Japan by Motorcycle

Day 5

August 2, 1999

A Rainy Day in the North

Hokkaido:  Sapporo to Asahikawa

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    I woke up at the Sapporo House Youth Hostel in Sapporo refreshed.  Although the YH left much to be desired in terms of atmosphere, it still beat spending a night outside in the rain.  I was saddled up and ready to leave by 8:30.  There were other bikers there but they weren't anxious to get moving since it was raining pretty good at that time.  I had donned my rain gear. Though it wasn't particularly pleasant driving in the rain on a motorcycle, I could at least keep relatively dry.  The only thing that gets wet when I'm riding in the rain are my hands;  I was using warm water diving gloves with suede palms and synthetic backing which are made for getting wet and worked well.  Of course they wouldn't have worked in cold weather but for the summer rains they were okay. 
    I had plans to meet another friend this day, this time in Asahikawa.  Asahikawa is in the middle of Hokkaido and not that far from Sapporo so I had enough time to stop in nearby Otaru and take the Sea of Japan side before cutting back across.  I had already given up on going to the far northern city of Wakkanai.  There just wasn't enough time if I was planning to traverse all four of Japan's major islands. 
    I made it into Otaru by 10:00 and was ready to find some breakfast.  Nothing jumped out at me and, finally, I found myself in front of the Otaru train station.  Train stations are always good areas to find a variety of shops. I parked the motorcycle next to a pedestrian overpass and went inside the building where there was a little strip of shops of various types.  I found a little cafe offering "morning service" -- exactly what I was looking for.  I was dripping wet but avoided getting the velvet seats wet as best as I could.  The breakfast was good but obviously not memorable because I don't remember what I had now.  However, I do remember the coffee.  The coffee was served with an unusually shaped sugar dispenser, or so I thought.  It was shaped like an upside-down funnel.  It was only after dumping a bunch in my coffee that I realized it was salt!  Ugh.  Salt-water coffee is not something you want to drink twice.  In Japan the bottomless cup of coffee is only found at American-style "family" restaurants such as Denny's and Jonathans.  I was too embarrassed to admit my mistake even though the proprietor probably would have had pity on me and given me another cup, particularly if I pointed out that the salt was served along with the coffee.  (There was, however, sugar on the table after all, I just hadn't noticed it.)  So I made do with water and left the cup of coffee.  The poor owner probably thought I didn't like her coffee.  Now I feel like I should have said something but it's too late for that now.
    Otaru is known in Japan for its fresh seafood, waterfront canals lined with old warehouses constructed of stone, and arts and crafts galleries specializing in hand-blown glass and music boxes.  The reason for these particular crafts seem to stem from the various foreign influences in the city's history as a port city for over a century.  The weather was just too crummy for me to stop so I just rode past the waterfront and warehouses and headed north along the Sea of Japan stopping only for a gas and then a snack at a 7-11 in Ishikari around 11:45.
    The weather remained threatening and overcast with off and on (mostly on) rain.  The Sea of Japan remainedDangerous Road Construction on my left, in view much of the time.  On my right I could often find rocky cliffs.  Japan, being volcanic, is full of mountains and cliffs.  Dangerous Road ConstructionThose next to roads were usually covered with a concrete facing or with fencing to protect against the falling rock.  I came upon a road construction crew working on one of these cliffs -- the first time I had seen them in action in this manner.  It certainly didn't look like the safest job in the world.   It wasn't raining at the time so I pulled out my camera and took a couple of shots.
    A short while later, I happened across a beach which probably would have looked wonderful and inviting on a bright summer day but on this day looked somewhat dark and desolate.  Dark sand and Northern Beachovercast clouds over dark water did not make for much of an invitation to enter the water.  Nevertheless there were a few brave souls (kids anyway) who were enjoying a day at the beach.  The air temperature at 25C (77F) was warmer than you might guess and must have been downright balmy relative to the other seasons in that area.  The water looked cold.  I should have walked over to stick my hand on it but I felt like I was in a bio-hazard suit with all my rain gear on and didn't feel like walking that far.
    I stopped at a ramen shop for a late lunch at 4:00PM.  Probably I was trying to make up for not eating in Ramen Row in Sapporo the previous day.  I had a "soup spaghetti" which hit the spot.  I made it into Asahikawa a half hour later and was able to navigate to my friend, Hiroko's, area in town before calling her for help in making it the rest of the way.  She drove out to meet me and I followed her back to her house.
    This was only our second time meeting in person.  We had met the previous winter in a gondola whilst I was on a ski trip to nearby Furano.  She was a friendly person and we had chatted a bit before skiing our separate ways.  But we happened to meet again later at the lodge where I joined her and her friend for lunch.  We exchanged contact information and, when she found out I was coming to Hokkaido, kindly extended an invitation to me to stay at her place.
    She had a nice little house -- luxurious by Tokyo standards where most people, especially single mothers, wouldn't dream of owning their own place.  After washing up, we went out for dinner.  She took me to a local yaki-niku place where you grill meat and vegetables on a grill built into the table.  Yummy.  I managed to make a fool of myself by knocking over my entire glass of (cold) oolong tea, much of it landing on her son.  But they were good sports and helped me over my faux pas. 
    Later that evening her son showed me how to play the Pepsiman video game.  I gave it a shot but was no match for the 12-year-old.  An enjoyable evening ended in me bedding down for the night in her spare room, a tatami-mat room where I slept on the floor on a futon.  Certainly the most comfortable night I had had yet.  There were no other people to share the room with as in the youth hostels and much more padding than in my tent.  I was finally able to catch up on my sleep.


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Just The Stats

Day 5



Place Weather
Start: 45430 8:30 Sapporo, Hokkaido Scattered Showers/Cool
Finish: 45720 16:30 Asahikawa, Hokkaido Mostly Cloudy/Warm
Totals: 290km 8 hrs


Gas: 1,600 Food: 4,000
Highway Fees: Lodging:

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Mar 22, 2001

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