After a sleepless and foodless night on ANA flight from S'pore to Tokyo to New Chitose (Sapporo), we are waiting for a train to Minami Chitose. Another train with a non-functioning door blocks the track.
At 3pm. we are in Noboribetsu to start a combined vacation and conference trip in Japan, this time specially in Hokkaido. We have four-day Hokkaido rail passes and are planning to spend the pre-conference days visiting a couple of onsen towns in South-Western Hokkaido before moving to Sapporo for CogSci 2012.
We pass Oyunuma pond. After four more kilometers uphill we get a glimpse of Lake Kuttara (no pictures since the cell phone camera locked itself and we don't know how to unlock it). We return to the hotel. Before breakfast we dip in the hot onsen.
From Toyako onsen we need to take a taxi to our hotel. We have three more hours until the check-in opens. We leave our backpacks behind and head out to explore this onsen town on foot.
But first we have lunch in the first cafe-restaurant we find, even if we are not too hungry.
After briefly returning to the hotel, we head to another walking tour to Konpira and Nishiyama Course. This is the area that was totally destroyed in the 1977 eruption of Mt. Usu. Control damns were built afterwards to prevent any future damage by mud slides. And they worked well when both Konpira and Nishiyama erupted in 2000, although there were no human residences in the area anymore.
Several destroyed and abandoned structures (apartment buildings and a municipal bathhouse) remain in the area. Even in 1977 there were no human casualties, because of the efficient prediction system all residents were evacuated.
It is time to move to Sapporo for the conference. We have been there before so it is relatively easy to orient ourselves and find places. We walk around a bit before the check-in and visit the Patagonia store we found last winter.
We have dinner at Brasserie Avion next to the University of Hokkaido campus. They have liqueur bottles from all over the world in a display cabin. This is from Finland. Literally translated it says black currant punch shot.
On the second but last conference day we have dinner in another beer place Buddy Buddy.
(Gumbo hotline! I wonder if they'd deliver to Singapore: this is a food style that is still totally lacking on that tiny red dot.)
This poor student lost his poster. Because of our pre-conference travel, Tei had her poster printed in Sapporo, and delivered directly to the hotel room. This probably would not have been possible if her co-author were not Japanese, and had arranged everything.
It is cool and humid here in the mountains; Furano is a winter sports destination, but nothing much more than wine and flowers in the Summer.
We head out to find dinner, and in the first crossing we see a sign to Yamano DoXon advertizing "brews, food, and wine." We have the salad of the day, sausages and venison curry with local beers and wine.
The morning starts grey but relatively warm. We find ourselves on Kururu-Go bus line. The bus service takes people to various local tourist attractions, which are all associated with food somehow. The visitors can hop-on and hop-off at any point for a flat price in one day.
We have a long walk back to the hotel. We see a lot of creatures, both dead and alive on the pavement. Also a guy comes up and asks us something and acts somewhat incoherently. Then he keeps following us. It gets a bit creepy.
For dinner we choose this funny little place called Ragdoll. It is an Italian restaurant run by a Japanese couple. We are the only customers, and we wonder if they get any busier during the high season. Their pasta is not bad: maybe a bit overcooked but certainly fresh and steaming hot.
After we've done with the household work we walk to New Furano Prince Hotel with a plan to ride Furano Ropeway. However, we are not too hopeful of having a great view from the top, nor having an interesting hike down.
On our last morning in Furano, we head for a short run by Sorachi River. Before this we have gotten up to watch the last minutes of the Olympic soccer matches between Japan and France, and USA and Canada.
We stay one night in Wakkanai in Dormy Inn, which despite its DDR looks is a clean and modern hotel. We head out for dinner in the nearby Vin Steak House. They have two dinner sets available tonight; we have one of each. The server is a tiny elderly lady who very skillfully serves the dishes to the table on a tray.
Varying information sources disagree on the expected length of the Momo-iwa course. Lonely Planet advertizes it as a "great two-hour taste of island's beauty", whereas a local brochure estimates walking time to be three hours and 40 minutes.
We expect the former to be closer to the truth, but it takes us three hours without any significant stops, and we barely make it to the Rishiri ferry. This ferry is more like Japanese style: there are no benches but people sit on tatamis on the floor.
The peak of Mt. Rishiri (1712m) is visible when we arrive at the island. Our host from Pension Misaki recognizes Mr. Tomi among the passangers --- we are definitely the only westerners around here --- and takes us to his guesthouse just a few hundred meters away in the harbour.
With the transition lenses and the fog, it is hard for Tei to see but a meter ahead, and at times she is totally clueless where the trail is. It is hard to get a foothold in the loose gravel. These pictures don't really depict how hazardous the climb is, since we don't stop for photos unless it is reasonably safe.
Higurashi is getting smokey (smoking in bars and restaurants is very common in Japan), so we move downstairs to Otaru Beer & Potato restaurant. We order some salad and cheesy potatoes with raclette. Very tasty!