I woke up the next day with an urge to walk to town rather then take the train, or rather I should say I missed the train and didn’t want to wait 3 hours for the next one. After all, it was only 7km, a nice warm up for the day. I had my eyes set on a town called Shikabe just 20km to the north and once again was in no hurry. The walk itself was pretty nice and it gave me a bunch of time to think about things as well as the opportunity to visit a side of the road petting zoo.
By the time I got into town it was turning 11 and my stomach was growling. I spied a restaurant that was just opening and stepped inside. It took the staff a second to get over the fact that their first customer was a foreigner but within a few minutes I found myself with a free cup of coffee. Why? They said it was because I was the first of the day but a couple days later when I returned in the middle of the afternoon I received the same treatment and I was by no means their first customer… I have to say the curry I ordered there was fantastic, especially after that 7km hike.
From there it was a short walk to a small but locally famous brewery. Most Japanese towns are famous for some kind of food or drink. Whenever you ask a Japanese person where they went on vacation they invariably identify the town and then begin to go into great depth and detail of the wonderful food they had there. In Onuma it’s the beer.
The place was dead, not a single soul but the caretaker sitting in the corner reading a book. It was more a bar then a brewery and you could see the bright steel brewing vats through large pane glass windows. I asked the lady who was bartending for some details about the place but was met with a blank stare so I asked if there was someone who did know. She smiled and replied that yes there was, but unfortunately today was their day off. Tuesday at 1pm… Odd how wherever I go the person I want to talk to isn’t there.
Something about Japan just makes me want to pull at my hair and scream. You present a person/company/etc with a new idea and in return you receive a polite smile, and that’s it. Tell a brewery that you have connections with distributors in a new and difficult to enter market and you be glad to introduce them and it’s a polite smile, exchange of business cards, and a promise to get in contact. Recommend to a brewery that their brew would definitely hit it off with the foreign crowd and that they might want to do some market research into that and once again it’s the polite smile and a ‘we know better’ look. Sure it’s understandable to look upon the musing of an unknown person with skepticism but when they come to you speaking your language in the middle of a journey that you wouldn’t even begin to attempt because of the challenge, you might want to give them a chance.
With what I thought was the high point of Onuma checked off my list I headed to the station to check the schedule hoping that I was in time for the early afternoon train. Nope, two hours until the next car came through. I didn’t feel like just sitting on my arse and waiting so I decided to try to catch a ride the 20km to Shikabe.
So there I stood, in the gaze of the hot sun glaring through a thin veil of clouds, waiting for someone to stop. I waited for an hour and a half and came to the conclusion that trying to hitch short distances is even more difficult then trying to get a ride from the middle of a city. That, or it might have just been my luck for the day. With my tail between my legs I returned to the station to wait the last 20 minutes on the platform munching on an ice cream bar.
I had some vague misgivings that maybe I should have looked a little more before leaping when I stepped off the platform into a thick mist with only a small train house and an idling bus as my company. There wasn’t even an attendant at the station and the other passengers had all quickly disappeared in waiting cars.
A giant map in the parking lot proclaimed ‘Shikabe sightseeing map.’ I looked at it closely. No scale, lots of cute pictures, there was no way in hell was I going to trust this map. I tried the bus driver with more luck. Places to camp, pretty much anywhere. Convenience stores, plenty. Ways in and out of Shikabe, not many (3 buses daily).
It was a twenty minute drive to the city ‘center’ and as I rode along I really began to wonder what I had gotten in to. There was nothing in this place but run down buildings, boats, small stores, and newer looking homes. It really was a fishing town and much smaller then anything I had been in before.
Taking the advice of the bus driver I headed to a park that was off the beaten track to find a place for my tent. Something he had forgotten to mention was that it stood beside a decent sized graveyard. Stone markers stared at me with stolid faces as I approached. Even though Japanese graveyards don’t have any bodies they can still be pretty creepy when you’re camping alone in the mist. What made it all better was the thick scent of fragrant cherry blossoms carried with the breeze.
Three weeks on Hokkaido and I had yet to see a flower in bloom (flower stores don’t count) but as I wandered around this ‘middle of nowhere’ park I was surrounded by trees in full bloom. The total silence made for an excellent companion to this scene. Me alone with a host of blooming trees (and a graveyard full of people).
As usual the forecast for the next day was rain so I pitched my tent on the hard cement under one of those gathering places parks always have. Locals in places like these usually found it more humorous then annoying when on their morning walks they discovered a foreigner sticking his head out of a tent flap.
As for the next day there isn’t much to tell. It did rain and since there was no shelter in Onuma I decided to stay one more night in Shikabe. This time, however, I decided to stay in a hot spring hotel that on the previous day I had discovered had wireless internet. I bargained them down to what I thought was a reasonable price and spent the rest of the day online taking care of business.
Sometime in the early evening a convention of some sort began and from then until 10:30 that night 40 salary men wandered about the place. In typical Japanese fashion they finished out the night with bottles of alcohol, girls, and karaoke. I know about the karaoke because my room was right above theirs and they didn’t spare the volume. Try as I might I couldn’t drown them out with my own music so I ran down to the hot spring and hid there for a while. If I had known there was going to be a conference I would have bargained harder.
Shikabe, despite having nothing to see, had been quite interesting. A quaint little fishing town with a mysterious air (thanks to the mist). I thought I had seen everything the town had to offer but the next morning proved me wrong.