The stunning lakes and outdoor onsens on the Akan National Park were definitely hard to leave but the next area of Hokkaido to explore would offer equally beautiful attractions and reminders of some Cold War challenges between Russia and Japan that linger to this day.

Our route over the last week, in blue; from Akan National Park, east through Shiretoko, Nemuro and back to Sapporo along the (often barren) south coast of Hokkaido.

Just before leaving Akan there was time to explore and hike around one of its smaller, but no less beautiful lakes, Lake Onneto. Almost missed it but certainly glad we didn’t. Also enjoyed a nice hike on the Wakoto Peninsula of Lake Kussharo.

Wakoto Peninsula, Lake Kussharo.
Near Lake Akan, Akan NP.
Lake Onneto, Akan NP.
Marimo Foot Bath, Akan NP. Lois just could not stay away from these places ! Admittedly, very soothing after long walks.

East of the Akan National Park area lies Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula. One can drive only halfway out the peninsula – the eastern half is a National Park and home to an amazing variety of wildlife ( including brown bears and orcas ). Willing hikers have access  to it all ( but it’s a long way to the end ! ), while boat tours on the north side generally see the bears and on the south side have an excellent success rate spotting orcas and other whales. Given that we almost have brown bears in our back yard, that was of little interest but the whale watching opportunity we did not want to pass up. Sadly, Mother Nature rained on our parade here ( again!)  – both tours were cancelled while we were there. Crossing Shiretoko ( via the Shiretoko Pass ) was some consolation, it being one of the more spectacular drives in Hokkaido.

Oshinkoshin Waterfalls, Utoro, Shiretoko Peninsula.
Furepe Falls just visible on this shot across the coast in Shiretoko NP.
Here on the Shiretoko Peninsula with a couple of ladies from Singapore also travelling Japan in a van.
A hike on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Shiretoko NP.
Not just wildlife but plenty of beautiful flora in the area as well.
You can’t say you were not warned ! Such signs are everywhere.
The whale watching tours were cancelled when we visited ( high winds ) so we took a look from shore. Sadly, none visible.
Ditto. More unhappy campers !
A delightful seaside onsen just north of Rusau on the eastern side of Shiretoko. All to ourselves…..bliss !

South of Shiretoko lies the Nemuro Peninsula, less spectacular scenery-wise but still known for its beauty and wildlife and also for the fact that it is not just the very eastern end of Hokkaido but as far east as one can go in Japan.  Many Japanese are attracted to the Cape Nosappu Lighthouse, but there are also plenty of reminders in this area of Japan’s lost “Northern Territories”, a group of 4 Japanese islands stolen by the Russians at the very end of WW2. Every Japanese learns about them and while it’s unlikely the Russians will hand them back anytime soon there are plenty of plaques and memorials to be seen hoping for their eventual peaceful return to Japan. From Nemuro, Kunashiri Island ( largest of the 4 ) is easily visible and only kms away at its closest point.

One of many plaques we saw around Nemuro highlighting Japan’s 4 nearby islands still occupied by Russia.
Heading southeast we also visited Nemuro and Cape Nosappu, Japan’s eastern extremity. Kunashiri island easily visible from this point ( but controlled by Russia ).
Kunashiri – so near, but yet so far.
Like Wakkanai to the west, towns in Nemuro often showed street names in Russian.
The sunsets in Hokkaido were often stunning. Here, at Nemuro Bay.

A typical Hokkaido farm scene – their butter is famous in Japan, and excellent.

Leaving Nemuro our route turned back south west in the general direction of Sapporo, ending there –  some notable highlights on our last days included the wetlands near Kushiro, the unique coastal rock formations at Cape Erimo, and ( while quite a detour inland ) the incredibly picturesque Blue Pond of Biei.

While crossing Hokkaido’s south coast we’d read about the Ikeda Wine Castle – a rather large but uninspiring fortress-like building, more so than a castle.
Lois tried the wine. Well, we love their beer, and their sake, but we think Japan should just keep importing its wines !
One evening, parked up at a Michi No Eki, I met Mr. Sato. He liked our van. He spoke a little English and told me he had always been a “hippie”. He has lived for 7 years in his rig and has pulled it all over Japan ( like a rickshaw ). It was amazing what he fit into it, and still found room to sleep in it himself. See below. A most interesting fellow to chat with.
While “conformity” is a huge part of the culture in Japan, there are some who always break the mold. Interestingly, the few we have met have always been somewhere on the road.

Cape Erimo, coastline.
Cape Erimo, very unusual coastal scenery, very wild and remote. And windy !
The Blue Pond of Biei.
Here in Sapporo with our Korean friend, Min. After first meeting on the ferry from Korea we have crossed paths since, first near Kobe and now again in Hokkaido. It was wonderful to reconnect.

We’ve been blown away by the beauty and diversity of wildlife and landscapes in Hokkaido – it truly is a completely different side of Japan than the other 3 main islands. After Sapporo, we’ll wrap up our Hokkaido adventures taking the west coast route back to Hakodate and the ferry on to Honshu.

Till next week…

Follow Up On The Issue Of “Garbage”

Last week’s blog prompted some commentary about “where” exactly we do dispose of our daily garbage ( guess I should have expected that ! ). So, we do the following:

  • We minimize what we create – picking up fewer brochures at tourist offices, we ask the always over-zealous store clerks NOT to wrap stuff ( which pains them !), and even unpack boxes and wrapping material before we leave the supermarket.
  • We dispose of it frequently in very small bags that fit in the small garbage receptacles you mostly do see ( on the very rare occasions you see them at all ! ).
  • We look for bins saying “combustibles” ( general burnable trash ) in every 7/11 and supermarket we visit ( every time, always ). These aren’t everywhere but we see them just enough to keep on top of it. Secret is not to accumulate too much ( at which point the simply difficult becomes altogether impossible ).
  • When we fuel up we ask fuel stations if they can take a bag ( once you are a customer they feel more obliged to help ). This sometimes works. They have their own garbage bins (being a business), but never on display.
  • When we see cleaners ( as we sometimes do ) who collect stray trash around toilets they always have a big garbage bag and they will take it – can’t count on that, though.
  • Lastly, when desperate, we visit tourist info centres and ask them where we can get rid of garbage. Once, one such employee actually took a bag from us feeling so embarrassed that their city no longer had garbage cans generally available.

Read about the history of why there are almost no garbage cans in public here ( at least it’s one story, we’ve heard others but this one seems to best explain it ). It’s actually a very sad terrorism-related story but the “solution” certainly seems to be somewhat of a sledgehammer approach. I’d never have guessed this is why there are almost never any garbage bins in public areas here, but there you have it. Now you know why !

We’ve seen this a few times – Japanese campervans with a decent sized garbage can attached to the outside of their rig. Presumably so they can carry it until they get home and put it in with their household garbage collection !
Here, at a Michi No Eki, not just recycling bins but also a decent sized bin for regular garbage ( labeled as “combustibles” ) – the latter we don’t see very often and when you do it’s quickly filled, as it is here.

Here’s a short video clip of the week that was: