Japan by Motorcycle

Day 7

August 4, 1999


Caldera Lakes and Volcanic Eggs

Hokkaido: Akan National Park

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    I got an early 7:30AM start out of Nukabira Lake Campground.  Luckily there was a gas station in the little resort town of Nukabira just up the road.  I was on my reserve tank and didn't have much gas left.  I continued towards Lake Akan and Akan National Park on Routes 273 and 241.
    Shortly after getting on the road, I came upon a field of beautiful sunflowers.  Not only that, but there were hot air balloons overhead -- now this was a photo opportunity!!  Sunflowers and HayI stopped at the edge of the field and took several pictures from various angles, trying to get that one "award winning" shot.  Within about 10 minutes of my arrival, two small SUV's pulled up and out jumped no less than five oyaji (old/middle-aged men).  These were no ordinary oyaji, they were guerrilla safari photographer oyaji; each sported serious camera equipment and wore photographer vests.  They paid no attention to me and set about setting up tripods and cameras to capture the scene.  And since I was standing right there, I captured them capturing the scene.  I couldn't help but be amused and excited to get this opportunity to see oyaji like this in this habitat.

Sunflowers, Hot Air Balloons and Oyaji

Sunflower Field

Sunflower Field

Early Morning Photographers

Photographing Sunflowers

Sunflowers and Balloons

Sunflowers and Balloons

    As I mentioned before, Hokkaido is infamous in Japan for its high rate of traffic accidents and fatalities.  The lack of congestion is probably the biggest factor; it is much easier to drive fast there.  To help stem this tide of accidents and death, there are many traffic warnings posted along the roads.  Many of them literally say something to the effect of "There are many traffic fatalities in this area so slow down and be careful!"  I took a picture of one of the more creative signs here.  It also sported a helpful reminder in English, "Speed Reduction."
    If you look closely at the picture, you can see there are three motorcyclists going by.  As I found out, in Hokkaido, in the summer, there are a lot of motorcyclists with the same idea -- to cruise the wide open roads of Hokkaido.  Watch Your Speed!It's probably every Japanese motorcyclist's dream trip.  There are all kinds from loners to packs, from people riding bicycles to 50cc scooters to American Harley-Davidson's.  And when passing other cyclists, I soon learned it was customary to give a little wave.  There was some feeling of brotherhood out here.  Interestingly, this was not common anywhere else in the country.  Maybe it was something to do with the air or the Spirit of Hokkaido.
    It was still morning when I found my way to Lake Akan in Akan National Park.  I parked and walked through the little tourist strip.  Here they had some of the best souvenirs I've seen in Japan, various handcrafted wood products.  Of course they had examples of the ubiquitous marimo -- a globe-shaped algae which is indigenous to this lake.  They are reputed to take up to 200 years to grow to the size of baseballs and rise to the surface of the lake and sink to its bed depending on the weather.  There were tanks of real marimo for sale but more common were cheap marimo replicas of what looked to be fuzz-covered marbles floating in little bottles.
    I talked to one shopkeeper, a young guy who was originally from Kyoto but was now tending this store in Hokkaido.  I helped him mend the English on his sign in front of the marimo tank which was explaining how to take care of one.  I didn't have any need for marimo so I moved on and ended up purchasing a few small wooden items for gifts and for myself at another shop.
    As I hadn't had a bath this previous evening or in the morning, I had asked the guy from Kyoto as to the whereabouts of an onsen (hot spring) or sento (neighborhood bath).  He gave me directions and I found the place that he was referring to.  Lake AkanI believe it was using natural hot spring water but with all the atmosphere of a neighborhood bath.  That is to say, no real atmosphere to speak of -- kind of like an old YMCA locker room with a very grubby look to it.  But a little mildewed tile didn't prevent me from enjoying washing up and taking a hot bath.  I swear, with all the public baths dotting the country, Japan has got to be the best place to attempt this kind of travel.
    After washing up, I moved on and, shortly, came to Lake Mashu which is commonly known as "Kiri no Mashuu-ko" or "Foggy Lake Mashu" because, apparently, it is almost always fog-covered in the summer months.  This day, however, there was no hint of fog and I got a beautiful view of the indigo-colored lake.  Yet another caldera lake resulting from some ancient volcanic eruption, the water color bore some resemblance to Crater Lake in Oregon.  Very deep, clear water is what creates this unusual color.  The water depth of this lake ranges down to 211 meters.  (And, for anybody who cares, it is 355 meters above sea level.)

