A final day on Flower Island
We had a last morning on Rebun Island today and spent it enjoying more of the island’s icy spring weather and hiking up around the peach-shaped Momoiwa Rock. We even had a faint glimmer of almost-sunshine today!
Our day started with the now familiar traditional Japanese breakfast of boiled rice, miso soup, egg, fish and a whole variety of seaweeds and pickles. We then packed up, checked out of Ryokan Rebunso and caught the bus into the main township of Kafuka where the ferry terminal is. We had a few hours up our sleeves before having to catch the ferry for Rishiri Island so we left our bags in the lockers at the ferry terminal and spent the morning hiking the Momoiwa Trail, which, at around 10km, is one of the shorter trails on the island.
Rishirito is often called “Flower Island” in Japanese due to the plethora of wild flowers that bloom here during the short spring. We saw a few flowers yesterday during our hike around the Northern capes of the island and today we got to see a few more. Many of these flowers are high altitude blooms, usually only seen above 2,000m; the cold Siberian winds keep Rebunto cold enough, though, that these hardy Arctic plants are found here at elevations as low as 300m. And whilst we didn’t see quite as many flowers as we’d hoped (they’re having a late spring this year apparently and many of the flowers haven’t bloomed yet), we can attest to the cold here – the winds that were howling around us today were FREEZING*! The scenerey more than made up for the lack of warmth though; the green hills and craggy cliffs of Rebun Island are spectacular.
*The name “rebun” comes from the native Ainu language and means something like “small island out in the open sea”. Perhaps that should read “small WINDSWEPT island out in the open sea”.
Once back in Kafuka we had time for a warming lunch of soba noddles in seafood broth, before catching the ferry across the Rebun-Rishiri Channel to our next island home-away-from-home: Rishirito. Rishiri Island is mush bigger than Rebunto; and whereas Rebun is long, narrow and relatively flat (the highest point is only 490m), Rishirito is round with a big (extinct) volcano in the middle (“rishiri” means “island with a high peak” in Ainu). Mt Rishiri is a perfecty cone-shaped, 1,719m high volcano that on a clear day (i.e. not today) can reputedly be seen from 100km away. Like Rebunto, the main industries on Rishiri Island are fishing, kelp farming and tourism. Between June and September lots of mountaineers flock here to scale the mountain at its centre. We’re not likely to be scaling any peaks in this weather, but we’ll certainly give some of the island’s other hiking trails a go tomorrow. For today though we were happy to spend the afternoon exploring the town of Oshidomari where we’re staying. This is a bustling metropolis (relatively speaking) of 950 souls with its own primary school, (small) supermarket, pharmacy, petrol station and hospital. It still has a real “frontier town” feel to it though, and we’re under no illusion that this really is the wilder side of Japan.
The feeling of “wildness” is further accentuated for us by the fact that, whilst we’re here on Rishirito, we’re staying in a small cabin at the Yuni Camping Ground, about 2km out of town, in the forest. We ended up staying here because all the hotels in town are fully booked out at the moment (not hard when there are just 4 or 5 hotels to choose from). The cabin is great – it’s soooo cute and, like so many things in Japan, tiny but perfectly formed. We don’t have our own bathroom or kitchen, but there are (spotlessly clean) shared facilities we can use. The only catch is that the bathrooms do not have any bathing facilities – there’s toilets but no showers. We were so NOT expecting that! As we were pondering the stinky horror of 2 days of hiking around the island with no shower at the end of the day, it occured to us that maybe we were supposed to use the onsen in town to bathe. Shane asked the caretaker and, yes, turns out we’re expected to walk 500m up the road to the onsen for our daily ablutions. Now, the thought of scrubbing ourselves down in a public bath house is a little daunting, but OK; what’s NOT OK is the thought of walking 500m down the road in the COLD to bathe, then walking back IN THE DARK AND COLD. Oh, and just to make it even more fun, apparently there are still wild bears on this island too. What the hell Japan?!! This could well be one step too far in the direction of “wild and adventurous” for us…
Anyway, for now our priority is to go out and find ourselves some dinner – the onsen experience can wait until later. Tune in tomorrow for more adventures from Japan’s frigid, isolated, beautiful North.