Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Very Far North

Monday, May 27, 2013

A very early rise with little sleep to get to Fukuyama Station to catch the airport limo bus for Hiroshima Airport. It is possible to take the train into Hiroshima, then a municipal bus to the airport. Hiroshima's airport does not have a train line going directly to it. Did I mention that before? I don't remember; I hope not. I was wondering why it wasn't serviced by a train line like so many of the other airports. Once you land the reason is pretty clear; the airport is in the mountains. It would cost a fortune to bring a train line there. It is hard to see how that investment would be anything but a loss. Everything went smoothly. The plane was large and it was full. I was surprised. I didn't imagine that many people would want to be going to Wakkanai on a very early Monday morning. On the other hand, I don't think there are many flights to Wakkanai.

P.S. For reasons I won't go into, I have only posted on photo of this trip on Facebook. One of my Japanses friends asked the question, "Why Wakkanai?" You see, I am not joking; everybody here says, "Wakkanai?"

Fukuyama, near the train station at 5:50 AM.

Hiroshima Airport.

Somewhere over Japan. By this time I am just fully realizing how clear the skies were on the flight to Okinawa.

I had to change planes at Haneda Airport. I heard the chattering of what sounded like millions of girls from the level above me. All the while I'm thinking, "God, don't let them be on my plane." They were not.

People older than me boarding the plane. 

Last shots of the mainland as I head back to Hokkaido.

Wakkanai Airport. One plane - my plane.

There is a lot of Cyrillic in Wakkanai. They are almost in Sarah Palin's position - they can almost see Russia from their living rooms.

There is no airport limo from Wakkanai Airport.

David's star? The Hiragana says, "Takahashi."

Wakkanai was the beginning of my experience with ryokans - traditional Japanese inns. From the time I got the award to travel to Japan, I planned on doing the as many of the Japanese accommodation experiences as possible. I've cut the list down. As much as I like William Gibson's novels, I won't be doing a capsule hotel. I never even considered a love hotel. However, Hiroko suggested that I consider one when I was telling her about my problems with finding a room in Hiroshima. She says after 11:0 0 PM they stop renting by the hour, so you can have the room for the whole night. "Just tell them someone is showing up later." Enough said. I even joined the Youth Hostel Assoc. A lot of the Japanese hostels allow you to reserve a private room. I am way past the communal sleeping environment. The membership is very inexpensive and at the least, no matter where I am, if something happened, or didn't happen, I'd have a last recourse for a bed at night. 

Between Wakkanai and Rebun, I stayed at three ryokans. (I am writing in the past tense. Right now I am on the train headed eventually to Abashiri.) (But I am posting days later from Nemuro.) It is a hip way to go, with some drawbacks. One is that other than the last one, I was on the floor all of the time, except at meals. "Traditional" means no chairs, futon on the floor for sleeping. I'm too old and injured for that. Often shower and restroom facilities are shared. This was the case at the last two I stayed, not the first. Then there are the meals. You can include the meals or not with your reservation. I didn't at the first one because I was leaving so early in the morning. The one on Rebun didn't actually give me choice - very understandable once I got there. The second one in Wakkanai, I took the breakfast. The meals I had were really outstanding. My issue with taking the meals, especially dinner is that it commits me to a time to eat and it removes the possibility of walking into a place like that restaurant in Fukuyama. Ryokans are often family run. I couldn't tell if the first one I stayed at was, but the other two certainly were. Try it, you may like it. Yeah, and the last one had a chair and a raised bed; you don't know how happy I was. I might have had a choice of rooms, sometimes you do. I don't remember. 

The 1st ryokan.

View from my window.

Shots from my first walk-around in Wakkanai.
Tracks headed to the very last railroad stop in the north of Japan.

Here is David's star again.

The concert hall. The Sapporo Symphony is going to play there. 

A street with Russian signage.

The famous sea wall. 

Kaiki Memorial Tower.

So that I know where to catch the ferry the next morning.

Who knows what the charge was.

The end of the line.

Wakkanai Station.

Here's the thing about this dinner. I am alone here. I don't speak the language. I spend 95% of my time with myself. After walking around for sometimes hours, being stared at (in a friendly manner), I can end-up a little intimidated. Yes, and maybe with a little attitude. Walking into a restaurant and ordering dinner can be an ordeal. It is mostly internal, but that maybe makes it worse. I am in Wakkanai. It took a lot to get here. There has not been one person in Japan who has not expressed fascination at the least, confusion and dismay at the other extreme, when I told them I was coming here. This place is about a few things, one obviously is the seafood particular to it. (BTW, it is June 1 and there still is snow in Hokkaido.) I find a restaurant that obviously serves seafood. (Not as easy as you would imagine. I don't speak or read the language.) I go in, immediately determine that I am the only person that speaks English and get myself seated. Three menus, none of them with any English, but one with photos. That one is obviously for people like me. Ramen. Ramen with no seafood. Ramen you can get pretty much anywhere. I toss that aside and go for the smaller of the other two. A lot of this menu is in Katakana. That should have been a clue and would have been if I wasn't so tired and beaten down. The deal is that in Japanese language class they tell you, "Oh, you can usually understand Katakana because it is mostly foreign words." I'm here to tell you it is a lie. Katakana might as well be Venusian, for all that it resembles English or German or anything else other than Japanese. Once you know what the word is, then you can see how they got there. The resemblance is clear. But mostly only after you know what it is. In the textbooks they give you the most obvious examples, creating a false sense of security. Supposedly, I can read Katakana. 

I point to an item on the menu. The waitress is a little incredulous and says, "Whiskey?"I guess she could tell that whatever I wanted, I probably didn't want whiskey. I was devastated. After she said it, it was obvious it said "whiskey" in Katakana. We exchanged some sentences, totally incomprehensible to each other, until I finally pointed to a photograph of ramen. This really bothered me. It bother me more because across the way was a party of six, well-heeled, middle-aged folks of both genders, having a lavish feast of items from the sea. They ate with great relish. Platter after platter. I figure that had to be at least an $800.00 meal. No, with the wine, $1,000.00. 

Here I was with my bowl of noodles. In Wakkanai. I went through all levels of internal machinations. The ramen was good and I was no longer hungry; I would be getting nothing but seafood on Rebun; I was tired and needed to get to bed. On the other hand I was in Wakkanai, I had spent a lot of money on Japanese language classes and I couldn't manage to order some fish? I was resenting the party having such a great time and I was really resenting the waitress and her incredulous, "Whiskey?" It was a "man or a mouse" moment. 

With the help of a Japanese dictionary on my iPod Touch, I managed to explain the woman that I wanted some seafood. I ended up with sashimi, which I could say when I was ten years old, but that wasn't the point. The conversation was the point, and something other than noodles. Fortunately, the scallops were excellent. The scallops were worth the whole ordeal.

I am going to have to get off this train in two stops. I don't think it is going to be easy. It would be if I were Japanese, but I am not, so it is creating some anxiety. I am thinking that for a lot of some of the rest of this train tour, I had better get reserved seats.

1 comment: