Japan by Motorcycle

Day 8

August 5, 1999

Russian Seas and Foggy Marshes

Eastern Hokkaido: Shiretoko Peninsula to Kushiro Marsh

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Rider House near Shari    I woke up to a beautiful morning in my tent outside the Shari "rider house" around 6:30 but I wasn't packed up and ready to leave until 7:30.  A few others got an earlier start but I was on the earlier side.  The two girls I had talked to the previous evening were by their motorcycles getting ready to leave.  They kindly posed for a picture for me.  Both girls were diminutive in stature and were riding bikes bigger than mine!  But my little 250cc Spada had served me well and I had no complaints.  Still, at that moment, I wished a had a bigger, more "manly" machine on which to wave goodbye.
    I returned to Route 244, the coastal rode along the Sea of Okhotsk.  Route 334 along the Sea of OkhotskIn short order, this became Route 334 and took me northeast into the Shiretoko Peninsula.   The morning light gave the horizon a soft pastel look.  The ocean beside me was clear and an almost tropical-looking emerald in color.  I didn't check but I'm sure the water temperature was a lot closer to that of Lake Michigan than that of the tropics.  The road here was practically brand new with very little traffic and with enough curves to make riding on it a true pleasure.
    Several kilometers later was a sign for Oshinkoshin Falls so I stopped to see what it was.  There turned out to be a nice little waterfall just a short hike up a few flights of stone steps.  Oshinkoshin FallsJust as I was about to go back down, up the steps came a girl dressed in pink.  The girl turned out to be a woman who was clearly over forty.  There was nothing wrong with that but she was wearing a fluffy little girls dress which was little girl pink;  her outfit was topped with a pink ribbon on her head!  It was bizarre.  I probably would have been less surprised to see someone dressed in all leather like a dominatrix.  But she seemed to be a harmless and nice person though I couldn't stop from thinking that maybe she had escaped from some institution.  We ended up taking pictures for each other in front of the falls.  I tried to think of an excuse to ask her if I could take her picture but nothing came to my mind fast enough and the moment was gone.
    My next stop was at a small town called Utoro where I gassed up and stopped to take a look around.  Town of UtoroIt was only 8:30, just an hour out from the rider house.  There were regularly scheduled tour boats available which took sightseers to see the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula.  There is no way to get there by road and I'm guessing deep in that region one could find some real wilderness and View from UtoroSea Bird at the Okhotsk Seamaybe even some of the bear that are supposed to be indigenous to the region.  I skipped the boat ride and climbed a nearby lookout point which was marked on the local tourist map as a good place to get a view.  The point was on a cliff (a huge boulder, really) and, indeed, the view was worth the climb.
    Just past Utoro the road turns and cuts east across the peninsula.  This was another nice road although a bit more crowded with tourists and bikers by this time.Mt. Rausu  There were too many curves to easily pass slower moving vehicles but I was pretty adept at finding opportunities to pass by this time.  A ridge of mountains runs through the entire peninsula and at the highest point of the road was a lookout and parking area where I was treated to a nice view of 1661 meter Mt. Rausu on this picture-perfect morning.  The altitude of the parking area was probably around 1000 meters.  There was a food vendor selling grilled corn on the cob, so I bought one to snack on while I enjoyed the view.  Before I moved on I got a fellow traveler to take my picture for me.
    To the east, in the direction I would be going shortly I saw the white tops of clouds kind of bunched up against the mountains down below.  They had a real fluffy, pretty look, like those you might see from an airplane.  However, once I got down into them the day just became cool and foggy and not particularly interesting.  The coastline here had a sort of Japanese New England feel to it, if that's possible.  Local industry clearly depends on the sea with fishing boats and implements crowding the shore.  I had been hoping to see the Russian-held islands which have been in dispute since the end of the second world war but it wasn't possible on this day.  I had never realized how close to Hokkaido they were; they are literally less than 30 km away.  The weather also helped me to make a decision to not bother taking the coastal route around the southeast corner and I cut across from a town called Shibetsu and headed back west.
