Hokkaido Days 5 & 6: Asahiyama Zoo & The Northernmost Point

Hokkaido Days 5 & 6: Asahiyama Zoo & The Northernmost Point

It’s a little easy to get behind on updating when you don’t have constant internet access, or when busy actually enjoying the experience of visiting new places and not getting caught up blogging (and thinking up long introduction sentences that are made even longer by parenthetical statements).

I started Day 5 leaving Obihiro early in the morning. My train was scheduled to make a 10 minute stop at Shintoku Station. These brief stops along the way are quite common with the rural local trains. The express trains that are approaching from the rear need to pass us at some point. There are in many instances one set of tracks for both directions, so in some cases the trains wait at the stations so they don’t run into each other. That would make no one happy.

Once we arrive at Shintoku Station some of the station staff board the train and talk with the driver (or is it conductor?) One of the staff approaches me, “Train stop. No. Off. You off train.” Yes, I know the train is stopped. It’s on the schedule. Are they trying to kick me off?

He then turned to address the rest of the passengers in Japanese, so I listened to that. They inform us that because of the heavy rain, the train can’t continue on these tracks. There were flash flood warnings up ahead.  So, yes I was being kicked off, but so was everyone else.

They JR staff have us wait a little under an hour and get a bus to take us as far as Furano. From there I can catch a train to Asahikawa. The rest of the journey to Asahikawa is rather uneventful, although the bus seats were more comfortable.

Once I arrived in Asahikawa, I checked into my hotel and dropped off my bag. I grabbed a quick bite to eat at McDonald’s. I would have liked something else, but I arrived 2 hours later than I had planned, was starving, and only a few minutes to catch the quasi-infrequent bus to the zoo.

I should mention that Asahiyama Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in Japan. I’ve been to a few around Tokyo, and by far, Asahiyama was a much nicer zoo. It wasn’t a particularly large zoo, but the overall feeling of the zoo was superior to that in Ueno. Maybe it was the country air rather than the city air you smell at Tokyo’s Ueno zoo. The easiest way to describe it is to use a Japanese word. Funiki (雰囲気). It means the atmosphere of a place. It had a zoo funiki. I’ll leave it at that.

While I was there I completed some more Photo Challenge shots. First up was “Lightsaber Pose.” I would have liked a more epic pose, but the lady taking the shot was having trouble with my camera (Big f**king button on the top right!) so by the time we were ready to actually take the shot, I was ready to move and get ready.

Derp Derp Lightsaber

The second shot I did was “Do the Twist.” I tried to get a shot with the Tiger behind me, but again random camera-idiot. He kept trying to zoom in on my face or the tiger or something. This was one of those times when people try to mess with the zoom when they have no idea what they are doing. I was not standing like an idiot to zoom in on my face. Yeah, I know I sound like a jerk, but at the time I didn’t let it get to me. This is all just retrospective anger for the sake of a slightly more interesting paragraph.

No worries though. Instead I went over to the lion enclosure and asked someone else to take my photo while I “did a strange pose.” Success!

Come on Baby!

The third challenge for the zoo was “Lost contact lense.” I was wondering how I could set this up and get someone to take my picture. I ended up using my gorilla grip tri-pod, and the camera’s custom timer. I set it for 20 seconds and sprinted to my destination almost knocking over some kid who decided to stop suddenly and do an about-face. I got to the position just in time and as soon as the shot was finished, “what’s this?” Someone had touched my camera almost knocking it into the deer enclosure. All was good, and here is the shot.

I can't see!

The fourth card was an easy one, “Air Guitar.” I found a young couple and asked them to take my picture. I did the pose and they instantly started yelling “Oh, yeah!! Wooo!” With that I finished up the photo challenge for the day.

Waaaooooahhh!

Once I was back in town I took a break and wrote of my travels for days 2-4. For dinner I decided to try the famous “Asahikawa Ramen.” I chose a shop from the tourist information board’s list of famous shops.

When I entered I sat down at the counter. They had tables for families too, but a lot of ramen shops I’ve been to are only counters. The man sitting next to me spoke some English and started a conversation with me.

