Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Through the Ainu Land (part 1)

I don’t remember exactly when I’ve heard for the first time about Ainu people, but I liked them instantly. Something about being oppressed. On the verge of disappearing.

It is a beautiful sunny, though cold morning. Too early for the tourists to be up and around. Early even for the Japanese people. We visit again the town, take some pictures at the lake, then in the village. Everything is closed, but there is a gay feeling.

Entrance of the village

The kamuy ni (god tree) sculptures were created in 2007 using red cedar from Canada, by the people from this village under the guidance of Mr.Nuburi Toko. They face the Kamuy Mintar, created in 1990 by Mr.Toko across the Pacific Ocean, at the Kushiro Park in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

We drive and marvel at different contraptions on the side of the road, almost horizontal posts connected by wire, or a roof over a curb, or gigantic Venetian blinds, closed or opened. It dawned us that they help keeping the roads open in winter.

We stop in Kotan. There is a beautiful lake and discover it has an onsen. This one allows a bathing suit. 

While the boys take some pictures, I visit the Ainu museum. Located in a custom made building, the exhibit is varied and presents artifacts from the daily and ceremonial life of Ainu. I feel a kinship with people that live of the land, and they certainly did. From the booklet that I received as an entrance ticket I find something about their history, culture, customs and the law that recognizes them as a minority, given in 1997. They remind me of the Native Americans from Alaska, of the Maori from New Zealand or the Easter Island people.  One theory says that they are related.

Boots made of salmon skin.

We drive some more, passing deserted spas from the ‘60s. That’s when Hokkaido became a major summer vacation and had established its National Parks. Maybe they are not deserted, just closed for the season. But they’re telling me that things change slowly here. The farms are preparing for winter, harvesting onions and potatoes, some greenhouses still on with tomatoes. On fields there are hay-ballots wrapped some in white plastic, some in black, and others in black and white stripes. We take a curve and coming toward us there is a leashed dog running with abandon and leading a motorcycle. The man smiles sheepishly. We weren't supposed to see how much he loves his dog...

 We smelled the place before seeing it. A sulfurous vent between two hills.

We understood only one thing from these signs, the one written in English: "Please note that the car break"

 They were selling eggs geothermally boiled. We learned how to peel them with paint-tape.

Mashū (mashoo) lake surprised us. My eyes could not adapt to see the surface, to differentiate the clouds from the sky from their image in the lake. We couldn’t capture the feeling in any pictures.

A caldera lake, with no significant inlet and no outlet, it has the reputation of one of the clearest in the world. What seemed like an island in the middle of it, we learned is the peak of a subsequent eruption, some 3500 years ago.

I love flowers, but especially the small ones, because you have to look for them to enjoy their beauty. My ring is there just for the measure.

We arrive in Rausu (rah-oo-soo) and stop to fill the tank. We were still considering what do we have to do in order to fill the tank when one assistant, stops from washing a customer’s car, comes running to ours, asks what we want, if we pay cash or with card, then runs to fill the tank. Now the other assistant comes running and together they wipe every glass part of our car. They thank us for using their station and while we drive away they bow down in perfect synchronicity until we cannot see them anymore.

As in the other hotel we are required to take off our shoes when we enter and notice that the owner’s dog is not (this is discrimination!). But it is so clean that two trips from second floor through the hallway to the onsen and back didn’t leave any mark on my white tabi socks (traditional one toe socks provided by the hotel).

Mihai dressed in yukata and tabi socks, ready for onsen (hot bath)

The little cupboard that held the tea cups, green tea bags, sugar, straws and glasses

We’re still on jet-lag and because of that we have plenty of time to enjoy the morning routine, eat, pack our bags. We even have time for a stroll on the rocky beach and enjoy the piles of multicolored floating spheres tied with string (used for fishing).

Rausu is one of the access points to the Shiretoko National Park, the last true wild place in Japan. But before we go there we want to see the coast of the peninsula. We drive in the open, no tunnels here, on a slim road, squished between rocks and the sea. Japanese people are constantly keeping those elements at a bay, cementing entire hill sides (to avoid crumbling and to implement elements that prevent avalanches) making a waffle grid to help re-vegetation and creating long barriers of different types of tripods to stymie the waves.

This is just a small pile of tripods and the tide is coming.

We stop to see Seseki onsen, where two small rock and concrete pools were capturing the oozing hot water. I don’t know if it was the coming of the tide or our presence, but the man who was enjoying the elements, got up, covered himself with a tiny towel, dressed and left. When I tested the water, it was balmy. This place had a nice view, not like in Aidomari onsen where all you had was a wall of tripods on which the waves would crush and shower you cold in the rough concrete basin.

