Monday, May 15, 2006

Golden Week Day 6

Golden Week Trip Day 6 - Saturday, May 6th, 2006

Up and at 'em once again. Two days left of the Golden Week journey and I wanted to make the most of them.

First down to the hotel bath to have a little soak before breakfast. Then Yuka joined me over in the dining area to enjoy a very delicious hotel breakfast. Then we brought our stuff out to the car, checked out, and headed off for another look around town.

We headed down to Lake Akan first to get a look at it during the daytime. We were surprised to see that there was still a lot of ice floating around in the lake, not enough to cause the cruise boats any problems, but enough to surprise us that we didn't see it the night before.

We took a little walk around part of the lake (my feet still hurt, but the pain was starting to ease off a bit). We found an outlet for some of the natural hot water that kept this spa town going. Actually, we smelled it before we found it, as there was a nose-hair-singeing smell of sulfur coming up from the pool. Hoo-wee. It was pretty cool, though, what with the bubbling and the odor. It looked like a big witches' pot. We followed the path from there down to the lake, where you could see where the water from the hot pool was flowing in. The hot water flowing into the lake had melted off most of the surrounding ice, which made for a beautiful sight of Mt. Oakan reflecting in the lake.

After that, we stopped by an ashi-yu, a hot water pool to soak your feet in. It helped my feet. A lot.

We walked back through the market, which had been eerily deserted the night before. It was a little more lively in the daylight. One other thing I should mention about this town is that the lake that it takes is name from is famous for marimo (translation: "moss balls"). So almost every store was selling jars with these little moss balls in them. Plus you had "Moss Ball Hot Springs", "Moss Ball Avenue", "The Moss Ball Superstore"...even "moss ball ice cream" (although I pray to everything that I hold holy that they didn't actually put moss balls in it...yeck).

A walk to the other side of town brought us to the Ainu district (Ainu Kotan). We took a look around at some of the shops in the area that sold various Ainu handmade crafts (lots of woodworking) and then stopped over at an Ainu lifestyle museum, followed by a viewing of a traditional Ainu dance performance. The dances were pretty cool. There was one that was a plate-tossing dance, where the two women dancing would toss a plate back and forth trying to fake the other person out and get them to drop it. The person who drops the plate is the loser. Since we were sitting pretty close to the front, Yuka got called up to toss the plate, and she did it like a pro. I was so proud. There was another dance (a really easy one) that called for audience participation, so we both headed up on stage with a few other people from the audience and danced. Lots of walking around in a big circle while moving your arms back and forth. I've never been a good dancer, so my powers of description in this field area little lacking. The last dance of the performance was a LOT of fun to watch. It was a representation of the wind blowing in the trees, sometimes slowly, sometimes fiercely. The dancers (all women) let down their long black hair and swung their heads back and forth, waving their hair over their heads. The dance had a strange rhythm to it, and you could really picture trees swaying. Very cool.

After that, it was time to leave Lake Akan behind us and head off toward Obihiro. We walked back to the car and set off. I wanted to drive around the lake a bit, but I couldn't find the road, so we decided to just continue on. We crossed over into Ashoro Town and drove to a lake that is supposed to change colors depending on the season, the amount of light, the temperature...apparently it's a very mysterious lake. I use words like "supposed to" and "apparently" because said lake was frozen over. We did get a really good look at Mt. Meakan (the "me" meaning "female", as opposed to the "o" meaning "male" in Mt. Oakan) though, so I guess it was worth it.

We continued down the highway in toward central Ashoro, until I saw a log cabin restaurant and pulled in to the parking lot. See, Yuka had told me that her goal once we crossed into the Tokachi region (Obihiro and its surroundings) was that she wanted to have Tokachi milk, Tokachi ice cream, and Tokachi cheese. Mmmm, dairy. I'm all for a good glass o' milk, and the place we found looked like the real deal (the sign out front that said "Fresh Milk" also helped), so we headed inside.

I opened the main door to head inside and was hit with a smell that I hadn't smelled for many a year. The entryway smelled just like Helen's place out in Blackfoot or Bannock or Chubbuck or Buckskin (okay Mom and Dad, I need your help on this one). Walking into that restaurant was exactly like walking in to her house out there in the mountains. I half expected to see a wood fire with a kettle on it and a jar of lemon drops on the counter. Eerie, but in a very good way. It actually freaked me out a bit. I guess this is another stop we have to make when you get over here to visit, eh guys?

