My final week in Hokkaido Part Two – Exploring Nemuro
August 30, 2011 1 Comment
The few final days at Shizen Gakko as I mentioned in a previous post had been quite strange ones, sad, along with joy and a certain amount of boredom. It felt that I had to move on when the kids and some of the staff left. A couple of weeks previously I had decided to explore Kushiro and Nemuro. Having no idea what there was to see, I simply wanted to visit the most easterly city and town in Hokkaido and I think Japan. It was a part of Hokkaido that I had not thought about until very recently, and having been there I can say that there is an awful lot to explore, although it does depend on what you want to see.
Kushiro is very much like any other Japanese city; admittedly it is quieter than Sapporo, and being further east a little cooler. There were a few interesting places in Kushiro to have a look at, there was the port and a few other places such as some parks and of course the major shrine to have a look at. I didn’t see the shrine until my final day, but while waiting for the train to Nemuro I had a wander around Kushiro, seeing the bridges, the port and some other places.
The train to Nemuro was quite a shock, having arrived in Kushiro on the ‘Super-Ozora Limited Express’, a eight carriage train with reclining seats and trolley service it was fascinating to see a single carriage train. Not that I was complaining, some of the local train journeys that I have had while in Hokkaido have been excellent with loads to see, and the trains are always comfortable actually, even the local trains. But like I said, it was a single carriage, you could see out of the front and back windows and there were 4 fans in the ceiling; the very essence of a local Japanese train, I am sure such an image has appeared in many anime and manga before.
The journey would take about two hours to reach Nemuro, it being a local train with frequent stopping and not going very fast, armed with my bento box, a bottle of green tea and camera I got on with no idea what I would see.
The journey there was fascinating, there was a single track, and because you could see through the carriage, you could see where you were going and where you had been. We set off, stopping at a few local stations on the outskirts of Kushiro, but then we left the city and started our way through the mountains. Forests surrounded the track, and we would occasionally go through a tunnel, accompanied by a ring of the train driver’s bell. Many of the other passengers on the train were doing the same as I was, taking pictures of the landscape around us.
After a few stops at platforms that in some cases were little more than a mound of earth with a small hut for people to stay in when the weather was bad, we made our way towards the coast. The route from Kushiro initially takes you a little north, but then it goes back south and follows the coastline, sometimes very close, other times further away. This was a fascinating part of the journey, since we went past wetlands and lakes, cliffs, and at one point alongside the water, perhaps 2 or 3 meters above it. The journey on the way back however was better.
Nemuro was basically like any other small port town; there was almost nothing there. I had however heard that there was quite a large jinja or shrine somewhere in the town, and having got a map of the centre set off to find it. I had three hours to find the shrine and get back to the station for the next train.
The walk through Nemuro was quite an interesting one, first thing I noticed was that all of the road signs were not only in Japanese and some English, but also Russian. This all stems from a dispute that Japan has with Russia over its occupation of an island just off Hokkaido, which Japan owns. As part of a programme to keep up relations with Russia, Nemuro has all its signs in Russian.
I eventually found the shrine, right the way over the other side of the harbour. Hokkaido does not have any really old shrines, and this particular one had its arches made out of concrete rather than wood, many of the ornaments and statues also seemed to be concrete.
It was, however a fascinating experience walking up this path, lined with trees, and walking through the arches past statues and plaques. The shrine itself was a Shinto shrine and very beautiful, I was luck enough to arrive just as a Shinto ritual was taking place. I think it was either to bless or purify someone’s car, I can’t be more precise, but that’s what it looked like to me.
I saw and heard the chanting, the drum banging, and of course the priest in full robes walking out of the shine followed by the man who had asked for his services to bless/purify his car. The entire experience was fascinating, and along with the journey back made my entire day trip to Nemuro worthwhile. After saying a small pray at the shrine, I got some omamori for my family and took my leave. I think the local people who were there, including the priest were taken aback by my presence, I did feel like I was the only ‘westerner’ anywhere near Nemuro.
Having got my omamori, taken pictures of the shrine, and of the harbour since the shrine was on a hillside overlooking the harbour, I took my leave and walked back to the train station.
The journey back turned out to be far more fascinating than on the way there. It was getting on for late afternoon, early evening, and all along the track in the fields I saw deer grazing. We had people getting on the train for Nemuro, but also quite a few who had perhaps been working or at school in Nemuro who were going home. When we arrived at the coast and the wetlands I saw what appeared to be cranes taking off, and we also had deer and even a brown bear on the track. I only noticed this because the driver was ringing the trains bell more frequently than before, so I went to the front and saw the animals running off of the train track.
This entire trip was fascinating, and while there was very little in Nemuro, the trip itself made it worthwhile. The next day I would also randomly walk onto the platform at Kushiro station and take a train somewhere as well, this in fact is something that happened quite frequently during my time in Hokkaido. Since I had a rail pass that gave me unlimited travel on JR Hokkaido trains I would simply walk onto a station, look at what trains were there and where they were going, and simply pick my destination then and there, some nice unpredictability that has produced some wonderful memories as I have visited some fascinating places.
I had one and a half days left in Kushiro, the next day would be spent in the wetlands, and the final day was spent wandering around Kushiro a bit and then onto Sapporo before my flight home. This will be in subsequent posts.