Weather: Great. Not too hot however the skies were blue with picturesque white clouds.
MP3 track of the day: Twenty-four hours – Athlete
Due to having an early night, I found myself wide awake at around 6:45am. This was good. My alarm had been scheduled to go off at seven anyway therefore, I turned it off and got up. The extra fifteen minutes allowed me to take a little longer getting ready. Once I'd showered, I had a shave before going on the internet for a short while. I found myself ready to leave my hotel at around 8am however, I wasn't ready to leave Asahikawa just yet. After checking out – and receiving yet another small present of food – I asked the owner if it was okay if I could leave my car within his car park for another hour and a half while I walk around Hokkaido's second largest city and took photos. He said that this wouldn't be a problem and so that is exactly what I did.
Though this is Hokkaido's second largest city, Hokkaido isn't famed for it's large metropolitan areas therefore, it didn't take me long to walk down Asahikawa's main pedestrianised street ending up at the stunning new train station. Though Asahikawa won't win any 'beauty awards', the local council has tried hard to make the best out of a pretty glum place; street art is everywhere from fancy lights to a pair of hands coming out a pond. My favourite piece had to be a sculpture of a man sitting on a bench entertaining a cat with his saxophone. It was through taking these photos that I remembered that I hadn't yet bought a photo book. Not holding out much hope, I went into Asahikawa's train station and into the mighty AEON shopping centre. I went into the only book shop there and, surprise surprise, no photo books. There was a magazine, which had limited Japanese and huge amount of photos of everywhere I'd been on my holiday, for sale. Guessing that this was probably as good as it was going to get, I bought the magazine and headed back to my car. The time was 9:46am and I was ready to go; photographed Asahikawa – check; had breakfast – check; car full with fuel – check. I planned my route and off I went.
Due to Hokkaido being full of mountains, finding a road which I hadn't used before – but still went in the general direction I wanted to go – proved difficult. I settled for a brand new beginning to my trip which saw me leave Asahikawa in a westerly direction. I would then join the '452' and fly south through 'speed camera death' village before heading south-west to Tomakomai. I knew I had plenty of time therefore, I decided that I would stop off whenever I fancied. As I was leaving Asahikawa it gave me a parting gift of a beautiful, European monastery-looking building, perched on top of a hill. I didn't stop to take a photo however, it wouldn't be long before I did stop.
About forty minutes out of Asahikawa I found myself driving through rolling hills of farmland. I had seen a signed 'photo stop' and proceeded to follow it. I stopped my car and took a couple of photos however, the sight didn't captivate me for long.
Pressing on I eventually joined the '452' heading south. Though I had been on this road before, I didn't really care as it has become one of my favourite roads in Hokkaido due to being located in a beautiful valley and it having no traffic lights (plus you could count the number of vehicles on the road using one hand). My speed had fallen drastically and, though I had to avoid many stupid foxes, I was just enjoying the view of the mountains, the river and the vegetation which seemed as though it would consume me at any second.
As I got close to 'speed camera death' village I stopped at a, marginally interesting dam, to take a phew photos, remove a dead hornet from my windscreen wiper and to prepare myself for the reduction of speed. As I drove from the dam, through a tunnel, I hit the breaks and my speed dropped to 56kms (34mph) where every kilometre felt like an 'age of this world'. Though there were no 'do gooders' out on the streets, there were plenty of speed signs and it would appear that every driver currently within this area was taking them seriously.
Finally, heroically I made it out of the village and allowed my speed to increase a little. I found myself within a large patchwork area of fertile farm land. The sky was blue and so I decided to decrease my speed once more – much to the annoyance of the train of vehicles behind me – and enjoy the view. Tears were forming in my eyes as I knew, soon enough, that all of this would come to an end.
I made it into Tomakomai at around 1:30pm. Even with stops and driving slowly, I didn't think that I would be arriving this early. I pulled over to get a little more cash and to eat my final dinner. Whilst in a restaurant I text my Japanese friend and explained my predicament (three hours until my car was due back; five hours until my train was due and I was stuck in Tomakomai). In a flash my phone indicated that I had a message and, once read, I had directions to a lake within fifteen minutes of where I currently was. I ate my dinner quickly and headed off to the final tourist site my car and I would travel together to.
During this holiday, I had seen something like fourteen lakes however, this one still captivated me for the hour I had to kill. Probably due to the blue skies but, this lake – though not famous or big – did look very pretty indeed. I followed a nature trail around part of the lake and took quite a few photos. While visiting the information centre, I discovered that this small area of water was actually very important for migrating birds which travel from eastern Russia down to Australia and back every year. I spend a few minutes looking at all of the different species which use this natural resource before checking my watch and realising that it was time to give my car back. As I headed out into the car park there was my car; Charles. Like a faithful dog it was ready to do as I asked.
Though the drive back to the car rental place couldn't have been more than twenty minutes, it was quite an emotional time. Though this cheap, slow - and sometimes annoying - thing I found myself in is just a car, it is also solely responsible for the fantastic time I have had in Hokkaido. No mountain, no matter how steep, stopped this little thing from getting me to where I wanted to go. When I finally handed back the keys we had covered over 3,600km together in just 10 days. This surprised the manager of the rental place immensely and, as I told him where we had been together, memories came flooding back. I gave the car one final check and a final 'thank you'. I walked away not looking back.
