Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hokkaido Train Tour (June 1 - 7): 1. Abashiri

I did all the inter-Japan traveling up 'til now on a Japan Air Pass, available through the Star Alliance airline group. If you are coming to Japan, you should really check that out. The airfare from Tokyo>Sapporo; Sapporo>Naha; Naha>Wakkanai via Tokyo cost only a little over $500.00. That is out of this world. Because I am here on a cultural visa as opposed to a tourist visa, I cannot get the Japan Rail Pass that everyone gets so excited about. As it turned out, the Hokkaido 7- Day Rail Pass for non-foreigners is not much more expensive than the one for foreign passport holders, so I got that for this rail tour. Originally, when I was planning this trip, I figured I would just take a train directly from Wakkanai to Sapporo, but I like trains, I'm being funded, I will probably never be here again under such favorable circumstances and my remit is to learn about and see Japan. Why wouldn't I get a 7-day Hokkaido Rail Pass and see Hokkaido? 

That is what I did. I went from Wakkanai to Abashiri; Abashiri to Kushiri, Kushiri to Obihiro; Obihiro to Nemuro (The farthest point east in Japan that the public can access. Are you noticing a theme here?); Nemuro to Otaru; finally back to Sapporo, where I have been for the past 5.5 days.

One of the first things I told the proprietor of the Wakkanai ryokan was that I would need a cab to the train station at 6:30 the morning of the 1st. She assured me it was no problem and that her driver would take me. Now, I had paid for breakfast during this stay, but I figured I wasn't going to have it if I were leaving that early in the morning. Besides, I didn't really want it. As I have said, breakfast is not my thing. So, I come downstairs at 6:25 ready to go. She comes out and makes signs that I need to get my butt into the dining room. I let her know that I hadn't planned on eating breakfast, but these ryokan people think they know who is boss and they think it is them. She let me know (without being able to speak English) that she knew my train was not leaving until 7:10 and that gave me plenty of time. What could I do? It is hard to argue with someone who looks like one of your great-aunts.

The scallops in Hokkaido are really, really good.

These are "bus people," even though they are getting on the train. You don't need to see the bus to recognize them; there is always a man or woman in front with a flag of some sort.

The following shots are through the train window. Because of the train's speed and the window (the lens often focuses on the window rather than the scene I am trying to shoot), what I could shoot was limited. Also, there were many potentially great shots that I just didn't know were coming up, so the camera was not out, up and ready. So it goes.
The train goes right by my first ryokan in Wakkanai. 
Signs of some of the stations along the way.

To get to Abashiri, I had to go south to Asahikawa, then take a different train to the northeast. At first there was a bit of gnashing of teeth deciding where to go and how long to stay there. Seven days is not that long when you want to see stuff. Then I remembered that my original desire was about the train rides, not where I ended up. It became easy then. Other than Nemuro, I did a different town each night, reserved a room at a hotel in walking distance (with my heavy suitcase) from the train station and that was it. The destinations took care of themselves; I just wanted to travel as far as possible and definitely get to Nemuro.

The second train - Asahikawa to Abashiri...

My first train getting ready to move on without me.
I'm thinking, rice.

Lots of (fresh) water on this part of the trip.
This second train is a local train. One car, that is the engineer in the yellow helmet. 

June 1, snow on the ground. 

The stations started getting smaller and smaller. 
The plan for all of these stops was: get to the hotel, change clothes, walk as much/far as possible before dark, reconnoiter a place to eat, eat then if it makes sense or come back later. 

You can't count on T.P. at the restrooms in Japan. It is wise to carry tissue around with you. Carl Stone's definition of a loser in Japan is some who has to buy their own tissue. This is because there is always someone on the street handing tissue out.
Just in case you were worried.

This looked like a promising street for dinner.
Pastel Town. 
You see? Trust me.
I had to walk the neighborhood a few times, but finally I made a decision. It was a good decision.

They were visiting from Tokyo.
They were visiting from Nara. Some dinner before karaoke. They were going to Kushiri the next day, as was I. I didn't see them there. 
The chef asking my approval of my main course. It was in one of those styrofoam boxes you saw sitting in front of the restaurant.
The chef's son dealing with daikon. He has twin brother who was wearing a shirt of the same design.
The daikon the twin dealt with.
My main course.

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