In the morning Mr and Mrs Cedar Mountain embarked on the long drive to their nearest supermarket, while I took the same road south towards an even more distant Lake Kussharo.
Reputedly home to a Nessie-like monster called Kusshii, Lake Kussharo was originally formed after a volcanic eruption, so the area around it is rich in hot springs. On the road around the lake the gutters flow with steaming hot water, and the weary traveller can make use of free foot spas: shallow pools surrounded by wooden benches and calcified emerald green like the limescale in an old kettle.
There were two campsites on the Wakoto Peninsula at Kussharo’s southern end, and the first was exposed to a bracing lakeside breeze.
‘I was just about to close for the night,’ said Mrs Bamboo Child, the white-haired old lady behind the counter at a nearby ramen restaurant, and began to tell me her life story almost as soon as I had taken my seat.
‘Most of the old folks around here are originally from Honshu,’ she said. ‘My father came from Fukushima, and at the time there wasn’t even a road – he came up the river in a boat he had made himself. It’s too cold to grow rice so that had to be brought in by boat as well, although eventually the people who lived here built a road. My mother had twelve children and lived until she was ninety-two, and even now, ten of us are still alive. I’m seventy-nine now, although by the old system I’m eighty – we used to say that a baby was a year old when it was born. I only went to school in winter because we had to work in the fields during the summer, and I left for good when I was in the sixth grade. I ended up having three kids myself, and all of them were born in April – two of them have the same birthday. Back then everyone was the same – if you were pregnant over the summer you couldn’t work, and we deliberately timed it so that our babies were born in the spring.’
‘It’s been twenty-four years since I opened this place,’ she continued. ‘I can’t walk around much these days because I’ve got a bad knee, and my granddaughter helps me out for a couple of hours at lunchtime. We’re busy at the moment, but there are no tourists at all during the winter, just locals – they’ve got machines to do the farming these days, but Hokkaido’s still a tough place to live.’