For three days I found myself holed up in another one of Hokkaidō’s classic 1980’s themed youth hostels. It was a desolate sort of building that gave off a haunted house vibe; located atop an isolated hill.
Wakkanai was still being deluged by buckets of rain and after a while I began to feel somewhat trapped; the early stages of cabin fever were imminent. I walked around the empty hostel in an attempt to keep myself busy, but there was no one else around. Reception was only open for a couple of hours each day and the elderly gentleman receptionist mostly appeared to be interested in staring at the wall. Each morning I would awake and pull back the curtains to expose the watery world of Wakkanai. Then I’d let out a heavy sigh before trudging downstairs to reception to book yet another night in the house that time forgot. The receptionist would also sigh in disgust at my request and thus the cycle continued. One would have thought that my saving grace would have been the television in my room, yet unfortunately this would only add to my misery as it allowed me to bear witness to the tragedy of England’s offensively disgraceful World Cup campaign, and the less said about that sham, the better.
Wakkanai – Shosanbetsu
On my fourth day there, a heavier than normal sigh ensued as I skulked downstairs to reception.
‘Ohayo gozaimasu,’ good morning, I said to the receptionist who seemed a little disgruntled by the fact that I’d just disturbed his reverie of boredom.
‘Oh… Ohayo gozaimasu,’ he begrudgingly, replied.
‘Mou hitoban onegai shimasu,’ one more night, please.
‘Ano… chotto…’ hmm… erm…well. He was being hesitant about something.
‘Oh, mondai desu ka?’ Oh, is there a problem?
The receptionist then went on to tell me that the hostel was full.
‘What??’ I said in English, the word echoing down the baron hallway (and it probably still is). I then took a good look around me, making a point to observe one of the building’s main proficiencies… its sheer emptiness.
‘Honto ni?’ Seriously?I said, marginally miffed.
‘Hai, sou desu, gomen ne,’ Yes, that’s right, sorry about that. Before going on to confirm that check out was at 10am.
I looked at my watch; it was 9:50am. I sighed so hard I almost destroyed myself.
11 minutes later and I was reaquainted with a classic drenching as I began to work my way south on the long road towards Okinawa. Although, despite the damp conditions, there was a certain jubilance about being back on the road again. The act of being just ever so slightly more productive than being sat on one’s arse in a crummy hostel room, was one of pure invigoration. I was reaping the positives from the negatives. Yes, it was pissing it down, but, I was back in the saddle, and, more importantly, I was happy to be there!
After a couple of hours, I came across an unmanned road side rest area. It was a small wooden structure, immaculately clean, offering toilets, cooking facilities, a dining area and an enticingly huge gas heater. It was open to the weary traveller in a gesture of goodwill and trust; a true pyromaniac’s paradise. Feeling the increasing need to take all my clothes off, I stripped away my seemingly non-waterproof waterproofs. Firing up the gas heater, I began to dry my belongings. The rain continued to hammer it down outside, like it had nothing else better to do. Inside, under shelter, and around the now raging warmth of the gas heater, I took it upon myself to learn the Japanese words for human body parts, laughing childishly to myself upon learning the words for both male and female genitalia.
With my clothes subsequently dried, and the onset of boredom beginning to deliver itself once more, I decided to saddle up and head out into the rain.
I hugged the coast for several more hours, the weather eventually clearing shortly before my arrival in the village of Shosanbetsu. I lucked out here by finding the Misakidai camping ground, perched upon a scenic cliff edge, overlooking the ocean’s calm and gentle waters. The sun clung to the horizon, its bright fiery reflection trailblazing across the Sea of Japan. The camp site also had the added bonus of being free. Well, when I say free, nobody asked me for any money. And… the extra prize of an onsite onsen was also added to the playlist. This I should note however was not free, but for a meagre £1.80 the price of cleanliness was wholesomely affordable.
I found it hard initially to conquer the idea of having a big bath with other completely butt naked strangers. Was I a prude? Well, yes, but growing up in conservative England where having a bath was private, behind closed doors, dictated my abstract gingerness. In Japan, the baths are segregated by sex, as to presumably discourage a modest amount of jizzing.
After removing one’s clothes and placing them in a small basket, one can collect a modesty towel to cover one’s sausage. But a Japanese bathhouse is a place of etiquette, you can’t just simply go waltzing in after a long, hard sweaty days work and belly flop straight into the shared bathing facilities… that would be the most heinous of bath crimes. One must shower first, and properly too. A row of stalls bordering on toddler’s potties are generally provided, along with a selection of soaps, shampoos and a big mirror, so you can presumably check out your junk in its reflection – or not. Here one must take the time to liberate one’s self of a day of grime, scrubbing hard and furiously, so that one is presentable for public bathing.
When one enters the bath, one should essentially be a shiny, clean entity, so, if your elbows aren’t sparkling – you’re not coming in! When my elbows were eventually gleaming, I’d find that there were a number of baths available for me to explore, all of different shapes and sizes and seemingly varying temperatures – inclusive of an outside bath which would turn out to be my favourite. Again, as I appeared to be the only tourist travelling through Hokkaidō at this moment, the bathhouse was far from crowded. It was an appeasing relaxant after a long day’s arduous journeying in the rain. Now that I was familiar with this luxury, it would become one that I would take advantage of more in the months to come.
‘Tokyo to Tokyo – A Cycling Adventure around Japan.’
Available on paperback or kindle now: https://tokyo-to-tokyo.com/the-book/
Enjoy the ride.