It turned out he had lived in Kentucky for six years in the past. “Wow, Kentucky….”

“I know it was quite boring. I drank a lot of bourbon.”

He was from Shiga Prefecture and was cycling around Hokkaido, so we talked a little bit about our travels.

He had already ordered when I arrived, so he got his ramen first. I was expecting him to say how delicious it was, but he said to me. I’m sure you can find better ramen shops in Tokyo. Whoa, really? He wasn’t going to say how awesome it was to eat the local specialty food at an “award winning” shop? The man told, me sometimes local towns have too much pride in their local cuisines.

Great Ramen? or Greatest Ramen?

The ramen was alright and definitely edible. Was it so amazing I was going to tell everyone, everytime I eat ramen about the awesome Asahikawa ramen I ate? No. It was good, but nothing to write home about. Bitch about a little on a blog, sure.

Day 6

The next day began with a six hour train ride to Wakkanai. I only had to stay on one train for this ride. We had several 10-20 minutes stops where we could get out and take pictures, pee, and get stamps.

Yes, stamps. At most stations and places of interest in Japan, there is usually a table with an ink pad and a stamp; something to commemorate your visit to the location. I was surprised to see about half of the train (read: car) get off with notebooks and head inside to get stamps.

At one stop, I was taking pictures and one of my fellow passengers offered to take one of me in it. I decided this was a good time for a PHOTO CHALLENGE!!! I pulled out, “Little Teacup.” Something seemed off about the post to me. Maybe too much of a boys be ambitious influence?

Short and Stupid.

After heading back in to the train, Kenta (that was my photographer’s name) asked me to write in his travel book. He has a few questions about smiles and their meaning to people. He was asking people he talked with in travels to write in it. Seeing that I was doing similar things, I obliged him.

We love hats!

Once done, I asked him for a shot wearing the Hokkaido hats with me. There were only two of us, so we brought in Melon-chan!! (Don’t worry she was quite active in photos for the previous day. I’ll throw some up at the end of this post.)

I’ll skip ahead a few hours to when we arrived in Wakkanai. Kenta was heading off to an island, so I was out a non-imaginary travel companion for the day.

While at the station, I pulled of the “Rebel Without a Cause” card. I’ve never seen this movie, so my knowledge of this is only what I remember looking up before I left Tokyo. This shot is in front of the “Northernmost Station” sign.

Not as cool as James Dean

Oh yeah, I should mention that Wakkanai is the northernmost city in Japan.  There are a lot of sign’s like “northernmost crab ramen” and other silly things.

My plan for the day was to see the northernmost point in Japan. I had a little over 90 minutes to kill until the next departing bus, so I headed to the Breakwater Dome.

Say, "Cheezu!"

After killing some time and walking around a caught the bus and headed up to Cape Soya or Soya Misaki (宗谷岬). It was really cool to be at the northernmost point in Japan. From there you can see Sakhalin. It’s only 45km away.

 

On top of Japan!

 

Thar be land! Russia it be!

Melon-chan on top of Japan.

Since we are at a new place I drew the next challenge card “Gorilla Knuckle Drag.”

Drag them knuckles...

Next I headed up the hill to see the various monuments that are located here. I’m not going to go into detail with all of them, so I’ll just link to the Soya Misaki wikipage. While up the hill, I took some photos and pulled out the next card, “Saturday Night Fever.” The old man that took it said I was a pro-poser. Umm, thanks, I guess.

Staying alive, staying alive!

I spent about three hours up there and after some initial walking around and photo taking, I decided to chill out and relax.

Once back I was back in Wakkanai city, I found out there was a festival going on!! Yay! Unexpected Festivals, FTW! Beer, yakisoba, and cotton candy for only 500 yen! What a bargain! (I wanted to say epic win, but that seemed stupid. Besides, no one says bargain anymore.) There was a costume contest for kids as they danced around, so I took this of a sibling Mario & Luigi combo.

Itsa me!

That’s all folks! See you next time.