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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Round Japan on a Bicycle


I spent last weekend in Hokkaido, flying the hour-and-a-half from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Shin-Chitose Airport in Hokkaido (according to Wikipedia, the busiest air route in the world, transporting over 9 million people every year). We then spent another hour-and-a-half driving from the Shin Chitose Airport to Sapporo, Hokkaido's main city.

Lake Utonai in Hokkaido.

We didn't have long in Hokkaido: it was as much a social trip as a sightseeing one, meeting three Thai friends who had taken a direct flight from Bangkok to Shin-Chitose Airport a few days before, and spending the last couple of days of their Hokkaido trip with them.

We did about half a dozen sights, the furthest being Furano, a town famous for its flower - particularly lavender - farms, the lavender being in full bloom when we were there, making for a memorable spectacle well worth the trip. Furano also has a cheese factory and a wine center, but they were underwhelming, institutionalized tourist-bus traps that we would have best skipped.

On the shore of Lake Utonai in Hokkaido.

The highlight of Sunday was a drive out to the Mitsui Outlet Park Sapporo Kitahiroshima, about 45 minutes drive from Sapporo. Our friends stayed there and were going to take the bus back to Sapporo, so the two of us drove on to Lake Utonai, a lake just a little south of Shin-Chitose Airport. Lake Utonai is about 9km in circumference and only about 120cm deep at its deepest point! The lake is not a famous tourist spot, except when migrating greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) and swans swarm the lake. Lake Utonai's biggest claim to fame is that it was Japan's first bird sanctuary, established in 1981. The weather had gotten overcast by the time we got there, and there was really nothing of interest to see - just a large body of water to gaze out over, which is never unpleasant.

As we were walking back to the car, a guy in his late teens or early twenties came in on a bicycle laden with panniers; he was obviously on a cycling camping trip. Once past us, the bicycle could be seen to have a sign on the back saying the rider was on a cycling tour of the whole of Japan, had started from Fukuoka, way down in Kyushu, and that this was his 99th day on the road.
Cycle tour of the whole of Japan, photo taken at Lake Utonai.

I asked him about his trip. It was just a trip - and we chatted for a couple of minutes. I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him if he was blogging his trip or anything, but it really just seemed as if he was cycling his way around Japan for the hell of it. He had about three months in Hokkaido, and was headed for the northernmost point. I took this photo and wished him all the best.

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