Japan 2 : Break-Neck Hokkaido, Part 1

So then, after a night in my first Ryokan, I managed to get myself together enough to spend the next two days looking around Tokyo. Of course, Tokyo is a metropolis, so I couldn't see it all. That would be madness. However, it was a taste of things to come.

A little flashback...

See, I had spent a little time in my cosy house in my cosy town far far away not more than a few days earlier, mapping out where I would be on each of the 23 days of my trip. My plan was to visit as many places as possible on the way, and this meant I had to cut some corners in terms of relaxing in one place and having a sedate look around.

To cut a long story short, I had 2 days to do Hokkaido. Hokkaido is about the same size as Ireland. Even worse, it was 1 and two half days.

Plan 1:
Half day: From Aomori, travel into Hokkaido and find a place to stay in Sapporo.
1 Day: Travel from Sapporo on the loop that includes Ashiakawa, Abashiri, Kushiro and back to Sapporo.
Half Day: Travel from Sapporo back to Aomori in Northern Honshu.

As I sat in my house and studied my printout of what I was going to do, it became clear; this was insanity. I so much wanted to do the 'Hokkaido loop'; beautiful scenery and wildlife, snow-capped mountains and crystal clear streams, traditional villages with stations that were less buildings and more portakabins, and relaxing, natural beauty. But with only a single day to do it in, it was doomed to failure, not least because I would be travelling through it too fast to notice anything.

So I decided to extend the trip from 21 to 23 days. Not only would this provide me with an extra day here and there, it would also mean that I would leave on a Thursday instead of a Saturday, less crowds, and suddenly my flights went down in price by 200 quid. Everybody wins.

This extra flexibility was spent partially on Hokkaido. I figured an extra day should make things a lot easier. My brain mentally brushed over the scale on the maps I was looking at and like a wise old oracle on top of a mountain, came up with plan 2:

Plan 2:
Half day: From Aomori, travel into Hokkaido and find a place to stay in Hakodate.
1 Day: Travel from Hakodate on the northern part of the loop that includes Sapporo, Ashiakawa, and Abashiri. Stay at Abashiri for the night.
1 Day: Travel from Abashiri to Kushiro and then back to Hakodate via Sapporo.
Half Day: Travel from Hakodate back to Aomori in Northern Honshu.

That sounds perfectly plausable, I said to myself, without the slightest hint of fear or naivety in my voice. Perhaps there will even be enough time to pop over to Nemuro, on the easternmost tip of Hokkaido, near Kushiro.

Back to the present, I had decided to cut my time in Tokyo from 2 days to 1, and start the movement north a day early. This was because firstly, looking at my itinerary, the days trip between Osaka and Mt Fuji sounded a little long; so an extra day there would be useful. Secondly, Tokyo is an exhausting place to be. The constant battering of noise, people, neon lights and rushing about everywhere can drive a person to distraction; especially when they've just arrived. Thirdly, its such a big place to be in, there's no way I can see it all anyway, besides - I'll be coming back here in 3 weeks.

So my day in Tokyo was spent going around the Yamanote line, getting off at places that sounded interesting and getting used to the basics; where to get food, how to read the train signs, where and how to get train tickets, how to cross roads, some basic phrases ('sumimasen' being the most useful :) ) and general etiquette when interacting with people. I drank orange juice in a 'traditional English pub' in downtown Yurakucho, I travelled over the Rainbow Bridge on a computerised monorail that went round Tokyo Bay, saw Miyazaki's Clock on the side of a building, talked to a Japanese student who was passionate about British comedy, visited a typical supermarket that was posher than Harrods, and spent some time giggling like a schoolgirl over a guy who was clearly drunk, bodypopping randomly to various Michael Jackson hits in Yoyogi. (he had so much energy and cared so little about what people thought of him, he may still be there now). All in all, an interesting days' introduction to inner-city Japanese life. And all of it thoroughly enjoyable.

I also returned to Yurakucho to get accommodation for the next few days in the places I assumed I'd be at, trying to strike a balance between ensuring I have a place to stay in the next few days, and making sure I wasn't locking myself into a timetable I couldn't follow.

Then on the morning of the second day, I said good-bye to the elderly lady at the Suzuki Ryokan, tried in vain to take her picture, and then headed to Ueno station where I would get the Shinkansen north towards Sendai. My trip had begun proper.

Photographs for the this and my previous post can be seen in this album.


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