It would appear that, over the last ten days, I have bought quite a lot of souvenirs. I don't remember my bag being this heavy when I started this holiday however, luckily, It was only a five minute walk to the station. Once there I walked straight through and into the attached 1950's shopping centre where I found a bench to sit, look through my photos and write part of this blog.
All to soon it was time to get my train. I packed up my stuff and went to the appropriate platform. Once boarded, I noticed that the carriage was hardly full therefore, I sat down with no one next to me hoping that my next train journey would be the same. Due to it being pitch black outside I got out my book and continued to read.
I am enjoying the 'Girl with the dragoon tattoo' however, the chapters aren't half long. It was only a fifty minute train ride however, I stopped reading after a chapter in fear of having to stop midway through another. Once I'd finished reading, it wasn't long before Sapporo came into view. I got my stuff ready as I had one final 'tourist thing' I wanted to do before heading home and, I only had two hours to do it in.
As soon as the doors opened I was off the train like a shot. I found a locker to store all of my stuff, bar my camera and tri-pod, and off I went into the night. This was my fourth visit to Sapporo therefore, it's streets were no stranger to me. I made it to Sapporo's central parks and noticed that it had only taken ten minutes to walk here. I therefore calculated that I had a maximum of forty minutes around Sapporo's parks (photographing at will), giving me ten minutes to get back to the station with a further hour to get my bags, do a bit of last minute shopping and find my train which would take me home. I therefore slowed down a little, took in the night air and allowed my camera to work.
Sapporo's TV tower was lit up beautifully; after taking many photos of it, some beer gardens and four posh – but rather noisy – super cars I walked as quickly as I could to the other end of Sapporo's central parks. You see; when I was here ten days ago (has it really been that long?) I photographed a beautiful old building - with some beautiful gardens in front of it – to death. I could only imagine what it would look like at night therefore, I raced there only to find disappointment. The building wasn't lit up at all; worst still, the hike had cost me my remaining time therefore, I headed back to the train station glad I'd made the effort to see Sapporo at night however, I found myself less than 'bowled-over' by it due to the lack of things illuminated.
I reached the train station five minutes later than I'd planned. It mattered not; I bought myself some 'Royce' chocolate before getting my bags out of the locker. Once on the platform, it wasn't long before my night train arrived to whisk me away from this beautiful island and back to the harsh reality of trying to teach Japanese children a second language. As I boarded the train I took one last look at Sapporo's 'platform 4'.
This being the holiday season the whole train was packed. When the guy – who had reserved the seat next to mine - finally arrived, it seemed as though he realised that spending the whole day worshipping the god Imhotep - and giving sacrifice - so that there would be no passenger sat beside him had been for nothing. I wasn't particularly happy about the situation either and yet, he couldn't have looked more disgusted. This young looking, glass wearing, sandal walking Japanese bloke sat next to me and we said a total of zero words to each other. I didn't care; I ate a few of my new chocolates before placing an eye mask over my face with the aim of trying to fall asleep.
For those 'one otter around the world' hard-core fans, you will of course remember the excruciating pain I received the last time I took the night train back home from Sapporo (Snow festival 2013). Though this train was from the same era as the other one, there seemed to be more leg room therefore, when I opened my eyes at 5:30am, I noticed that I'd managed to get a good five hours of sleep … off and on. With only forty-five minutes until the train arrived at it's terminus I gazed out into the morning light and noticed, every-so-often, that groups of Japanese men had gathered to take photos of the train I was travelling on. Now, not for one second did I mock them however, I did wonder why. Was the train I was on special? Was this it's last run? I had no idea what the answers to these questions where; all I knew is that I must have seen at least twelve groups of between two and eight people on my way to Aomori's train station.
Once at Aomori's train station I noticed that guys were still taking photos. I had no time to ponder the above questions as I had to, not only change trains, but I also had to change stations as well. You see, this train brought me too Aomori's central station whereas, I wanted it's Shinkansen station. As you would expect the transfer was faultless and I boarded my Shinkansen train in less than twelve minutes. Once on board I opened my book as nothing new could be seen from the window however, I did raise an eye when Morioka – my old main city where I have spent a lot of time – came into view.
Once past Morioka it wasn't long before my train was heading into Sendai station. I alighted, happy to find that the sweltering heat had disappeared and a reasonable temperature had taken it's place. I proceeded down isles and through ticket barriers I last went through sixteen days ago (I could hardly believe it) until I reached my usual platform. Having used this 'Tagajo train' a billion times there was nothing much to report. All I will say is that, once I had alighted in Tagajo, it dawned on me that this ugly grey town will never feel like home. You see; previously I lived in Miyako, Iwate and there was a 'homely' feeling to it. I can't explain it but, after one of my many previous holidays there was a feeling - when I entered my old apartment in Miyako - which I did not feel entering my apartment in Tagajo. It was all rather mundane as I did a quick sweep for bugs - who'd squatted here over the last sixteen days - unpacked and filled up my fridge. The rain was pouring down outside and I was glad; Tagajo maybe sad to see me but, in truth, I was sad to see it too.
Next time: September … Japanese F1!