Thursday, May 11, 2006

Golden Week Day 2 - Post-Chihoku


After leaving Kitami Station, I drove around a bit, looking for ways to kill time until my friend showed up at Memanbetsu Airport that evening. Five hours left. What to do?

Well, the first thing that I considered was going shopping for new pants. While I had been walking the rails earlier that day, I stepped up from the rails to a train platform.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!

Umm, that doesn't sound good.

I look down and see a hole in the crotch of my pants where one hadn't been a few seconds before.

I knew that I was going to have to replace these pants sometime, because the fabric was getting thin in a couple of places, but the place where the pants actually ripped was not where I was expecting a rip to happen.

Oh well, I figured, it's not that big of a hole, and since I was traveling by myself all day, I just went with it and planned on hitting a clothing store once I reached Kitami.

So that's what I did. Except the first store I went to had ridiculous prices for jeans, most of which were the used kind that people drop off at those "Drop off your old jeans here for CASH" places in the U.S. I tried to find a Uniqlo, an inexpensive clothing store over here that has good clothes for cheap, but I couldn't. So as I was driving along, I saw a huge outlet mall and figured, what the heck.

As luck would have it, some jeans were on sale there for cheap. So I picked up a couple pair and continued on my merry, yet somewhat exhausted, way. Getting up at 5:30 and driving all day will do that to you.

I had a friend coming up from Tokyo that evening. Her name is Yuka, and we've known each other for eight years now, ever since she came to CWU as an AUAP student. And before your imaginations go flying off into the stratosphere, we're just friends. She called me up back in February and said she wanted to come to Hokkaido during Golden Week. I told her I was planning on traveling around, but if she wanted to come along, she was welcome to. She said yes, so I adjusted my travel schedule so I could meet up with her, and reserved hotels because I figured she wouldn't want to sleep in my car.

She was going to be flying in to Memanbetsu Airport at 7:30 that night, and after I left the mall, it still wasn't even 5 PM. What to do, what to do...

A HA! I drove in to Memanbetsu and found a hot springs. Soaking in a hot bath for about an hour would be the perfect way to not only kill time, but also to relax and fight off some of the spacing-out that had been coming my way since Kitami.

One thing I should add here is that when I was driving through Rikubetsu around 11 AM, it started snowing.

You read that right.

Snow.

In MAY.

And I'd changed my tires because I figured there wasn't going to be any more snow.

Whoops.

You just don't mess with Hokkaido. Ever.

The snow I had encountered from Rikubetsu all the way up to Kitami had turned into a really cold and unpleasant rain by the time I reached Memanbetsu. Right before I went in to have a bath, I got a call from Yuka saying that she may not be able to make it to Memanbetsu Airport that night, as the weather was so bad in the area that the plane might have to stop in Sapporo or turn back to Haneda. Yes, the rain was nasty, I thought, but turn-back-the-plane bad? I told her I'd be waiting at the airport, and hopefully would see her in a couple of hours. Then it was off to some hot water soaking goodness.

I left around 6:45 and headed over to the airport. Yuka's plane was flying, and was going to make it (whew!), but it was going to be about ten minutes late getting in. No big deal. I walked around the airport looking at souvenirs and trying not to think about how hungry I was. Finally, the plane arrived and Yuka joined up with me on my whirlwind Golden Week tour.

It was -2 degrees Celsius when we left the airport. And me without a hat. Brrr.

We drove on in to Abashiri and found the hotel where we would be staying that night. After checking in, we went to the front desk and asked them about where we could find a decent sushi restaurant.

Back in October, I got 5000 yen worth of sushi tickets from Starfish High's former director at his retirement party. And I'd never even met the guy. But hey, free sushi!

But these sushi tickets could only be used at certain restaurants, and as neither of us knew anything about Abashiri, we took the list over to the front desk and asked which of the five places listed was good (and was close). They suggested Naka Sushi, which was about a five-minute walk from our hotel.

So off we went.

If you're ever in Abashiri, Naka Sushi is THE PLACE to eat sushi. First off, the sushi itself was fantastic. I had a raw scallop that was amazing, and I don't even like raw scallops. The taisho (sushi chef) was an incredibly funny guy who made dinner really entertaining, plus he gave us a lot of information as to what we should check out in the area. Good sushi, fun conversation, lots of laughter, and good beer made for a great night. And we only ended up paying four thousand yen, because my sushi tickets covered more than half of the bill.

Man, that was some good sushi.

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