Lake Mashuu in Akan National Park

Lake Mashu

Lake Mashu

Lake Mashu

    Just down the road was another spot displaying the beauty of nature, Mt. Io ("Mount Sulphur").  Along the rocky sides of the 574 meter mountain, was a run of steam vents which were emitting white sulphur-laden clouds of steam.  The place had a big parking lot and tourist souvenir/snack center but I was in luck.  There were no bus loads of tourists at that time.  If there had been, the beauty of the natural setting would have been much less apparent.
    The whole place was rocky and desert-like with no foliage to speak of.  It had a kind of ethereal other worldy feel to it with the steaming vents and smelly air.  There were signs warning not to get too close but people were allowed to climb right up to the steam vents.  The steam was indeed hot.  Outside the vents, the rocks were encrusted with a yellow/green chemical (sulfur, I suppose) which is not a color one often sees in nature.  On a few vents sat crates of eggs being steamed for sale for those wishing to try the naturally cooked treat.  I wasn't hungry for eggs and had an ice cream instead.

Mt. Io

Mt. Io

Mt. Io Steam Vent

Mt. Io Eggs

Mt Io Sign

Close-up of the Vents

Steaming Eggs

    Again, just down the road was another sight.  This time it was Lake Kusharo, Hokkaido's biggest inland lake.  Lake KusharoUnlike Lake Mashu, where you can't even get to the lake shore, this lake was a recreational lake with boating and recreational facilities.  I had lunch at a little restaurant with a view of the lake.  I seem to recall having something like hayashi rice or curry rice, standard fare for these kinds of places.  A friendly young girl served my lunch.  I told her my story, where I'd been and where I was going, and almost all of her interjections was to say "sugoi jya nai desu ka?" (that's cool, isn't it?).  She was a cutie.
    By this time I was feeling tired and it had been a hot day so I found a bench partially covered by shade and laid down after laying my sleeping bag over my bike so that it would get completely dry and fumigated by the sun.  This area was truly a great area in which to enjoy all Hokkaido has to offer.  Three caldera lakes, volcanic steam vents and plenty of nature and hiking trails.  If I had the time, I could easily spend a week there hiking around the various lakes.  Unfortunately, I didn't have that kind of time this time around.  A half-hour later I roused myself, packed up my sleeping bag and moved on.
    On the other side of the lake is a tiny town called Wakoto.Wakoto Elementary School  Chiho, the friend that I had visited in Sapporo, had told me her father was the principal of the elementary school there.  So I thought I may as well at least try to find it and take an I-was-here picture by it.  The town was very small and I soon found an elementary school that almost certainly had to be the place.  Nobody seemed to be around, probably they were off for summer vacation or perhaps it was already too late in the day, but I got my picture.  After a gas stop in the little town, I moved on heading north on Route 243 towards the Sea of Okhotsk.
    I decided to get off the national road and cut through on a Hokkaido highway.  A FoxIt was even less traveled than the national highway which had already been sparse and I was cruising along when I came across a fox crossing the road.  I thought he'd probably be long gone but I stopped, popped off my helmet and grabbed my camera after grabbing the 85-300mm lens.  I was in luck and was able to snap a couple of shots of this "wild" critter as he moseyed along his way.
    Shortly thereafter, I was just getting nervous about finding a place to stay when I saw a sign for a "Rider House."  Rider Houses are, essentially, youth hostels geared for bicycle and motorcycle travelers.  Due to the big influx of bikers, Hokkaido is peppered with them.  That particular place didn't look that appealing so I took a chance and continued on.  By this time I was on Route 244 heading east towards Shari along the coast.
    Finally I knew I'd better find a place or get caught in the dark again and I turned off at the next sign for a rider house that I saw.  The place offered the option of camping in the front yard at a small discount.  I saw no reason to stay inside so I decided to "rough it" as a few other people were.  Inside was a lobby with a television and bathing facilities.  The sleeping facilities were located on a second-floor loft.  It had kind of a log-cabin feel to it.
    After securing my lodging, I headed out to Shari to look for a convenience store to pick up some grub.  It was now heading towards sunset and I had the bright idea of getting to the sea shore and taking some sunset pictures.  The only problem was that, although it was literally only a couple hundred meters away, I couldn't find any way to get to it.  There was a railroad running through and no roads leading across it.  As I got into Shari I found a road that headed towards the water.  As I followed it, I find myself in a big construction zone or gravel-making facility.  By this point, I was more worried about catching the sunset than my safety and when I saw a turn off heading towards a pier, I braked and turned too quickly and found myself flat on the ground before I could say "boo."
    Braking and turning quickly is a no-no in most any situation on a motorcycle but at that point I was on a road scattered with gravel.  Luckily I was going slowly at the time and even more lucky, I was wearing my motorcycle jacket.  The summer was too hot to wear my tough leather motorcycle jacket but I had been wearing a light jacket made of durable material and foam padded inserts.  And it paid off because, although the jacket didn't tear, I still got road-rash within the jacket.  Who knows how I would have looked if I had just been in just a T-shirt.  My knee wasn't quite as lucky since I was only wearing cotton hiking pants.  The pavement tore in the pants and gave me a good scrape on my knee.  It was bleeding but wasn't deep or anything.  Feeling stupid but glad I was okay I refused help from a nearby person and righted my bike.  After confirming that the bike would run and readjusting its mirrors, I continued my search for a sunset photo vantage point.
    The place I had attempted to turn was indeed the right place to go and, finally, I found myself on a concrete pier.  There was a small truck parked further down and a few people fishing.  With my leg and arm still throbbing, I parked my bike and tried to get a few decent shots.  Though I missed the actual sun setting below the horizon, I did get a couple of memorable bike shots.  Shots that will always symbolize the beauty of this northern island and how fortunate I was to be there for this experience.  That, and my throbbing arm and leg.

