Places

Underground again

Since I couldn’t see the sea cave on Monday I decided to compensate that by visiting a limestone cave. This one actually has a website with opening hours and other information so a fairly ‘save’ place to choose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACar park at the cave

However I couldn’t find any information about public transport.
It’s only about 10km from Tōma station but I didn’t want to walk again especially since it was very humid and warm, as always. Thankfully a lovely shop assistant at the stations small grocery store gave me the number of a taxi company.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext to the cave entrance. The dragon seems to be the symbol of the town.

The cave is located outside of Tōma surrounded by fields, forests and mountains. A few hiking trails start there as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACascade at the rock garden near the cave

It’s an absolutely amazing and fairly large cave. Full of limestone of all shapes and sizes. What’s special about this cave is that a lot of them are unusually clear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASurprise, it’s a cave, it’s dark, pictures turned out shit.

The paths are very narrow, maybe 50cm/20″ wide most of the time, and the ceiling gets really low in some places as well. There was an about 3m/9.8′ long passage where it was only 1.5m/4.9′ high (maybe, just guessing). And of course with a lot of tiny stalactites pointing down.
There were also some small ponds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was way more beautiful than the picture shows.

The only really annoying thing was that they apparently thought it was a good idea to play some informational audio really loudly throughout the cave without interruption. It was just the same stuff over and over again, not different information of different spots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, that are coins

As I got back to the town I had to wait for two hours for the train so I went for a short walk but returned to the station because it was cooler. Temperature wise. And thus also metaphorically.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat street led to some park

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Places

Trains, trains, ancient carvings, and TRAINS!

In order to not have to hurry for a change I went to Otaru. It’s quite close to Sapporo about 40 minutes by train and there’s an express train every 30 minutes in addition to a few local ones. (Also I went there before in winter.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince Otaru is known for its glass work the station is full of fancy lamps.

So I left fairly late and was there at about 11am. My destination was the Temiya Cave. It’s located a bit outside the town centre so I took a bus. And then walked up a steep hill for a good amount of time. Unfortunately that was the wrong direction. (What’s new?) But I did find a nice park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADon’t get fooled by the fog, it was really hot.

The cave is next to the Otaru General Museum so I just went there first. And it turned out to be a most amazing place. The first floor was about science with one room containing a lot of experiments to try yourself and the other displaying examples of technology mimicking nature (like rainwear which like lotus leaves repels water).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is in the engine that stood inside the museum.

The ground floor had information about the history of Japanese/Hokkaidō/Otaru railway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld stuff!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore old stuff!

And outside were an abundance of old engines, wagons and other train things from different time periods. Almost all of them were open to enter even the driver’s cabs. So many buttons and levers and wheels and no ‘Don’t touch!’ signs!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were more than you can see here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPost train?

There was one engine that was moving, not sure where though because all the tracks ended at the end of the museum area which wasn’t too big.
And there was a separate building with a lot of train/engine/(I don’t know technology) parts displayed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsn’t it pretty?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo, it didn’t smell too nice in the wagons to be honest, especially with the heat. But so what?

So yeah, it’s an absolutely awesome place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYeah…

Then I went to the cave and was kinda disappointed. It was more like a small room with some information boards and a glass window behind which you could see the cave wall with some really old carvings. They also had some old dishes/pottery displayed, presumably found there. The entrance fee was only 100¥ and it was nice and chilly, so I don’t really have a reason to complain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven older stuff.

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Places

Nature stuff

31°C. 88°F. Perfect weather for hiking, right? But that didn’t keep from doing so. I went to Biei changing at Asahikawa which had a nice station.

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Isn’t it lovely?

From Biei I started walking to an area called ‘Panorama Road’. It’s fairly hilly and a lot of different crops are grown there, so the landscape looks really pretty.

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May or may not have been the road I walked on. I honestly don’t know.

Then I walked to the next station, Bibaushi. According to google maps that’s about 11km/6.8mi (Though not sure if that’s quite correct) Took me about three hours (including being lost a few times of course).

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Oh look, baby bread! (Or noodles, or grain tea, or something else)

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If someone could tell me what this is? Seemed like large carrot leaves… but I obviously don’t know stuff about plants.

There were quite a few bike rentals in Biei and other towns in that area. It would have been nice to rent one in one place and be able to return it in another. Since there isn’t really any room in the trains for bikes and it’s not really possible to get too far especially with the bike rentals closing around 7pm.

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Yes, I like traffic mirrors, problem?

Either way I enjoyed walking through nature with almost no cars passing by. Then I took the train to Nakafurano to see what Furano is famous for: Its flower fields and especially lavender. It was a short walk from the station to the lavender farm.

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There’s lavender everywhere.

