Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Into the Wild…

…kind of.  This past weekend I went to Shiretoko, Rausu, and Nakashibetsu – all Eastern Hokkaido small towns – to hang out with some fellow JETs and finally get out in the good weather.  

The ALT in Rausu put together an organized outing through a local Japanese tour group.  It included a 2-hour leisurely hike, a barbeque, and a 3 hour whale watching boat tour.  We followed that up with a trip to a hotel onsen, dinner at an izakaya, and socializing at the Safeway bar in Nakashibetsu. Yes, Safeway is a grocery store in the States, but the bar owner here seems to know that and embrace it – even the store logo is the Safeway logo.  U.S. Copyrights don’t really matter in this case. 

Our morning began at 5:30am, after only getting five or so hours of sleep, my predecessor and I went to pick up another local English teacher on our way out to Rausu.  It ended up being about a three hour drive because we stopped along the way for some photos and generally took our time.  It didn’t matter anyway because when we got to the mountain pass, we found that it was closed until 9:00am anyway so we had to wait a while regardless.
Megan, Me, and Ben at a waterfall on our way to Rausu

Megan and I - If you squint closely you can see Russia behind us (referred to as the Disputed Territories in Japan)

Ben with Rausu Mountain behind him.  Yes, that is still snow.

Eventually we arrived to the place where we began our hike.  The group included about 10-15 foreigners and maybe 30 or so Japanese people.  The foreigners all looked ready to go on a walk through nature.  The Japanese looked like they were going to climb Mt. Everest.  Okay, I exaggerate a little, but please note the hiking ensamble of all the Japanese - hiking boots, backpacks, long sleeve pants and shirts, hiking sticks, bear bells, etc.  Now notice the planked sidewalks that we were walking on.  For full disclosure, we didn't walk in a straight line the whole time, nor did we walk on paved or wood sidewalks the whole time either. 

Beginning our hike

After the hike, we had some free time and saw a geyser - precisely at 1:30pm. I wish I could upload the video because it was kind of cool, and you can hear everyone ooh-ing and ahh-ing. 

Then, we made our way to the barbecue lunch.  It was great! My only complaint is that the meal consisted of meat and fish...only. Nothing but meat and fish, and an onigiri (rice ball) if you'd like.  This might be a good example of why you probably shouldn't be in Japan if you are a vegetarian. 

After the barbecue we got ready to take our boat tour of Shiretoko.  The picture below is just before we go to the pier, and it's a view of the scenery we were seeing all morning.  Ignore the pile of trash and the exposed phone lines and it's almost pristine. 

After our boat tour, where saw a lot of porpoises but not much else (and by hour 1.5 - halfway point - I was getting pretty seasick), we landed and split up.  A few of us went to a local hotel onsen.  Onsens are the natural hot springs that occur all over Japan because of the volcanic activity and are worth their own blog entry in their own right.  I'll try to get one soon! 

After the onsen, we went to an izakaya.  Izakayas are the Japanese bar/restaurant places that are everywhere in Japan.  They serve a variety of food, often have nomihodais, and can accompany large groups.  Following dinner we headed over to Safeway (the bar, not a grocery store) where a local ALT celebrated her birthday.  By this point, most of us were exhausted from getting up so early and being on the go all day that we didn't last too long.  I was lucky to get invited to spend the night with a married ALT couple who gave me a warm welcome into their home and basically a real bed to sleep on.  

The next morning was spent rounding everyone up, having lunch and a coffee at the local American food chains, and picking up a few foreign foods supplies before heading back to Kitami. 

It was a great way to welcome summer! 


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