‘There aren’t any shops on the coast road, you know,’ said the old lady at the youth hostel. ‘So I made you these.’
Refusing to accept any money, she presented me with a packed lunch of two grapefruit-sized nigiri (rice balls).
‘I hope you’ve got some sun block.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I’ve put it on already,’ and thought as she waved me off that while she may not have been youthful, she was just the right sort of person to be running a hostel: nosy, but only in the sense that she was concerned for the welfare of her guests.
Just outside Akkeshi, an official-looking car – yellow and black with red lights on the top, rather like an AA van – stopped on the other side of the road.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ said the driver, leaning out of the window. ‘Will you be heading along the coast road?’
‘Please watch out for cars along the way.’
Telling someone to watch out for cars on a road seemed like rather unnecessary advice, but it was nice to know the powers that be were concerned for the welfare of a humble cyclist.
‘No, not cars,’ he said, ‘bears.’ (An easy mistake to make: the Japanese for car is kuruma – 車 – and the Japanese for bear is kuma – 熊.) ‘There was a sighting earlier this morning.’
According to conventional wisdom, a bear is liable to attack if you happen upon it without warning, whereas it will steer clear if it can hear you coming in advance. So I gave my rather weedy bicycle bell a ping to show that I was fully prepared, and the man told me to take care before driving off again.
(This is a ‘beware of the bear’ sign I saw later that morning:)
Along with panniers on both the front and back of his bike, Mr Safe Wisteria had a little basket on the handlebars with a radio in it – he said that it kept him company when there was no one to talk to – and because he was heading in the opposite direction, had just phoned the lady at Akkeshi youth hostel to book a room for the night.
In the manner of the Eurorail pass, foreign visitors can buy a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited use of the rail network. For the natives, though, and for those of us who live and work here, our best option is the juu-hachi-kippu (18 ticket), which as the name implies is aimed at cash-strapped youngsters, and while it doesn’t allow you to board Shinkansen (新幹線 / aka bullet trains), can be used on just the kind of one mans that stop at Hatta-ushi.
Mr Pine Origin worked in Iwaté Prefecture as the secretary at an elementary school, which because of the long-ish holidays had enabled him to come to Hokkaido no less than seventeen times.
‘I usually ride about three or four hundred kilometres a day,’ he said. ‘I once did six hundred, but I couldn’t move my legs when I woke up the next morning.’
Bikers, it would seem, are the same the world over, and the three of them ordered extra-large portions of pork escalopes and pork kebab.
‘As you can see,’ said Mr Pine Origin, indicating his portly physique, ‘I come to Hokkaido for the food.’