Unfortunately most of the lavender wasn’t really blooming anymore. It was still beautiful since most fields consisted of different types of flowers, some even different types of lavender.

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lavender

It’s a very touristy place with gift shops taking up about as much space as the flowers themselves (maybe).

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A lot of the different fields were coordinated to be in full bloom in different seasons.

I didn’t spend that much time there though to not miss the only express train to Sapporo. Taking another one would have been perfectly possible, but obviously would have taken longer.

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More lavender

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Places

The bugs of Kozawa station

Today there’s mostly pictures of Kozawa station and its inhabitants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMirror, mirror on the post, cicadas sing, which one the most?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose tracks lead to Kuchan

It’s not a special station; the platform bridge smells of bird poop, it’s got only one platform on which a lot (A LOT) of bugs sun bathed and the only station ‘building’ there was was a tiny stuffy hut with the timetable and some posters inside (and a lot of dead bugs). But I had about an hour to kill there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHandrail on the footbridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnder the footbridge

Other than that I got as far as Iwanai, just to be told that the cave I wanted to see currently isn’t accessible. So I just decided to get back early-ish as the next possible train would have been rather late. Iwanai seems like a nice place though.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust next to the tourist information in Iwanai

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIwanai harbour

Following will be only pictures of bugs, so if those bore/scare you, feel free to leave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt just wouldn’t stop moving. How surprising.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADidn’t seem to like me…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you look at them, they’re kinda cool. Until they decide to sit on your head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABFF?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsn’t this amazing?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think it’s cool.

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Places

Rain and a mine

JR Hokkaido has various discount tickets, one of them a ‘foreign student pass’. It allows you to travel with any train on Hokkaido – including express trains- for three or five days. Also seat reservation is free of charge. I decided to get the five day pass because so far I haven’t done much travelling.

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All aboard...

The first day I went to Yūbari. There I wanted to visit a coal mining museum as well as a waterfall park with a waterfall power plant near by.
My train from Sapporo Station left 10:18am and it took about an hour to get to Shin-Yūbari from where a local one-wagon train led to Yūbari. So far everything went well.

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Like most mining towns Yūbari experienced a massive decline in population as well as financial difficulties when the mines closed down.

Then I had to wait about an hour for a bus, unfortunately it went in the exactly opposite direction so it took another hour instead of a few minutes until I finally arrived at the park like area where the museum was supposed to be. But I couldn’t find it. After walking around for a while I finally found someone to ask. Meanwhile the light rain that had been falling suddenly turned into a heavy downpour and by the time I finally reached the museum I was completely soaked.

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At a café/art gallery near the museum

It’s not particularly big, but seems to cover all important aspects about coal, coal mining and the Yūbari mine. Also it has some information plates in English which I greatly appreciated. The ground floor is all about the formation of coal and it also covers some more earth history and geology. The story above starts with information about the usage of coal –for energy, fertilizers, plastic, etc.- followed by a lot about the history of the Yūbari mine. Intersecting with that was some general mining history, like how tools advanced over time.

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The entrance to the museum area

And then it had an elevator leading down to the mine. By this time I had lost hope to actually get to go underground many times, especially since the museum closes at 4:30pm.

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Miner at work?

It started more as a smooth concrete tunnel with scenes from different time periods displaying how mining used to be done. The generally had a lot of dolls involved especially in the underground part. (And with quite impressively real looking faces as well.)
After they showed a few bigger machines, some in action, visitors were given helmets with head lamps and the route continued in parts of the mine. Most spots were still fairly well-lit though. Also in this part they used dolls and machines to show how work was done although I remember mostly modern equipment.

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Miners at work… a few years earlier I suppose.

After leaving the coal mine I went back through the rain to the station. I figured it would be faster to walk than to wait for another bus. It took me about 40 minutes, including stopping several times to take pictures. Then I had to wait for one and a half hours so I went to a nearby restaurant and had some hot noodle soup and tea to warm up.
Since it was already quite late and I didn’t want to miss any last trains I decided not to go to the waterfall.

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The town hosts the annual ‘Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival’ and there’s a lot of film posters everywhere.

Also the reason there aren’t many pictures from the museum is 1. I wasn’t really sure if taking pictures was allowed and 2. Museums (and mines) don’t tend to be too well-lit and my camera doesn’t like that (and I don’t like flash, ew).

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And the train keeps rolling…

Also also because someone apparently is interested in food stuff, here’s what I had today.

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-Pumpkin okara karintō. Store bought and quite nice.
-Bagel sandwich. Just some vegetables I had in the fridge with some sauces. Nothing special.
-Udon noodle soup with onions and soy sauce? Again, didn’t make it myself, so not sure.
-Fried carrots, egg-plant and tofu, all fried in sesame oil and some soy sauce, I put black pepper to the vegetables and fresh grated ginger on the tofu. Also fresh paprika and baby corn.
-White rice and hijiki-salad with edamame, carrots, aburāge and sesame seeds. Again, added some soy sauce as well as vinegar and konbu dashi.
-Bluberry bagel. I’m boring you, aren’t I?