    My destination now was towards Kushiro and the Kushiro Shitsugen (Marshlands), Japan's biggest wetland area.  It is my Sapporo friend Chiho's hometown and I just wanted to say that I had been there.  The fog became a wet mist and I stopped to don my rain gear once again.  It wasn't a particularly pleasant ride.  I stopped at a wetland viewing area where, if one was lucky, one might get a glimpse of the Japanese Crane which are indigenous to this area.  The fog had lifted enough to get a view but the view was, basically, that of a big grassy marsh with nothing else to be seen.  I continued on.  This time I found a place to view the Japanese crane where, it looked like, a couple were being kept in a field just for tourists because there was a sign announcing their presence.  This crane is famous throughout Japan as a symbol of love and faithfulness because these birds are reputed to mate for life.  I managed to get a halfway decent picture.  Anybody with a point-and-shoot camera was pretty much out of luck, I had to zoom up to 300mm just to get this shot.
    I drove through Kushiro south until I hit the coast once again and then headed west on Route 38.  The wet weather didn't let up and I kept my eye out for a place to stay.  By this time my modus operandi was to avoid camping in the rain if I could.  Although my little bivy tent could probably keep me dry, I'd still have no place to change clothes, keep my loose gear, etc.  There didn't appear much in the way of accommodation, not at least according to the signs on the road.  Not even a love hotel in sight.  The population here wasn't big enough to support such luxuries.  But then I came upon two rider houses (youth hostels for cyclists) side-by-side.  Both had motorcycles parked outside already stopped for the day.  I was closest to the one called "Mikki House" and it looked the most appealing so that's the one I chose.
    Mikki House was run by an elderly man and woman.  It was basically their home with a row of about 4 extra rooms as well as an attached ramen shop.  The price was about $10 but there seemed to be some expectation that you'd eat at their restaurant.  When one guy was going to cook his dinner on his camp stove outside, the woman became obstinate and refused to allow it.  I'm glad I hadn't tried that.
    Aside from that incident, she and her husband were quite nice.  She gave me laundry detergent (to assist me in spending money in her coin laundry machine).  I ended up eating dinner with the guy who had tried to cook his own.  His name was Hiroyoshi or Hiro (pronounced Hero) for short.  He was a rare internationally-minded Japanese guy having spent a year in Florida.  He was from Akashi, near Kobe and had taken the ferry up to Hokkaido from Kyoto.
    There were sinks with running (cold) water for teeth-brushing and the like.  Bathing took place in the old couple's own quarters.  The bathing facility was about the size of a "unit bath" that you might find in a Tokyo apartment i.e. quite small, maybe about 1.5 meters square.  Like pretty much all Japanese bathrooms, it was an enclosed shower/bath room where you could freely wash up and then soak in the tub.  This place was clearly old-style as it did not have a shower head, just a water spigot, a stool and a bucket.  You fill the bucket and dump it over yourself as many times as necessary to wash up and rinse off.  Then, of course, take a dip in the tub.
    With the four rooms, there was capacity for maybe 12-15 people but luckily there were only six that night.  After dinner and while we took turns taking baths, we gathered in one room and had a little nomikai -- a social gathering usually centered around the activity of drinking.  Hiro pulled out a bottle of bourbon but I only had enough to be polite and stuck with beer.  Any hard stuff and I would be out like a light in my road-weary state.
    All of six of us were motorcyclists.  Four of us were traveling alone and there were two guys from Sapporo traveling together.  One guy was from Yamanashi Prefecture, I already mentioned Hiro was from the Kobe area and I'm not sure about the sixth guy as he went to bed right away.  Rider House "Miki House"Surprisingly, one of the Sapporo guys spoke a bit of English too.  He had traveled in Europe for two months.  I say "surprisingly" because in my experience in living in Japan for several years, I found it very rare to come across Japanese males who traveled overseas or bothered to try to learn a foreign language.  This was in contrast to well-traveled females who are plentiful.  The guys seem to have other priorities such as spending their money on cars or working hard to make a career.
    These guys were interesting and the conversation took many turns from the subjects of gay rider houses, overseas travel experiences and whatnot.  Hiro showed me some scars he had picked up in a rider house in Hokkaido on a previous trip from some sort of bed bug or flea.  I was glad I had opted to camp outside the previous night.  Mikki House seemed clean.  The sheets were clearly clean and fresh but one never knows what is residing in the futons themselves.  I stayed up, enjoying the guys' company as long as I could but the beer had taken its toll.  I set up my futon in the far corner and crashed around midnight without any further thought about bed bugs..


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Just The Stats

Day 8



Place Weather
Start: 46300 7:30 Rider House near Shari (Hokkaido) Sunny/Warm
Finish: 46630 17:00 Rider House near Onbetsu (Hokkaido) Scattered Showers/Cool
Totals: 330km 11.5 hrs


Gas: 1,400 Food: 3,100
Highway Fees: Rider House: 1,100
Laundry: 600  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Sep 16, 2001

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