I ordered a glass of milk and a slice of apple pie. Yuka got the milk and a slice of cheesecake. Very. Very. Good. Add the ambiance of sitting in a log cabin/restaurant with a great view of the mountains in the distance, and I found my new happy place. The couple that ran the place were both really friendly as well. Great stuff.

But we couldn't stay long, as Obihiro was waiting, so we paid our bill and headed out again. A pit stop and a fuel break in Ashoro, then back on the road to Obihiro. Why the rush to get there? Well, there was a concert that night that I wanted to see, but I also wanted to introduce Yuka to the butadon goodness of Marumatsu Shokudo. I also wanted to reintroduce my stomach to the butadon goodness of Marumatsu Shokudo. So I was a man on a mission.

Just outside of Obihiro, we ran into a big traffic jam. We had been really lucky during our trip to not have to deal with much traffic, but what with only two days left in Golden Week, I figured our luck had finally run out, and we were hitting the "U-Turn Rush". This is when everybody turns around and goes back home from their various vacation spots, leading to 50-mile-long traffic jams outside of Tokyo and Osaka. Just nasty. I just assumed that we were hitting the Obihiro version.

Not so.

As we drove on, we noticed that everyone was pulling into the right lane. Hmmm. As we went through an intersection, we saw the cause of all the delay. A NASTY traffic jam. A sports car had slammed into a minivan and actually driven UNDER it. The minivan was tilted to one side and the sports car's front window, heck, most of the front of the car, was demolished.

The lesson, as always, is that Hokkaido drivers scare me.

Once we passed the wreck, the traffic cleared back up and it was smooth driving all the way to Marumatsu Shokudo. We went in, and the owner laughed when she saw me. "Welcome back! So you made it okay, huh?"
"Yeah, thanks. This is my friend Yuka from Tokyo. Two butadon, please."
"Coming right up."

Delicious, as always. Plus she made miso soup for us. Plus she gave us some fresh bamboo shoots and some other mountain vegetable. Very tasty. She showed us her collections of guestbooks, which she started in 2000. She's got quite a memory, as she whipped through them and showed us some of the more interesting customers she's had visit her place, from lady bikers to aspiring shogi champions to crazy foreigners. I love that place.

We had our picture taken and signed her guestbook before heading off to find the night's lodgings. Our hotel was very close to the station, and actually pretty close to the location of the concert that night. The artist? Zazen Boys. Awww yeah.

So we checked in and after relaxing for a few minutes, we headed out to see what Obihiro was all about. We found the Tokachi Beer building and went in for a brew before the show. We sat next to a window that looked out across the street to...a strip bar. Obihiro...The classiest city around. After finishing off our beers, we headed over to Obihiro Rest, the location of the night's show. Just as we got there, Mukai-san (Zazen Boys vocalist) came walking out of the club. We talked for a few, then I went over to buy a couple of CDs at the souvenir stand. After a while, everyone lined up and the doors were opened. I picked a spot in the back, because although I wanted to jump in the middle of the crowd and rock out, my feet wouldn't take the punishment. The show kicked off, and was rocking as always, but there was a bit more of a groove to this show, as Zazen Boys added some keyboards and groovy rhythms to their sound. They played "This is NORANEKO", which is my favorite song off of their latest album, so I was happy. All in all, very good stuff.

After the show, Yuka and I went back to our hotel to get changed. I got an e-mail from the manager and we cruised over to join the after-show party. Much beer and mutton was consumed. I met a concert promoter who is involved with setting up a lot of shows in the area. The members of the band got into a rather heated argument about what the nature of the band was, and what it meant to "be professional". It was impressive to see Mukai-san cruise over and defuse the situation.

Once that party was over, Yuka, Mori-san (the manager) and I cruised over to another bar for another drink. Mine pretty much finished me off. But the party (and the show) was fun, and I made it back to the hotel in one piece, and slept like a freaking log, so it was all okay.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen Andrews,Buckskin,Idaho. Above Pocatello.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 1:15:00 PM  

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