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Places

Lakes and mountains and sightseeing

Last weekend I went on a bus tour. It was an organized tourist tour with audio guide in four different languages to some fairly popular destinations. Fortunately it was rather chilly and -just like the rest of the last two or three weeks- cloudy, misty and rainy. So there weren’t many people apart from us. Unfortunately we only had about an hour at each stop and spend a lot of time in the bus and because of the weather we skipped the last stop (I think).

First stop was Lake Shikotsu.

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Lake Shikotsu is surrounded by mountains

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And lovely

Next we had a short break at a restaurant/shop full of mushrooms. Mushroom soup, fried mushrooms, mushrooms on rice, mushroom tea (not kidding) and more. They also had other stuff, but nothing’s interesting when there’s mushrooms ;)

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Didn’t take many pictures there, this is the best one I got

Then we went to Lake Tōya where it started to drizzle and it was completely quiet and beautiful. The fog made it look even bigger. We also had lunch there at an onzen hotel. It’s a volcanic area with a lot of hot springs so many people come there to enjoy them.

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Can I get anyone excited with bow ties?

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That boat was the only thing you could hear apart from the waves and the rain

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Don’t you dare telling me this isn’t good weather.

Last stop was Mount Usu where we took the ropeway on a plateau from which you could see Shōwa-shinzan which was formed by eruptions in 1944/1945. It looks very interesting, being a rocky red pile between all the green mountains. There is steam coming from the mountains, although you can’t really see much in the pictures because of all the fog/clouds.

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Oh look, wet air!

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Shōwa-shinzan

It was quite cool seeing all those places though I would have liked some more time to walk around.

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Culture

Golden Cherry Spring Parks

Spring has finally arrived up here! And with spring comes the cherry blossoms. Which means barbecue and booze. It’s quite a big event apparently, a lot of people went to have a picnic under cherry trees and it still smelled like smoke blocks away from the park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can’t see all the smoke there was because my camera sucks.

Hanami literally Flower Watching- is not a public holiday. Which also wouldn’t make any sense because according to this website in Tōkyō all the cherry trees were already withered by the end of March.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPretentious blurred background picture

(Also by the way: Hanami is also called O-Hanami and includes plum trees which bloom around the same time. I have no idea whether the pictures I took are plum or cherry blossoms or something completely different. I’m a Japanese student not a botanist.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFairly sure that that pink tree is a magnolia ‘though.

However up here on Hokkaido it happened at the same time as Golden Week. It’s a period of time including four public holidays which makes it a popular for traveling. Starting on April 29th with Shōwa Day, going on to Constitution Memorial Day on May 3rd, Greenery Day on May 4th and ending with Children’s Day on May 5th. Also notable that whenever a holiday happens on a Sunday it will be held the Monday after, so no free day gets lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACertainly not cherry trees.

Not everyone gets off ‘though, pretty much all shops were still open and most had huge sales going on. Which led to not only the parks but also malls and subways being rather crowded.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPetals in dirty water. Isn’t it beautiful?

So instead of shopping I decided to check out the three cherry blossom spots listed by Japan-Guide.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATree and sun.

Maruyama Kōen (Kōen=Park) was really crowded. Only few spots were left between blankets, grills and people. It was still lovely ‘though with a lot of beautiful big trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the less crowded spots next to a baseball(?) field.

Ōdōri Kōen doesn’t have a lot of cherry trees on one spot but many other beautiful plants, fountains and sculptures. It wasn’t really crowded but still a lot of people enjoyed the good weather there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Television Tower and possibly a cherry tree.

Then I went to Moerenuma Kōen which is a bit outside of Sapporo. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes by bus to get there. It’s a larger park and also fairly new, on a former waste disposal site. The design is modern with a wide open space of just grass, a mountain, sculptures and buildings, sporting areas and different smaller forests. One of them being a cherry blossom forest which includes many playgrounds, which was probably the reason for a lot of of the visitors there being young families.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust one of the many playgrounds in the park.

And not too many people were there which surprised be a bit, regarding how crowded Maryama Kōen was, that there are far more cherry trees at Moerenuma Kōen and that the bus really wasn’t expensive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd just a fraction of all the pink trees.

There’s also a bike rent so I got to see most of the park and decided to just film a bit while riding around. Unfortunately the paths in the cherry part were rather narrow and hence no moving footage from there, also it’s a bit shaky, sorry for that. Did my best to fix it though and it’s at least watchable now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuess what that grey stuff is!

It’s snow. And there’s much more than you can see.

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