A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The third and final part of our Hokkaido road trip tale takes us back down south to the small town of Hidaka. Danny had spotted a leaflet advertising kayaking and rafting, and once the wheels were in motion, there was no stopping him.

So we left the smoking volcanoes in our wake and traveled south towards the Mugawa river. We reached Hidaka by early evening and set about locating a camp site to pitch up for the night.

After getting a few directions from the locals, we arrived in a large empty campsite, the only residents of which were a family who were staying in two log cabins. We thought it best to ask them if it were ok to stay the night, and after making a phone call, they kindly offered to show us the way to the main office to book in.

It was then, that we were to experience, as Chris P. so perfectly put it: "the very best, and the very worst of Japanese culture, in the space of five minutes". On arriving at the main campsite office, and asking for a spot for the night, we were told that we could not stay there because we hadn't booked three days in advance.

At first, I just thought we'd heard wrong. The three acre campsite was completely empty, aside from the one family. Not a single tent was present, yet we were being turned away due to a ridiculous rule? I expressed my non-comprehension of the situation.

"Zenzen wakarimasen, I don't understand at all, you have space...",

But the single word reply from the staff, in one foul swoop, summed up the stereotypical Japanese trait of strictly adhering to the set protocol.


We left the office in disbelief, pissed off, and in low spirits. It was getting dark, and we didn't know of any other campsites in the area.

But then, the flip side of Japanese culture presented itself to us. The family beckoned us over to their log cabin, and motioned to their abode. The next thing we knew, they were kicking granny and the kids out of one of their cabins, and squeezing the whole family under one roof, just to make way for a bunch of foriengers who they'd met only a few minutes before!

Once we'd realised what was going on, we had to refuse their generous offering, but the whole situation was amazing to us. Denied entry to an empty campsite due to a pedantic rule, then shown an amazing gesture of kindness, which went as far as booting out their oldest and youngest for us.

We didn't want to camp inside the site after being told we couldn't, because we feared that the family who had been so generous might get into trouble. So we ended up camping right outside the campsite gates, figuring the worst that could happen was we'd be told to move on.

The night passed without incidence, and after an early start, we were on our way to Hokkaido Outdoor Adventures for a spot of white water. HOA is headed by a friendly dread headed Ozzie, Pat, who has travelled the earth riding the rapids of unheard rivers, and scoring several first descents. He showed us footage of his last trip to Myanmar (Burma), where it took his team two weeks to hike the boats in, after the deal on a chopper fell through.

Pat has a great set up; operating out of a beautiful old school building, he has decked the place out perfectly, and offers a range of outdoor sports: bridge swinging, rock climbing, kicking, canoeing, rafting and trekking amongst others.

While Lews, and Gary chose to just sit back and chill in the most chilled out chill out room I've ever seen, Danny, Chris and I hit the swirling rapids of the Mugawa. Pat's team consists of several Burmese and Japanese rafters, and over all, it was a great ride. With a sweet set up, a beautiful location, a cool crew, and great value for money, I would highly recomend HOA to anyone who likes their water white.

All too soon our time to head back to the sweltering southern isle was upon us. We boared the ferry under the cover of darkness, pulling away from the beautiful island of Hokkaido, this time taking the slightly longer route to Tsuruga, which conveniently deposited us just 1.5 hours drive from my door.

We made a brief stop in Fukui before shooting for the bright lights of Tokyo for a few days to round off the trip. We took in several of the tourist sites that I had not seen, and much to Gary's delight, stayed in a capsule hotel.

In three weeks we'd seen and done a lot, but it was time for the Cleobury fellowship to be broken once again. We said our farewells and I melted into a throng of people walking the streets on another hot and humid day in the capital. Leaving the boys to catch their flight as I rode the train out of Tokyo back to the inaka of Fukui, an earthquake hit. "Gary and Chris will be pleased, they wanted to experience a natural disaster during their stay".

A big shout out goes to Danny G, Chris and Gary for making the trip out here. See you boys in the Mortimer.


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