A Rainy Ride to Rausu
Our luck with conjuring up animals continued on our way out of Nakashibetsu in Hokkaido, Japan. Less than a minute after Dmitry said: “I want to see a fox today,” this little guy appeared by the side of the road. Th fox had a squirrel in his mouth, which I am assuming he was taking to the animal hospital. It looked injured.
We had planned a fairly short ride (71 km/ 44 mi) from our cabin in Nakashibetsu to a campground in Rausu, near the very eastern tip of Hokkaido. Our fox sighting seemed to be an auspicious sign. After a quick stop 7-11 for breakfast (and to buy Dmitry gloves), we had a lovely (and very cold) morning ride through farmland toward the seaside town of Shibetsu.
Did I mention it was cold? It was cold. Hokkaido gets a ton of snow in the winter. We didn’t see any left in this area in June (the elevation was too low), but we did see a lot of evidence that points toward a harsh winter. Huge snow fences along the roads, special tunnels for where the snow gathers, and arrows marking the road for snow plows. We are both infrastructure admirers, and Japan gives us plenty to admire.
We made a quick stop in Shibetsu to have second breakfast – more 7-11 onigiri and hot tea from our thermos – and to snap a few pics. It was around then that we started noticing all the grey clouds blowing in from the sea.
Suddenly, our cold but totally bearable day became a wet and much less enjoyable one. So much for auspicious fox sightings. We pulled the rain covers onto our bags, cinched up our hoods, and kept riding.
We were getting colder and colder, and the rain was getting stronger and stronger, when we spotted a tiny restaurant along the road.
I was a little skeptical about the restaurant (it seemed so tiny!) but the Dmitry wanted to try it and I wanted to get out of the rain. The restaurant was, indeed, tiny: 4 seats at a counter and 6 more seats at low tables. The other patrons were all fishermen and clearly regulars. Although the couple running the place weren’t sure what to do with us, they were kind and quick to bring hot tea (which I immediately clutched in an attempt to warm my icy fingers). We couldn’t read the hand-written menu, and they couldn’t tell us what the selections were, so we just pointed at the food our neighbors were eating and indicated: “2 of those please.”
A few minutes later a feast arrived: sashimi, grilled fish, miso soup, kombu (local seaweed delicacy), pickles. We had some incredible meals in Tokyo (thanks to my sister!) but this one was our favorite one that we had on our own. It was just the context: coming out of the rain to find a magical spot where lovely grandma serves the tea while grandpa grills the fish in back.
By the time we finished lunch (and my hands had finally warmed up), the rain had mostly cleared. This area of Hokkaido is very close to the disputed Kuril islands – which are currently held by Russia. There are many sections of the seaside road where we could, very literally, see Russia across the water.
This is also the only part of Japan where we saw signs in Russian – some seem to be pleas for friendship, others were just informative.
The area is also very quiet – a lot of abandoned shops, hotels, and restaurants. I thought maybe this area had been affected by the 2011 tsunami, but no – it’s just low-key.
Six hours after we set out from Nakashibetsu (I know, that’s a very slow pace – but we had to stop to take all these pictures!) we rode through another rainstorm into Rausu. We had planned to camp, but based on the freezing weather and pounding rain, I voted for a hotel instead.
Were we so glad we chose the hotel! Not only was it rainy and crazy windy all night, but we found out the next day that the campground was a) several miles straight uphill and b) closed due to weather. Hooray for a nice warm room and a convenience store dinner.