Japan by Motorcycle

Day 4

August 1, 1999

Stepping Foot on the Northern Island

Hokkaido:  Tomakomai to Sapporo

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Ferry Accommodations in Steerage    The night spent on the Ferry from Hachinohe, Iwate Prefecture to Tomakomai, Hokkaido was certainly not the most comfortable I'd ever spent.  I slept as best as I could on the carpeted floor, fully clothed, with my head on my motorcycle tank bag.  In any case there was no chance of sleeping in late because the ferry's arrival into port was around 5 AM.
    When the time came, myself and other motorists went to their vehicles to get ready to disembark.  Motorcycles are always the first to board and are either first or last to get off depending on the particular ferry.  In this case we got off first.  I was now on the great northern island of Hokkaido, Japan's second largest land mass.  The island, according to Lonely Planet, accounts for over 1/5 of Japan's land but less than 5% of its population.  I was looking forward to this moment because I had only been to Hokkaido on ski trips and had never seen it in the summer before.
    Ironically, the first thing I saw on the road, not even one kilometer from the pier's parking lot was the remains of an automobile accident.  Hokkaido has a reputation as the automobile accident capital of Japan and its drivers are, therefore, rated rather poorly.  The low population and wide open roads lend itself to driving too fast; I'm guessing its accident rate approaches those of comparable places in the United States -- an excessive rate for Japan as a whole.
    I had to backtrack a few kilometers when I determined I was going the wrong way.  I eventually found my way on Route 276 heading north towards Sapporo where I was planning to meet up with a friend from several years back. It was still early yet -- on the road at 7:00! -- so I set my sights for Lake Shikotsuko and headed that way, into Shikotsu-Toya National Park.  I considered trying to get close to and maybe climbing Tarumae-dake, an active volcano which erupted 1943 and again in the 1970's but the weather was somewhat suspect and I discarded the idea.
    Immediately the Hokkaido roads took on a different feel than those of Tohoku.  There was clearly less population here and the road was wider and straighter than it had been up this point.  And it was already much cooler than it had been "down south." 
    I made it to Lake Shikotsu within an hour's time.  The lake is a caldera lake -- that is, a lake formed by Lake Shikotsu Hot Spring Lake Shikotsu the collapse of an old volcano -- and is surrounded by mountains some of which are still active volcanoes.  The water was very choppy from the strong wind and overcast clouds and mist were covering the surrounding mountains.  It was not photogenic at that time so I took a simple "I was here" shot before moving on.  My map had an onsen (hot spring) symbol on the other side of the lake so I headed that way; though there may have been some rudimentary facilities available, I hadn't bathed on the ferry.  The road around the lake skirts the waters edge which, due to the heavy wave action, was threatening to shower the road with water.  After one wrong turn into a camp area, I found the turnoff to get to Marukoma Onsen.  The drive was very steep and a spill there would not have been pretty but I made it down all right.
    Although there was a hotel there, the onsen turned out to be an entirely outdoor hot spring.  The fee of about $6 was a little steep for a hot spring with no bathing facilities but I was already there and looking forward to immersing my body in the hot water.  It was surrounded by wooden fencing with separate areas for men and women.  I had the place to myself and promptly stripped off my clothes, left them in the basket provided for the purpose and hopped in.  The tub was literally only a few feet away from Lake Shikotsu.  This was about as rustic and natural as it gets.  And since I was alone, I had the opportunity to capture the place on film.  Without fresh water to rinse off in, I was leaving with a slight scent of sulphur on my skin but I was refreshed and warmed and ready to finish the short journey to Sapporo.
    As I made my way into Sapporo, the streets soon became city-like and crowded though it was, of course, nothing compared to Tokyo.  After breakfast at a Yoshinoya -- a fast food restaurant featuring beef-on-rice dishes -- on the outskirts of the city, I contacted my friend Chiho and made my way into the center of the city.  We met below the TV Tower in Odori Park around noon.
   It felt good to get off the bike for an extended period of time.  Much as I enjoyed riding, my butt had lessSapporo Clock Tower than kind things to say about the experience.  It was Sunday and there wasn't much open so we ended up having lunch at Mitsukoshi Department Store.  Later, Chiho showed me the clock tower -- a symbol of the city that most any Japanese person would recognize. We walked through an underground shopping area followed by an above-ground, Taiko Drummerscovered shopping area where we happened across a local group of taiko drummers there to commemorate the holidays.  I love taiko drumming and, as always, when the rhythmic, primal beats had ceased, I wished for more.
    From there we took a look and a picture down nearby ramen-yokocho -- a row of ramen restaurants that is also well known across the country.  Unfortunately we had already eaten and did not sample of any of the available fare.  We stopped for coffee at a cafe in Sapporo Station and continued catching up on old times.  From there we took the subway over to Hokkaido University where Chiho had worked and walked through the green and lush campus.  I had the obligatory photo taken at the bust of Dr. William Clark, an American who, in the 1870's, assisted with the development of Hokkaido and with the start of the agricultural college that later became Hokkaido University.  On the other side of the university we came upon an ice cream shop so we had to stop.  Hokkaido soft ice cream is just superb.  It is so milky and creamy that it's an experience that one shouldn't pass by.   

Fun with Chiho in Sapporo

Ramen Row

Hokkaido University

Ice Cream

Ramen Row

Me and William Clark

Ice Cream!

   The weather was cloudy all day with on and off light rain.  Certainly not the best of conditions but I'd ratherSapporo TV Tower have that kind of day when I'm not riding the motorcycle all day.  Chiho and I had dinner together before parting.  I retrieved my motorcycle from Odori Park at 7:46PM (if this picture is any indication) and made my way to the Sapporo House Youth Hostel where I had made arrangements to stay earlier in the day.
    Compared to the Dochuan YH in Sendai, the Sapporo House was a real pit.  Just a concrete building with absolutely no character, it did, at least, have all the necessities: adequate bathing facilities and a place to sleep.  The "place to sleep" in my case was a small room with no less than 6 bunk beds -- accommodations for 12 people in a room no bigger than an average college dorm room.  There were at least 8 people there that night though it felt like more.  They garnered 3 stars in the youth hostel guide (compared to 4 for Dochuan); it sort of made me wonder what a one or two star YH is like (I wasn't in a hurry to find out).  Anyway I was tired from the long day and the lack of sleep the night before and didn't have any trouble falling asleep.


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Just The Stats

Day 4



Place Weather
Start: 45340 7:00 Tomakomai, Hokkaido Overcast/Warm
Finish: 45430 10:00 Sapporo, Hokkaido Scattered Showers/Cool
Totals: 90km 3 hrs


Gas: Food: 3,300
Onsen: 700 Youth Hostel: 2,800

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2001

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