Sunset off the Sea of Okhotsk

Sunset off the Sea of Okhotsk

Sunset off the Sea of Okhotsk

Sunset off the Sea of Okhotsk

    On the way back, I stopped at a convenience store for some food.  I picked something ready-made and microwaveable this time and took it back with me to the rider house.  After eating, I made use of the bathing facilities.  The water here too was natural hot spring water.  The water was very dark, brown looking.  I'm guessing it was due to the iron content, or at least that's what I told myself.  Whatever it was, I hoped it would be good for my scrapes and cuts.  I was no longer bleeding but still I felt a little wary about bathing in the communal bath, partly because of what might enter my wounds and partly because of what I might be adding to the water (certainly I wouldn't be anxious to bathe after somebody else with "open sores").   But again, these weren't really open sores just some road rash that was still tender.
    I talked with a biker that came in while I was bathing and I don't know if he noticed my scrapes or if I brought them up but I told him of my stupidity and he was sympathetic.  After I came out I hung out in the lobby for a little while and had a drink while I talked to a few of my fellow travelers.  Most of them were traveling alone and most seemed to be from Kansai (region southwest of Tokyo that contains Kyoto).  There was a pair of female bikers there as well.  As I don't know too many female bikers, they caught my interest and we exchanged a few words but now I can't recall anything of where they were from or what they were up to.  So far nobody I had met was on a trip as ambitious as mine.  But then most people can't afford to take a whole month off to do this sort of thing.
    Soon enough it was time for bed.  It was going to be another clear, mild night with nothing but stars overhead.  This was the life.

 

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Just The Stats

Day 7

Odometer

Time

Place Weather
Start: 45980 7:30 Nukabira Lake Camp Area (Hokkaido) Mostly Sunny/Hot
Finish: 46300 19:00 Rider House near Shari (Hokkaido) Clear/Warm
 
Totals: 320km 11 hrs

Expenses

Gas: 1,400 Food: 2,100
Highway Fees: Rider House: 700
Onsen: 500  

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

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