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...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Through the Ainu Land (part 2)

While at home we were discussing what to visit in Hokkaido. Mihai wanted Shiretoko, I wasn’t too keen, because I understood it was just wilderness, something that you have to really like to stay for a few days at least to experience it. There were several things to do beside hiking Mount Rausu and that included visiting the Five Lakes. We could have squeezed in yesterday a hike to those lakes, but we were tired and considered we would have the time today. Late in the night Mihai checked the weather report and found that today is the only beautiful day. We have to choose: do we walk around on a planked pathway in and around five flat lakes or do we climb Kurodake (peak Kuro)? And the answer is….

In the right lower corner you can see a red and white striped pole and a little bit above a down-pointing arrow. The first one marks the height of the snow and the other one the driving lane. During the night time its leds turn on to mark its presence.

We leave quickly, we don’t want to drive all day. Judging the 220 km with our americanized minds (highways, two lanes streets) we should arrive in approximately four hours. Only we are in Japan. The roads are in perfect condition, only you have traffic lights. That change exactly when you get close in. And stay for ever. And when you get to a cruise speed there is a truck in front of you, that moves in a slower fashion. And it takes aaaaaageeeeees. For a while we had farms and little villages that seemed interconnected, but for the last two hours we drive through something that looks like a huge shopping/convenience center. Here you can buy this kind of car, here you can repair it, this place is a bank, there a food center, just public buildings, two or three floors high. No houses, no apartment buildings. At some point I realize that the living spaces are behind, one block away and this is not one city, but a string of towns.

We take a short break with a view toward a dam.

The lake and those "snow-wind-blinds"

In Sonyou we buy two-way tickets for the ropeway and the chairlift. We stay in line, enter the cabin and enjoy the view and the English commentary (a rare happening).

After the ride, we climb at the top of the building to have an unencumbered view. Ioan is participating but sporadically. He is more preoccupied to answer his calculus daily questions (and he can do this because we've rented portable internet).

After a short detour through an alpine garden (no flowers, only some fruits) we move toward the chairlift.

The woman is holding a selfie-stick.

No line here, everything moves quickly. Two men point towards the painted soles on the concrete floor, we position ourselves, sit and away we move above the ground with no securing bar or something similar! I’m looking at the down-coming people, relaxed, chatting, and I am tense, and grip the structure with both hands, and I am afraid to move. By the time we get to the top, after a smooth ride I really don’t see the need for a bar, it is an unnecessary element. Education and well behavior are enough.

When we exit the building we step into snow. White. Fresh. Some girls are squealing.

The peaks map on a man-hole lid.

We sign in the trip-log. I can understand where to write our name, how many people, time, but where we’re going it’s an enigma: I have five kanjis to chose from, each a different route, different hours. I don’t know which one to circle. I’m leaving it blank. I’m thinking if something happens where will they look for us? Nothing’s going to happen!

The path is a combination of steps made of wood, rocks, mud, snow. I huff and puff on my way up. The boys are kind enough and wait for me, taking pictures. We climb steadily, in a serpentine fashion, on one side of the mountain.

In case you didn't know his name.

We pass some view stations, have a quick snack. Ioan and myself chatter incessantly, to Mihai’s chagrin. You see, it’s a remote area, it is fall and the bears are actively fattening themselves. And they don’t like being surprised. Other people make themselves known with a bell. We don’t have one, so we chatter.

There are no bushes anymore, just sasa, short alpine bamboo, covered in snow. I am commending myself not to look down, and not to imagine slipping and falling to my death. Sometimes I realize we will return on the same path, and it will be more difficult, especially for my knees. Why do we have to complete the climb? “It will be worth it!” the boys are saying.

What, from down bellow, seemed like Totoro’s ears (character from the anime movie “My neighbor Totoro” by Hayao Miyazaki)

closer up looked more like the Moai from Easter Island.

An Australian from Byron Bay catches up with us and we make white conversation. He knows that Bucharest is the capital of Romania, and a few words “bună” (hello) and “urs” (bear).

I don’t mind that I am the last one to see that it was really worthy. A whole caldera, dressed up in sheer snow, sparkling in the sun!

It is such a beautiful place that we don’t want to leave, but we have to. It is 2:30 pm and the last chair lift is at 4:00 pm. We’re the last ones on the plateau; it has no significance, but we are aware. Climbing down is different, not only that I look and see all the “if”s and “but”s leading me to a hospital bed or an early death, I also have to take care of my knees (after a daylong climb up and down the Appalachians, the next day I could not climb stairs without tears). But I apply the knowledge from the physiotherapist, not letting my knee go beyond my toes and deaden the jumping shocks with my hips, and so we get down in record time and no pain.

I don’t know how many mountains Ioan and I are going to climb, so I tell him now what to do in case he ever falls: jump on a side, spread as much as you can, catch anything that holds a grip. I don’t have to tell him he needs proper shoes to approach a trek, he sees how miserable are the ones with street shoes.

