Wrong Way Round – Day 16

Wrong Way Round – Day 16

On-neyu – Soh-unkyo (温根湯 – 層雲峡) – 72km

‘I’ve been to the Nissan factory in Sunderland a couple of times on business,’ said one of the other campers as we were packing our things and getting ready to leave On-neyu. ‘As far as I could make out, everyone in England is called John. It was John this, John that, John the other.’

‘A friend of mine in Tokyo’s called John,’ said another. ‘He was married to a Japanese lady who died a few years ago, but he says that he’s never going back to England because the weather’s so awful. Your name’s not John as well, is it?’

I reached the 1050-metre Sekihoku Pass by about lunchtime and rewarded myself with some Kumazasa, a well-known brand of ice cream in Hokkaido (of the various flavours on offer I chose lavender, although the other customers seemed to prefer the watermelon).
At around the same time as me a father and his ten-year-old son arrived at the pass from the opposite direction.

‘I always promised him we’d go on a trip for a few days when his legs were long enough,’ said the father, and despite insisting that he had assigned only the lightest items of luggage to his son, the son’s bicycle, a mini-mountain bike with a shopping basket on the front, appeared to be weighed down with even more bits and bobs than mine.

Partly to mix things up a bit and partly after being warned about high winds along the north-east coast, I had decided to head inland for a few days, which after calling in at Lake Kussharo brought me today to Soh-unkyo, a twenty-four-kilometre-long gorge in the Daisetsuzan National Park.

There is a cable car that takes paying passengers from the valley floor to a point 1300 metres up the side of Mount Kurodaké, and apparently, some people catch the last one of the day, camp on the mountain and hike to the summit early the next morning to watch the sunrise. The sunset, though, had been all but swallowed up by the clouds when my cable car reached its destination.

At the onsen in Soh-unkyo, a young man with an impressively intricate array of tattoos over his chest, arms and shoulders was drying himself off in front of the changing room mirror – a rare sight, as tattoos are linked in the public consciousness with the yakuza, and if you happen to have one the majority of public baths will be out of bounds. I would have liked to ask him where he had them done, or even to take a photo – they were expertly drawn and hadn’t turned that faded blue-green colour you so often see – but frankly he looked a bit scary, and in the end I chickened out.

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