Rishirito: Island with a high mountain in the middle (or so we’re told)
We can attest that Rishiri Island offers just as much in the way of stunning scenerey as Rebun Island, where we were yesterday. It’s also different enough from Rebunto to be worth the visit. There is little flat land here on Rishiri – most of the island is made up of the steeply sloping sides of the cone-shaped Mt Rishiri. The narrow strip of usable land there is lies around the perimeter of Mt Rishiri, and is dotted with fishermen’s huts and the occasional hotel or ryokan (translation = traditional Japanese guesthouse). There is single road that goes the whole way around the island and links all the little fishing villages together; there is also a seperate cycling/hiking trail that goes all the way round the base of Mt Rishiri, so even if you don’t want to hike all the way to summit of the mountain you can still enjoy some great walking here. The cycling/hiking trail is 63km long in its entirety – a bit much for us to tackle in one day. Instead, we decided to catch one of the local buses which go clockwise around the island to a couple of key spots and just do a couple of shorter treks.
Before any hiking could be done, however, we had to seek out some caffeine to start the day. Both of us slept terribly last night due to the very firm nature of our beds (i.e. thin futon mattresses on top of hard, wooden bunks). Luckily we found a (i.e. the only) coffee shop in town and surprise, surprise, they actually had good coffee! Properly fuelled we started our sightseeing at the Alpine Garden just outside of Oshidomari town. A number of different species of cold climate flowering species have been planted in this small botanical garden, around a small pond. It’s a beautiful spot and made for a pleasant start to our day of sightseeing.
From the Alpine Garden we went out to Himenuma Pond. This small lake is famous for its birdlife and the old growth forest surrounding it. The lake is also perfectly positioned to allow for amazing views of Mt Rishiri on a clear day, which today (unfortunately) was not. Even as the clouds started to clear at sea level, the top of the mountain remained shrouded. It was still great to spend some time wandering through the forest around Himenuma Pond and enjoy the moments of sunshine we had.
From there we caught one of the local buses around to the Southern side of the island to the fishing village of Oniwaki. Here we stopped in at the Rishiri Folk Museum to have a look at some displays that spoke of how hard life on the island was before the advent of electricity, widespread home heating, cars and supermarkets. Life up here would have been seriously tough without all the trappings of modernity. Just near this little village there is a short walk you can do around Minamihama Marshlands and around Otatomari Pond. We spent some time bird and insect spotting there, and enjoying the warmth of the sun – the first full sun we’ve had since we arrived in Japan almost a week ago! It’s amusing to think that Brisbane, even in the full of winter, is sunnier and warmer than it is up here in Norther Japan in the middle of summer!
From Oniwaki we caught the bus further around to Kutsugata, Rishiri’s largest township, which is set on the island’s Northern side. When mountaineers climb Mt Rishiri they follow a trail that goes up the mountain starting from Oshidoamri (where we’re staying), and then down into Kutsugata (see map below).
In Kusugata we went strolling along the waterfront; at this stage the sun came out in full and brought out the ocean’s amazing blues and greens. There are lots of kombu seaweed farms around Kusugata and we watched some being dried, and sliced paper-thin. Shane bought a snack-sized portion of kombu to eat and it wasn’t too bad.
Finally, to get back to our camping ground for a final night, we caught the bus one last time back to Oshidomari. After a soak and a scrub at the onsen (oh the joy/shame of public bathing!), we went into town for something warm and nourishing for dinner – a spicy dish or ramen ebi-dashi (i.e. noddles in prawn broth) for me, and a surprisingly spicy chicken curry for Shane. Generally Japanese food is never that spicy/hot, but these dishes were definite bum-burners! May not have been the best choice for dinner given that we don’t have an ensuite tonight – it’s about a 100m dash to toilets if we need them in a hurry!