13 August, 2013

Our Hokkaido Adventure Day 14

Saturday 6th July
A = Wakkanai, B = Nishi Okoppe
The white dot is Cape Soya, the most northerly,
accessible point in Japan.
The barren coast on the road between Wakkanai and
Cape Soya.

Wakkanai to Nishi Okoppe

On Saturday we packed up, somewhat reluctantly. We’d enjoyed our stay in Wakkanai and the facilities were superb. I wish all camp showers were that beautiful (but of course it wasn’t the cheapest of campsites).

Because we had no shade at the Wakkanai campsite we were awake very early. It was getting light by 3.30am. We were packed up and left by 8am, without an alarm or any drama (which is very noteworthy).

That day we drove up to Cape Soya, the northernmost accessible point in Japan. We had the requisite photo at the monument at the point. I have to say the breeze was brisk and chilly up there. It felt remote! I can’t imagine living in such an exposed place with such an extreme climate. One thing: it forces people to be tidy. There was very little lying around that wasn’t tied down well.

Our van, with its distinctive blue tarp,
 parked at Cape Soya.
We then drove south-east along the coast (we’re headed around the island in a clockwise direction). It surprised me how often we came across little villages, most of
The monument at Cape Soya. Our boys thought they
were very clever and went behind the monument
to be "even more northerly"!
which had a Seicomart Convenience store. We were far more remote in western Queensland than we were in the very north of Japan.

Our destination was Nishi Okoppe, a village about 20km inland. We wouldn’t have gone there except that a classmate of our middle son’s had moved there with his mum and brother in April. I’d promised we’d visit them when we were driving around Hokkaido.

For lunch we stopped at Okoppe, the neighbouring town. We happened upon another street-marching group. This time it wasn’t a religious ceremony, but instead students from the local high school. They were dressed up in costumes and we all ended up in the same park. Us with our lunch, them with presentations they’d prepared. There were three groups of students; each group performed a dance/story to a soundtrack. There wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was a small town, after all.

Half an hour later we arrived in Nishi Okoppe and sought to find our free campsite. It turned out to be in the local park and the only “registration” we had to do was write our names and addresses in a book.

Some of the high school students performing. It looks
warmer than it actually was.
The family we’d come to visit lived a bit down the road in another part of the village called Kami Okoppe. Their boys were anxiously awaiting us and took us to the local pool, attached to the primary school (of 17 students). The pool, to our astonishment, was free of charge! This was only just the beginning of the surprises awaiting us in this little corner of the world.

It was good to experience something of life in a tiny Japanese village, though I suspect this one is a little unusual.

An intriguing orchestra display at a tourist centre in
Kami Okoppe. On the hour it plays, with each orchestra
member moving and the whole thing rotating.

For starters, the local government is rich. Apparently the story is that they received a grant from the national government some years ago and have spent it wisely. So much so, that they give the middle schoolers a free trip to Alaska every two years. They are sponsoring our friends to live there
with a generous allowance for the two boys and free accommodation.

A map of the area, which is called Okhotsk, named after
the Okhotsk Sea which lies between Hokkaido and Russia.
Another startling thing is that the village has adopted a colour scheme. It is orange and green: orange for the sun and green for the trees. Many of the government-related or sponsored buildings are painted in these colours.

That night we had a Japanese-style BBQ with the family we'd come to visit. In the park we built a large fire in the BBQs available able put two large wire nets over the top. On these we cooked vegetables and meat, eating them as they were cooked. No bread in sight. We ate cold rice balls.

The Marshalls brought some Western flavour to the meal with marshmallows and chocolate. Joining us at the BBQ was an American English teacher (who grew up in Japan as a missionary kid), and another friend of our friends, the headmaster’s wife, and their two young primary aged kids. They really enjoyed the marshmallows and we went through a whole packet of them.
Sea of Okhotsk

Just in case you're thinking the climate looks good. Here is a video of the drift ice just off the coast. It's cold up there in winter!

Our Japanese BBQ.
We set up next to this outdoor stage at the local park
(in the centre of town) because it was the only possible
early-morning shade we could find. And when the sun
is getting up at 4am, morning shade is important!

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