Apparently there`s some sort of big sporting event currently going on in London and apparently GB are doing pretty well. And, apparently, i`ve chosen this time to be cycling round Hokkaido with a tent. You`re not even reading this are you? You`re watching judo or table tennis or something.
I started in Hakodate last week and met two English guys on the train from Tokyo who had bikes and were spending two weeks cycling around Japan`s northern island as well (see, it`s not just me missing London 2012). We stayed in a guesthouse that i knew from last year and went our different routes the next morning. That day i went 50km through little fishing towns and villages that were drying out seaweed in the sun. After getting my legs sunburnt i arrived at a a campsite near a mountain and met a 70 year old man cycling around Hokkaido for the tenth time. "I`m crazy" he happily told me and then started a conversation with himself about the Royal family of Japan and the UK as if to confirm the point.
Seaweed seems to be a major industry in southern Hokkaido and i guess it must make enough money for the people who live next to the ocean there. There can be no other reason to force that smell upon your local communinty. Still, it wakes you up in the mornings peddling through it. I strayed off the coast and headed to Mount Kamogotake and found cow farms and so the drying seaweed smell was replaced by manure. Southern Hokkaido stinks. I bumped into the 70 year old man again that day around lunch time. "What is the puprose of your trip? he asked. "Is it spiritual enlightenment? Personal fulfilment?" I didn`t really have the heart to say, "Erm, i`m avoiding work, responsibilty and joining the human race for as long as i can get away with it."
Mount Kamogotake is a beautiful twin peaked volcano sat next to a lake. The busy main road that i rode on for most of the next day heading north made it seem more attractive and remote as i spent most of the day being passed by trucks and buses whilst the occasional old restaurant or decaying building would sit lonely at the side of the road with a tree growing out of it and overgrown plants covering it, long deserted and forgotton by a bubble that burst a few decades before. And then i arrived in Oshamambe.
The university that i worked at near Tokyo has a campus in Oshamambe. Some of the students i was teaching had to spend a year in the town and would always complain about how boring it was. "There`s nothing there," they would say, wide eyed. "Nothing!". They weren`t wrong. It wouldn`t be so bad if it was nice to look at but it`s ugly as well. Empty buildings and disued houses. Grey communist style blocks of nothing. It had derelict fish processing factories that smelt like, well, like derelict fish processing facotories and nearby by volcanic springs that smelt of sulphur mixed in the air. A year? I spent a night at the campsite and headed north. Oshamambe is a hole.
The next few days were spent doing more cycling through green valleys and forests and camping by lakes and volcanoes with other holidaying people and families escaping the heat of the the south. The campsite i stayed at last night was on the beach of a lake. I asked the guy at the office if there were showers. "No". Is there an onsen or public bath near? "Six kilometres". Hmmm. "Use the lake," he offered. Fair enough.
I`m in Tomakomai now. It`s a non-descrpit town in between more beatiful scenery and interesting smells. I`m heading east from here to find more campsites with ensuite lakes and more tourists escaping the south. I`ve met quite a few people here who are cycling around, as well as guys on motorbikes who are touring the island and casually wave as they glide past my peddling sweat. There are surfers who happily declare their ocupation as "NEAT" and hang out of belching vans, grinning as they lurch past more of my peddling sweat. Apart from the summer holiday making familes who take over campsites it would seem, on first glance at least, that Hokkaido is where Japan comes when it`s had enough of being Japanese. Long haired men and tattoed women, drifters and job quitters, bike riders and bums all floating around in the summer wind and being very happy not rushing around in Kanto or Kansai being pushed about and into line with everybody else.
Still, i wonder if they`ve managed to see any of the Olympics?