Heading back towards civilisation… 

Our time in Japan’s far North came to an end today, and wouldn’t you know it, we actually had FULL SUNSHINE and blue skies for the first time in a week! The benefit of having such brilliant weather is that we got to see Mt Rishiri in its almost-full-glory as we caught the ferry back to the mainland.


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We woke nice and early this morning (like we have a choice – sunrise is at 3:45am at the moment up here and our little cabin in the woods has no curtains to speak of!), packed and headed back down to Oshidomari for coffee and breakfast at the (only) coffee shop in town. The coffee may be good, but man it’s expensive (about 500JPY or $5.50AUD for an espresso). We’ve noticed while we’ve been in this part of Japan that food, transport and stuff in general is far more expensive up here than other places we’ve been in Japan; but that’s to be expected considering where we are!


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We left Rishiri Island after breakfast, looking wistfully at the parting banks of clouds, wishing we had another day to enjoy the improving weather. Still, at least the good weather meant that our ferry ride back to Wakkanai was smooth. The sun was shining and the sea gulls were out fishing. We had a whole flock of gulls follow us out to sea in the hope of a feed. 


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The ferry docked in Wakkanai 2 hours later without incident and we then had a couple of hours wait before the train ride to our next destination: Asahikawa (there are only 3 trains out of Wakkanai daily so we had no choice but to wait). The train ride took 4 hours in total and it was pretty rough going; the train was a tiny (2 carriages), diesel-engined beast of a thing that clunked, rattled and rolled the whole way. At least we had great views:along the way we got to see lots of pretty Hokkaido farmland and green, green forests.  We even got one last tantilising glimpse of Mt Rishiri as the train snaked along the Western coast of Hokkaido.


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During the train journey we reflected on our time in Japan’s far North. We had a very interesting week up there and will always remember the incredible scenery, epic vistas, cute fishing villages and stormy seas so characteristic of that far-flung corner of Japan. However, Rishirito and Rebunto are not destinations for the feint-hearted; it really is Japan at its most isolated and, in many ways, wildest. The weather is unpredictable and changeable; and when it gets cold, it gets SERIOUSLY cold – those Siberian winds don’t care how many layers of thermals you have on, their mission is to suck ALL the warmth out of you, right down to the marrow of your cold, frozen bones – as we found out. The food is VERY Japanese; and not the watered-down, Westernised version of Japanese food we get at home. You need to either LOVE real Japanese food and seafood, and/or be a real culinary adventurer/foodie, to enjoy much of what’s on offer in terms of sustenance up there. We tried a few things we’d never eaten before and enjoyed some of it, vowed never to touch some of it ever again, and would happily run screaming in the opposite direction if anyone ever offers us some of it ever again. It’s all part of the adventure though, right?? The people were lovely, but be warned: no one speaks English – not even a little. You need to be able to read Japanese to get around and, even more importantly in many ways, you need to have some understanding of the Japanese way of thinking if you’re going to go up there. Otherwise lots of stuff just won’t make sense (like campgrounds without bathing facilities). Don’t get us wrong – it’s amazing and totally worth the, errrr, challenges. We certainly had a very memorable time in far Northern Japan! For now though we’re heading back Southwards, towards more civilised regions…


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Compared to where we’ve been the past few days, Asahikawa is seriously civilised. With a population of over 350,000 people, it’s Hokkaido’s second largest city (after Sapporo) and has all the mod cons we love. It’s soooo good to be back in decent-sized town with access to restaurants and shops; and to have cotton-filled pillows, a soft mattress and an ensuite bathroom! We got here quite late after our long travel day, but after a quick shower we were very keen to go out and find a good restaurant that served anything NOT FROM THE OCEAN! We feasted on all sorts of land-dwelling animals – it was AWESOME! We also explored a little of the city and marvelled at all the pretty lights and people – oh so many people! Compared to the places we’ve been, this city seems so busy and crowded (even though it’s not at all). In some ways we miss Rishirito and Rebunto already…


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