Just the south western corner of Hokkaido remained in our travel plans here and while our expectations for this area were muted, as often happens there were some very pleasant surprises – some even quite quirky ! This was the route that took us back to Hakodate and onwards down the east coast of Honshu:

Otaru, essentially the port for Sapporo, was one of those surprises – some interesting history from the Meiji era, a beautiful canal setting, magnificent old early Meiji era “Western style” commercial buildings and a rather fascinating display of Japan’s modern monetary system in a building which used be the Hokkaido branch of the Bank of Japan – replete with a display of Japan’s soon-to-be-released new currency notes and a room where you can see what 100 billion yen looks like. You can also try to lift 100 million yen in currency notes ( actually, not too difficult ! ).

Historic, trendy Otaru, essentially Sapporo’s port and famed for its beautiful canal.
While the Japanese love Mercedes vehicles ( and you see plenty – they are known simply as a “Benz” here ), the Sprinter is completely unknown. When these guys passed us on the street we got a hugely excited wave. Saw it parked later here, the only Sprinter we’ve seen in Japan.
A tour of the old Bank of Japan building was interesting – ever wondered what 100 Billion yen looks like ? Like this !

Taking the western route around the Shakotan peninsula, a miserable day notwithstanding, we got to admire this wild and somewhat remote corner of Hokkaido and took in a few of the available hikes, travelling on after that down the western side to Matsume, and on back to Hakodate.

Cape Shakotan.
We’d always wondered what these tiny Japanese campervans looked like on the inside. So, near Shakotan we met this couple…..
….and they showed us theirs. Much more space than we thought, no shower/toilet but did have A/C.
Cape Kamui, Shakotan. We got drenched on the walk back !
Setana, coastal rock. The area is known for its unusual formations.
“Kaiyomaru” a Meiji era ( Dutch built ) ship that had sunk off the Hokkaido coast in the early Meiji era. Here, in Esashi.
Occasionally we got to park right by the ocean – the sea breezes were wonderful with the rear door(s) open !
Hokkaido’s only castle- the least impressive one we saw in Japan ( at Matsume ), but hey, they have a castle at least !
While the castle was a reproduction and not too impressive, the lady dressed in a full kimono added some authenticity.

Back in Hakodate we caught a few of the things we missed first time around and took the time to revisit the natural oceanside onsen near Mt Esan, as well as doing the hike to the Mt Esan lookout. A clear day with great views all the way across the Tsuruga Straits to Honshu where we would be sailing the next day. Here, there was some dread since the spectre of an overzealous ferry worker insisting we were millimeters over the magical “7” metres was fresh in our minds. Not to worry this time – the young lady came out, did a quick measure and called it “6.8”. Pretty happy with that, since we know it’s at least 6.95 !

Took the precaution of removing the troublesome rear step to ensure the van measured under 7 metres for the return ferry. This time they called in 6.8……go figure !
One last dip in our favourite Hokkaido seaside onsen before returning to Honshu.
Great views back to Honshu from the lookout at Mt Esan near Hakodate.
“Does it get any better than this ?” ( Lois at Starbucks on a sunny Hakodate day by the harbour).
Took this pic of a North American motorhome coming off the ferry in Hakodate. Now, you do NOT see many of these here but I’m keeping it on hand to show Japanese folks what a “big” ‘motorhome really looks like. Ours is NOT big..!

Just over 3 weeks after arriving in Hokkaido our van was pointed southwards again for the return to Honshu, taking the same, short, Hakodate-Oma route that brought us here. It was smooth again, as it was before, and 90 minutes after leaving the ferry unloaded us in Oma – this time, though it was absolutely 100% full ( getting near peak season ).

With only a few exceptions the next week would take us steadily southwards, generally following the eastern coast of Honshu ( we came up the west side) aiming for Sendai ( about a third of the way to Tokyo ) by the end of the week. This we managed, and, like south western Hokkaido, this generally less popular part of Japan wowed us with scenery and sights that exceeded the expectations we had – frankly, it was an area that we’d thought we would just more or less transit with legendary Nikko being our  next major site/attraction.  I think some of the images below can best tell that story – if Japan has taught us one thing it’s never to underestimate  what it has on offer !

