Sunday, August 31, 2008

day 244 - Kushiro: cranes and seafood.

Koshiro is the closest city to the Kushiro Wetlands and the Shitsugen National Park we want to visit. It also has the BEST seafood...

There are plenty of cranes to be seen around the city, but so far, no real ones...

We ate a LOT of fresh sashimi at Washo Markets - tuna, salmon roe, scallops and prawns. Oishi!

On Yorke Peninsula, South Australia we call these "sea-squirts." I'm not sure if you have them raw or cooked, but they didn't appeal to me.

Tako (octopus) tentacles. We've had these before, but not this time. Very photogenic.

Smelt. Funny name. They didn't smell, either. We had these later, Robata. Very succulent and sweet.

Fresh seafood self-cooked on the charcoal grill is called Robata. We loved it.

day 243 - crossing Hokkaido

Asahidake to Asahikawa. Rain is what makes this lush country what it is, so you have to expect to see some occasionally. We're grateful that it's held off while we've done our hiking and it's pouring on the day we criss-cross the island.

This is rice, but as well we see vast plains of vegetables, corn and pasture for dairy cattle. Totally unlike the rest of Japan, it's similar to the Australia with which we're familiar and perhaps the mid-west of North America with which we're not. The houses could be almost anywhere in the world. (That's our well-travelled Flinders Camping backpack in the foreground.)

The tired traveller's consolation on a wet day. It's not easy, but somebody has to do it.

After Obihiro the tracks follow the coast so closely that in places the waves seem likely to wash under the wheels. 

Wed, August 27.
There's no easy way to go directly from Asahidake to Kushiro on the Eastern coast of Hokkaido so we bus back to Asahikawa, then take a train back to Sapporo and another on to our destination. It rains all day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

day 242 - climb ev'ry mountain (2)

Ezo chipmunk. 
Tamias sibiricus lineatus.
Here it's called the Ezo chipmunk, but the same guy on the mainland is the Siberian chipmunk, easily recognised by its five stripes. It was surprising to see it at this height above its usual woodland habitat. These little buggers are quick. It was patience but mostly good luck that this one was snapped as he sprinted from the undergrowth.

Asahidake. (We only took about 40 photos of the mountain reflected in this lake!)


A couple more showing alpine plant beauty and diversity.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

day 241 - climb ev'ry mountain (1)

We only saw one bear.

Some fit people hike to the top. We took the ropeway.

It's a bit daunting when most of the maps, tourist guides and warning signs aren't in your language...

A lake mirrors the sky.

Asahidake and fumaroles reflected in a pond.

Diverse alpine plants.

A pair of very friendly grasshoppers. (suggest you click on this one for an enlargement.)

Asahidake is the highest point in Hokkaido (2290 m). We took the ropeway and hiked up to the fumaroles (volcanic vents), but chickened out on the summit. The alpine vegetation up here is amazing. We'd been warned about bears and finally succumbed and bought a "bear-bell" - a great souvenir, but the only kuma we saw was the stuffed one in the communal lounge of the Yumoto Yukomanso Resort. We took so many photos that we'll have to split them over two days!

day 240 - going up...

Mon August 25.
Today we left Sapporo and crossed the flattish farmlands for Asahikawa, then bussed up the mountains to Asahidake. There's a spaciousness here that we haven't seen since Australia. 
It was too foggy to go up the ropeway so we hiked a few trails in the valley.

Asahidake to Asahidake.

One-horse open sleigh. This sits incongruously between tracks at the Iwamizawa Station. This whole area is covered in snow in winter, but we won't be seeing any...

Walk through a birch forest.

I'm a real fun guy...

Unidentified dragonfly on some unidentified pretty purple flower. (Can you help?)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

day 239 - Otaru

Not many herring left, but fishing and tourism still keep Otaru prosperous. We ate 'Viking' ('all-you-can-eat') sashimi and jingisukan.
(Fish market, Chuo-dori, Otaru.)

The bay where the herring were dragged in.

Early 1900s image of the bounty. (Aoyama Villa.)

