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Hokkaido - Part 2

Written on: Thursday February 12th, 2009

A journal entry from: Japan

More from Hokkaido:

After Akan-ko, we headed toward the lower central area of Japan. The first day was a driving day, which was good because not only was it cloudy, it rained hard a few times. We spent a day driving through Furano, an area famous throughout Japan as idyllic countryside comprable to places in Europe like Tuscany. Hokkaido produces a lot of vegetables, milk, and other produce for Japan, and this particular area is well known for its' farmland, as well as for lavender flowers. Furano was featured in a TV drama some years ago, about a family that leaves the city and their work-a-day jobs to live an idyllic life in the country. Furano has become the place that symolizes that dream the best.

At one point we stopped at a random little rural gas station, just set up on the side of the road with nothing but fields around. And I do mean little. There was a produce/food stand set up next to it that was almost bigger than the place itself. There seemed to be an big extended family - or maybe a couple of families - hanging out, running the place, prepping roast corn on the cob and other treats to sell. Mostly hanging out and having a good time, though. So we chatted with them a bit, and they asked me where I was from. Imagine me surprise when I said, "Canada", and they asked if I knew Wetaskiwin. Huh? Yeah, actually...turns out that their little town - Ashoro - is "sister cities" (towns?) with Wetaskiwin. I'm so glad we stumbled onto it. They were really nice, too.  

The other main feature of this part of Hokkaido is Taisetsu-san National Park, that largest park in Hokkaido, and Mt. Asahi-dake, the highest peak in Hokkaido. There's also a few volcanos in the area. But Asahi was our goal, despite the cloudy, off-and-on rainy weather.

We spend the night at a fantastic hostel with a rotenburo - an outdoor hot spring pool. We were able to buy a lunch-to-go the next day, for cheap, too - some of the best home-made style onigiri I've had! (Onigiri are rice triangles with different fillings, wrapped in nori. They're fantastic portable food.)  

We set off in the morning with the weather not too bad, but looking a bit iffy. This wasn't a challenge hike, just a short outing - we rode the cable car partway up the mountain, and started up the peak from there. We hadn't gotten very far before, predictably, the fog closed up on us. It was a steep slog straight up to the top, and again our reward was a lovely wall of impenetrable white, but it was still worth it. We climbed down in the rain and I went in search of a hot chocolate. 

From there we headed west towards the Sapporo area. We had already spent the night in Sapporo when we first arrived on the island, and we were taking an overnight ferry back from Tomakomai, so we stayed in a little town at Shikotsu-ko (Lake). In the morning we heading for the youngest volcano in Japan (as far as I know). It's called Showashin-zan. The name means "New Showa Mountain". (Showa was the name of the Emperor at the time.) It was "born" in 1943. The Japanese government attempted to hide its existence at the time, afraid that it would provide a landmark for bombers. A local post master was fascinated with the "baby" volcano and started coming out every day to make observations, take notes, and try to measure its growth. He continued to come almost every day for something like 30 years, providing an amazing record of the new volcano's development. There was a lovely little statue honouring him at the base of the mountain. The volcano's a strange looking thing; it's a pinkish-ochre kind of colour, and it doesn't really have very much vegetation, so it looks strangely naked like a baby mouse. You can't really go up on it, but you can take a cable car up to its neighbour, Usu-zan. Usu-zan is also a volcano; in fact, it's Showashin-zan's parent. The younger volcano is really an off-shoot of Usu. We had a great view, and would you believe it – there wasn't a bit of fog in sight. Finally some sun! The day before we leave.  

That's it for Hokkaido pictures!