Can you see Mihai?

We pass the Bear Rock, a boulder that resembles a mother bear and her cub. The cracks are sealed with caulking.

Aidomari, end of the road, at least for the car. To get to the tip of the peninsula we would have to hike approximately 50 km (30 miles), something that we don’t want to do, so we take pictures of waves and huge bees and return.

Here comes my best from the trip. We look in the stream and see a salmon, then another one. 

Can you see a white tip snot? At 12 o'clock. And the tail is at 5:30.

Here are two of them, right in the middle of the picture

The more we look, the more we see them, like elongated brown rocks, wavelets running over their backs. I want to catch one! Shoes and socks off, I roll up my sleeves and pants, get into the freezing water. I set my eyes on one that has a little bit of white on its tail. How do I catch it? Images of Mulan (Disney movie) doing a motion of knife-hand-strike are dancing in my mind, but  I know I am not able to do it, besides I will splash myself from head to knees. My scientific mind kicks in: because the light refracts in water, the fish is actually in a different place than the one I see it. OK, OK, how about if I put my hands in the water, then I can judge correctly my distance from the fish. Good. Where do I put them? The fish can see me if I’m coming from above or from the head, but I don’t think it can see its tail. And so I ease my hands in the water behind the fish, a little bit open and on the sides, go slowly forward and grab. The first time it wriggles out. Not the second! My left fingers slide on its body and stop above the tail, my right hand moves in for a better grip and then I scoop it out of the water, triumphantly: I caught a fish, I will not die of hunger in the wilderness! It is euphoric! Mihai is filming me but I don’t know that, and I’m asking him if he can take pictures, can he see the black tongue and the V-shaped  crests on it? The fish tries to escape. The gasping mouth makes me lower it in the water. I’m holding it and it just sits there in my hands, like this is normal. I’m taking it out several short times to inspect its body, I don’t know it its a male or a female, or the kind of salmon. I’m just happy and awed. I put it back where I caught it and gently release my fingers; for two seconds it stays motionless then with a swish of its tail gets back in its spot, hovering and waiting for something.

On our way back to Rausu we drive on a 15.5% steep road to a lighthouse from where we could see whales (if it was the season) and the Kunashiri islands (they are part of the Kuril Islands). They seem quite close. 

You can see the islands under the clouds.

We stop at a convenience store and buy bento, meal in a box: rice, meat or fish, some algae or pickled vegetables. We will eat them at the visitor center, picnic style.

Ioan next to a life size orka whale skeleton at the visitor center.

Close by is a hot waterfall. We park, cross the bridge, admire it from a distance, decide we want to have a better look, walk on the nicely cemented pathway, see the entrance for the onsen, a walled structure with the “woman” sign on it, two more steps and in the middle of nature, in and on the side of the pool, twenty something naked men were enjoying their time. It seems they don't need walls. Later, I realized that I could see them from the parking area, if I knew where to look.

We cross the mountains and we would like to stop every 300 yards to admire the colors and the scenery. We stop at the Shiretoko Pass to have a look at the Kunashiri Islands and everything else, but mt.Rausu is covered in clouds.

On the way down to the other side of peninsula we have a Kruger* moment: screeching brakes, backing up: Mihai saw a fox, a live, cunning, minding its own business fox, his first one in his entire life!  Other cars follow our example and in a slow moving parade we document the normal life of an ordinary fox.

Exhilarated we press on toward Utoro just to stop to another belvedere/ view point. Daintily, a fox gets out of the short bamboo, looks both ways and crosses the road. We’re very close, too close for my taste of wild encounter, but we make room for it and transform ourselves in paparazzi, framing the way it walks, eats, covers its tracks, preens.

The sun is getting down and we want to find our hotel. The first choice is in the park, 10 minutes drive, but it is closed for the season. We drive back to Utoro, and through a combination of GPS and my ability of reading hiragana we find the second choice hotel. Bad luck, closed too. But the man just jumps in the car and leads us to a nice hotel, same price range. It has a dispenser for hot water and for green tea.

The sky clears and we can finally see mt.Rausu.

It was another beautiful day.

* Kruger moment= when we visited Kruger park in South Africa we would drive around until we saw animals or cars parked. We were not allowed to get out of the car. The animals were ignoring us most of the time. Sometimes we would just park, other times we would drive back or forth, just to have another glimpse. That's how we took those  pictures


  1. Best travel log ever!... Marcia D ... I'm selecting 'anonymous' because my name has disappeared. It is nice to see you reliving the trip now that you have the time. Hugs to all.

    1. Thank you, Marcia, we are glad that you enjoy our stories. Hugs too.


Comment form message here