I frequently feel lost and completely disoriented. In one hotel I needed to wash clothes but the hotel did not have a laundry room. The receptionist directed me to a coin laundry nearby but when I got there I found several dryers but no washing machines. What? After searching the area without success I gave up. I returned to the hotel and tried to explain to the receptionist what happened. She explained something into google translate but it came out totally garbled and made no sense. It sounded like she was saying that the washer and dryer were one machine. But that can’t be, can it? I ended up washing my clothes in my hotel room.
Google translate helps sometimes but even when they use it the translation often comes out so garbled I really can’t be sure what they are trying to say. I don’t remember having this much trouble in China but maybe I did.
Aki told me obon week started August 11. This is one of Japan’s busiest holidays. Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon the ancestor’s spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.
Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestor’s spirits, obon dances are performed, people visit the graves of their relatives, and food offerings are made at alters and temples.
So thousands of people leave the cities and return to their home towns and villages, as well as just go off on vacation for a few days. The upshot is that the roads were filled with traffic. I just can’t get away from the cars. Campgrounds were chock full of people, cars and tents. In one campground there were hundreds of tents pitched together like sardines, with hundreds of families enjoying the beach. Great for them, but miserable if you are bicycling on the road with the travelers.
My solution was to try and ignore the traffic by listening to The History of Rome podcast by Mike Duncan, a detailed and fascinating exploration of Rome from its founding in 750 BC to the disintegration of the western empire in the AD 500s.
Despite the traffic and people I was able to get some nice campsites right by the sea. Nice weather and no bugs. And I got to swim in the Sea of Japan.
I got off the main road on a trail one evening and was alone on this beach. It was filled with trash and washed up logs and sticks. A bit gross but the sunset was nice.
A nice camping spot in a campground right on the sea the day after leaving Sapporo.
But rain threatened every day. The day I rode into Wakkanai the clouds looked foreboding and a few drops fell. There was no shelter along the way so I raced as fast as I could to get to Wakkanai before it started raining. Here is a shot of the road.
The weather forecast was for rain all the next day and they were right. I awoke to cool, rainy skies. So I decided to just stay in my hotel room for a day, resting and writing this blog. It would be a miserable day for riding. I’ve long since learned not to argue with Mother Nature.
Here is a shot of the rainy city from my hotel room window.
So that’s it from Wakkanai. The weather is supposed to improve tomorrow so I’ll start heading back south. I’ve got two weeks to get to the main island of Honshu and then another two weeks to return to Tokyo. Watch this space.