Fishermen here still use the traditional glass floats. The glass-blowing industry still survives, having expanded to ornaments and jewellery, trading on the "Venice of Japan" promotion.

The villa built for herring millionaire Masakichi Aoyama.

40 carpenters built the mansion from 1917 - 1923 using Zelkova and sugi (Japanese Cedar.) Alcoves in each room were of a different rare hardwood.

Detail of a screen. Screens and sliding doors (shoji & fusama) were decorated by Master painter Gyokudo Kawai.

Otaru is a small historical port on the Sea of Japan about 40 mins NW of Sapporo by train. The city gained wealth through its herring industry in the early 1900s. Millions of tons of fish were hauled from the sea, employing thousands and making a small number exceptionally wealthy. In a single night one team (toh) of 25 - 100 fishermen could net up to 600 000 herring. The record, unsurpassed, goes to the season's first haul in 1913 which yielded 560 ooo tons!
For a time Otaru was a major port and financial hub of Ezo.

We spent the morning strolling the old canal and wharf, then lunched at a restaurant in one of the many renovated old stone warehouses.
In the afternoon we caught a local bus to the bay where the original fishermen got rich.
The Aoyama family was one of the city's 3 leading herring tycoons and their wealth lasted 3 generations. Even by today's standards the home is a mansion. Built of the finest timbers, double-glazed and filled with the finest furnishings and works of art from both the East and the West, the structure took six years to complete by 1923, when it must have been the last word in luxury.
We're lucky the house is well-preserved and open to the public - the family's fortune waned as the herring catch inevitably declined.

Monday, August 25, 2008

day 238 - Sapporo Beer

A trip to this city wouldn't be complete without a beer tasting and tour of Sapporo Brewery. But it's complicated. The Sapporo Factory is now a shopping mall. The real factory (called the Hokkaido Brewery) is a typical modern brewery out of town - all stainless steel tanks so you can't see anything & technicians in white coats. The Sapporo Beer Garden is a former sugar factory which has has all of Sapporo's old brewing paraphernalia moved in. It's here you see the display, taste the product and have a meal if you want to.

The red star logo goes right back to the Kaitakushi government of 1869. (Former Government Building.)

Three great Japanese beers - Asahi, Sapporo and Yebisu were once owned by the giant DaiNippon Beer Company.

A century of Sapporo beauties.

Our visit to the Biru Garten ended with Aussie lamb a la Ghengis Khan. Here it's called Jingisukan and the style can be traced back to Mongolia. You cook your own meat on a convex hotplate which looks a lot like an upturned Mongolian helmet. Oishi desu. Delicious.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

day 237 - Saturday in Sapporo

Q: What has plastic teats and gives milk?

A: A plastic cow. 
We stumbled on a Hokkaido Dairy Promotion. Only the Japanese would invent a mechanical cow. It doesn't kick, so it's safe for the kiddies. (Note redundant real cow behind looking on forlornly.)

Sapporo has a fantastic linear park which divides the city North/South. It's called Odori ('Big Street.') One end has the Sapporo TV Tower which reminded us of the Eiffel Tower...

The other end of Odori Park, not L'Hotêl des Invalides, but the Former Court of Appeals. Lyn is appealing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

day 236 - Toya to Sapporo

Nakajima. On our last morning at Toya we took a cruise out to these islands which are four peaks of a submerged mountain. We managed to sight wild deer, squirrels and an unidentified woodpecker...

Ezo (Hokkaido) Deer were released on Nakajima. Free from predators, they soon began breeding and eating out the island. Unfortunately they've had to be selectively culled to redress the balance.

Queen Erizabeth Rose.
Botanic Gardens of Hokkaido University, Sapporo.
Her Glacious Majesty would be so ploud.

Japanese Red Dragon Fly. 
(Botanic Gardens, Sapporo.)

Ezo Wolf. Hokkaido University Museum, Botanic Gardens, Sapporo.
He's pissed off because he's stuffed, confined to a glass case - and he's extinct. When it became a threat to Western-style farming, the Hokkaido wolf was methodically and ruthlessly exterminated. By 1880 it ceased to exist on the planet.