This is an aerial picture of what we saw today

Back in our car, we drive toward Asahikawa where we’ve rented an apartment. Address in Japan is something that we don’t understand, and it seems that it is tricky even for today’s technology. Copy and paste the address in three different tools, we get three different points. Back and forth we exchange messages with the airbnb owner, who lives in Tokyo. Her mother is in front of the building wearing a red hat, where are we? Google was almost right, it took us to the back entrance, while the half frozen mother was waiting on the main, commercial, street. 

We felt like we were visiting good friends.

On the building’s door there was a banner welcoming us, in the apartment were origami cranes and another welcome message, on a paper painted with flowers. I’ve never imagined that I would like so much an apartment that has just one window (and with translucent glass!) and one heat source. It has Western style furniture and we welcome the change (we’re getting tired of kneeling and sitting crisscrossed), even if it comes with lace or feathers on towels. It is well compartmentalized, there are no doors to impede the flow of air (just colored drapes), has a tiny kitchen with enough cooking space,

 a toilet (you can wash your hands under the faucet that fills the tank that is covered with a holed lid)

and the Japanese bath. These are standard units: the landing space is where one sits on a small chair and washes oneself from head to toe (the toiletries are in a caddy on the floor), then rinses, then enters the short and deep tub filled with hot water where one relaxes (no problem if it overflows. Some tubs have a feature to keep the water at a constant temperature, so every member of the family would enjoy a relaxing bath, without consuming too much water (that’s why they wash outside the tub). The faucet sits in the middle, with a long spout that can be flipped to fill the tub or a bucket on the landing side, and there are covered drains in the floor. This is exactly like a private onsen.

We’re hungry so we go shopping. In the food stores, after 6 pm they put a % sale at the cooked food that rises with the passing time. If you wait long enough you could buy it (if it’s still there) even half price. We are not waiting: the boys find easily some bento with meat, I’m searching for signs telling me there is none in my food (I have become a vegetarian). We also buy a cabbage, because we need to feel a crunch, to eat a salad, to have some fiber. Back at home: surprise! Mihai searches the kitchen, there are no knives, no cooking tools. It doesn’t matter, we’re eating the cabbage leaf by leaf. 

Fed, cleaned and happily tired we go to bed.

I told you so!

When we wake up, outside is a cold rain. We thought of visiting the sake brewery or the Ainu museum, but by the time we get outside of the apartment it is lunch time.

On the oval sign it is written Furari-to

Furarīto is the place to be: an alley hemmed with restaurants popular with the locals. Many open after 2:00 pm. Between two restaurants, one with a real Japanese look (the drape at the entrance, dark interior, where we would have to really pluck our courage and rely on the little Japanese that we know) and a more Western-look one, we pick the one that we can see in. The waiter, shuffling huge rubber boots, produces an English menu. Mihai shoyu ramen (noodles with two slices of meat), Ioan shoyu chosu  (exactly like Mihai, only six slices of meat) and myself miso soup, each in huge bowl. I slurp happily for all of us (this is done as a sign that you really appreciate the meal and also to improve the taste).

Hunger satisfied, at Mihai’s request, we go shopping. We pass each isle, look at the products and enjoy the diversity of fresh food, either vegetables or sea-food. We also want to buy some sake but we don’t know which one to pick. Problem solved: a woman shops for her party and chooses for us.

Grilled whelk is a delicacy

Back at home, the mother (of the owner) was waiting for us with a knife in her hand. She had found out from her daughter that we need one, so she brought it. What is wrong with the one from our kitchen? And quickly took of her shoes, entered the apartment, and opened a cupboard full of cooking utensils! Trust man!

We are invited to have a coffee. Her house looks similar with our apartment, only more objects. Her English knowledge is very little, essential words, like my Japanese. We manage to make small talk, while we are drinking capuccino. Then, while we are watching on TV the taiphoon that was raging in Shiretoko peninsula (we were there yesterday!), she peels persimmons and asian pear, cuts them and brings them to the table. These are for us, she had some while preparing. I’m on my best behavior, but I’m almost clueless in Japanese politeness, so I try to take my cues from our host. The moment when she serves us green tea when we did not finish our coffee makes me think that it is time we leave. “Soro, soro, ikanakereba narimasen” is the polite form to announce your intention. She understood my accent.

We finish our day each in it’s own virtual world. We eat late and we try the sake. Probably I’ve butcher it by warming it in the microwave (in James Clavel’s “Shogun” it said that it has to be warmed up to a specific temperature), probably our taste buds are not sophisticated enough, in short, the sake did not impress us. We were happy with our Santori and Sapporo Malt Umami beer.

Do you know what is this?


  1. mushrooms? Or something baked?

    1. Thank you Anonymous for taking a guess. Bamboo toothpicks in their container. All face down, with one exception in the lower right corner.


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