Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's Play "Which Button Do I Press?"

Question 1: Which button do I press to dispense hot water? 

A Japanese hotel room is an oasis from the complexity of navigating Japan. I can kick back, have a nice cup of tea, and calmly plan my next adventures.

Or can I?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mt. Asahidake: Shapes in the Mist

The cable car goes part-way up Mt. Asahidake in central Hokkaido. I took it to reduce my round-trip hike to the summit to 3½ hours.

When I started out from the cable-car station, I could not see the summit, but I expected the sky to clear as the day warmed up. Sulfurous steam vents did their noisy best to create vog (volcanic fog) and change my expectations.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Place Where Two Seas Collide

Getting to Rishiri Island via Wakkanai  (northern Hokkaido) from Minneapolis is straightforward, with a few perturbations. A place where the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk collide is bound to have perturbations.

An agent at Tokyo's Haneda Airport warned me the flight to Wakkanai might have to turn back. I was sure something was lost in translation, until I went online to review the status of my flight: "May return to Haneda (Tokyo) due to bad weather."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Beyond the Narrow Road to the Deep North

I'm drawn to places at the end of train lines.

Today, my backpack and I head to Wakkanai in the north of Hokkaido. It's as far north as you can go without entering Russia.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fictional Hokkaido

I was on a train, traveling through darkness. The elderly woman next to me asked if it would be OK if we chatted.

She was on her way to her home on Shikoku having stayed with friends on Honshu. I was returning to my base after cycling on bridges and islands across Japan's Inland Sea.

After some basic pleasantries we talked about the Meiji era at the end of the 19th century when young Japanese traveled to America and the UK to learn how to modernize Japan.

She chatted about her year working at Johns Hopkins, and her travels in the UK. She connected with northern industrial cities like Manchester and Glasgow. She did a side trip to Denmark because she loves Hamlet.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tracing a Victorian Woman's Hokkaido Journey

In the summer of 1878, Isabella Bird sailed from Aomori in the north of Honshu to Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island of any size.

She then sought undeveloped places beyond Hakodate.

When she returned home to Edinburgh, Scotland, she published a book of her letters, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. It's still in print and available as an ebook. It's a good read, full of intense and detailed observations.

She was the first Western woman to explore beyond Hakodate. She traveled on horseback, accompanied by a native-Japanese interpreter, and stayed in the homes of the indigenous Ainu people.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Japan's First ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher

September 2016: I'll land in Wakkanai, Japan's northernmost airport capable of handling commercial jets. If the plane were to fly 30 miles further, I'd be in the Russian Federation.

I'll then take a boat to Rishiri Island.

July 1848: Ranald MacDonald, 24 years old, half native American, half Scottish, landed on Rishiri Island. He represented himself as a castaway to the Ainu, the local, indigenous people.

But MacDonald was not a castaway. Driven by curiosity, he was risking death by entering a society that was closed to outsiders. He had boarded a whaler in Lahaina, Maui, and persuaded the captain to set him adrift in a small boat in the Sea of Japan.