Just a few minutes north of Oma ferry port is the marker for the northern extremity of Honshu. Went take a peek and found all our ferry companions camped there ( so we did, too).
The coastline south-west of Oma is spectacular in places – here at Hotokegaura.
The inland areas south of Oma were pretty as well. Here at Kawauchimachi River.
Choshi Otaki waterfall on scenic Route 102 through Oirase Gorge.
Throughout Japan we have seen some of the biggest, fanciest, most exotic foreign motorbikes – always to be found in great numbers on any scenic road.
Formerly a hotel, this building has been kept as it was after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake. Water reached the 4th floor. As we drove through this area it was incredible to see so much devastation. Many buildings left and not rebuilt, and many businesses shuttered.
In some highly exposed areas, concrete walls and barriers now exist to protect against such events in future. This huge iron door slides across to protect the town.
The northern Honshu coast was full of surprises and beautiful sights – here, Anatoshiiso Rock, just north of Sendai.
The beautiful islands of Matsushima, outside Sendai.
You might think we’d get sick of seeing rice fields ( there are so many ) but the lush green color and perfect symmetry made for postcard-like images.
Rairaikyo Gorge, Sendai.

Beyond just the sights and scenery ( never dull here, even when it rains ! ) there was a well-anticipated moment for us just north of the city of Hachinoe – the opportunity to cross paths with Andy and Serena ( of RightFootTravel ). A young Aussie couple travelling in a Landcruiser “Troopy”, we’d initially connected through their Facebook post on an overlanding site we both belong to. We’d arrived in Japan just ahead of them, shared some tips, then kept in touch and vowed to connect in person if it was at all possible. Turned out that Hachinoe was the place – they, heading north to Hokkaido, and we heading south after travels in Hokkaido. Just a great evening spent camping together, sharing tips with each other and other tales from the road. Andy ( an electrician by trade ), also took some time to “reset” my solar system, part of which had not been fully functional – amazing what a difference it is having 700 watts of solar pumping out the amps compared to the 100 watts we had been living with ( so simple when you know what you are doing ! ). Thank you Andy, and good luck to both as you trek west after Japan ( they ship to Korea, travel there as we did, then ship to Vladivostok for the overland trip to Europe via Mongolia and Kazakhstan ) ! 

The first, and so far the only overlanders we have met in Japan – Andy and Serena, here camped with us in Hachinoe.
Forever thankful for the solar help – thanks again, Andy !

From Sendai, our next week will take us back to the Tokyo area ( but not to downtown Tokyo just yet ! ) via spectatcular Nikko.

Almost forgot…..here’s a minute and half of our week condensed. As we are in the final stretch of our time in Japan we covered quite a lot of ground last week to get closer to Tokyo. It’s from there ( well, Yokohama, which is next door ) that we hope to ship out in a few weeks.

Till next week…..

A Random Act of Kindness ( Classic Japan )

While in Aomori we wanted to find a really good coffee shop and the tourist folks directed us here to Cafe Maron. Not only was the coffee and hot chocolate to die for, but it was here we had another of those “only in Japan”experiences.

Cafe Maron, Aomori.

Lois and I keep a picture of our new granddaughter (Hadley) on our phone screens and the waitress happened to notice her picture on Lois’s phone ( sitting on the table ). She commented on how “kawaii” ( pretty, cute ) she was and we chatted for a minute about her.

Screenshot of Lois’s cell phone “wallpaper”.

She took our order, then went away to have the drinks prepared. She then brought us the drinks, we enjoyed them immensely, and once we finished them, I asked her for the bill. A few minutes later she came with the bill, but with it was a folded napkin with a sketch on it. She had drawn our granddaughter, based only on her memory, and a brief glimpse of her, from 30 minutes earlier. We were both quite touched, and of course have kept the napkin which we will take home and give to our daughter. It’s a small thing, I suppose, but just typical of the kind of thing Japanese folks have done on a fairly regular basis to make our already incredible experiences in this country even more wonderful and personable. It kind of made our day…….

The sketch of Hadley done for us by our waitress.