Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Long Road Home

Editor's note: I had more photos to add to the first part of this blog, but I couldn't get my computer to cooperate. When I get back to Japan I'll update this.

So the long journey home began...

The ground Eisaku and I had covered in two days now had to be covered in one long drive from Nemuro all the way back to Muroran. We woke up and turned on the TV to news that North Korea had been lobbing missiles in our general direction. Okay, more in the direction of the NK/China/Russia side of the Sea of Japan, but when there's not a whole lot of ocean separating the two countries, it sure as hell feels like it's in our general direction. Fortunately, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we were as far east as you can get in Japan, so...when you're dealing with a dictatorship run by that fun dude Kim Jong, you have to try and look on the bright side of things.

So not exactly a great way to start off the day, but after following a bit of the news, we packed up and checked out. First stop: Nemuro Izumo Shrine.

I'd spotted the name on a tourist map of the town and knew that I had to stop by and see it. So we did. Eisaku slept in the car while I took a look around. Nobody was there to talked to, so I respectfully prayed, took a few photos, and hit the road again.

Next stop: Higashi Nemuro Station, the REAL easternmost station in Japan. The line curves out east from Nemuro Station before heading back toward Kushiro and the rest of civilization. It took a little searching and a lot of getting lost, but we found it, snapped a few pictures, and hit the road again.

Next stop: Kuruma-ishi, or "Car Stone". There is an area along the southern coast of Nemuro, near Hanasaki Port, that has some interesting geologic formations, one of which apparently looks like a car. If you squint, tilt your head 37 degrees to the left, take a shot of Spiritus, and sing a rousing chorus of "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore", you might see it. In other words, ummmm, o-kay. We took a few pictures and hit the road again.

Next stop: back over to Nemuro Station to get a sampling of escaroppu, a beef cutlet with a glaze sauce over buttered rice. It's a Nemuro culinary delight. Check this page out and see for yourself. We wanted to give it a try before we left, since this was a Debuwagon Tour and all. We went to the restaurant that started it all, Monburan.

It was tasty, but the service left a lot to be desired. I'm not sure, but I think the waitress was actually deathly afraid of big ol' scary foreigner me. Either that or people in general. Any time Eisaku would try and ask her a question, she'd talk while walking away, and we could never get a clear answer out of her. Needless to say, she didn't get a tip. But then again, you don't tip in Japan. Moot point.

Back on the road, this time, REALLY pointed west and heading back. It was 10 AM and I wanted to get back into Muroran before the date changed. So I started driving and Eisaku started catching some Z's.

That is until I woke him up in Akkeshi. We'd stopped at the rest area there the day before, and he'd mentioned that he wanted to try the raw oysters on the half shell offered on the restaurant menu there. (Japanese rest areas are a sight to behold. Really elaborate...lots of stuff, not just a toilet and a volunteer group offering coffee.) So he had his oysters, I had a cup of coffee, and somewhere in between all of that, according to the national news, North Korea had lobbed another missile in our general direction.

Once back in the car, Eisaku was out cold again. I kept driving until I noticed a rather odd looking train station and stopped to take a couple of photos. Oboro Station is converted rail car with some cute animal paintings on it, and it just looked interesting. While Eisaku napped, these photos I snapped.

Then off we were again, following Route 44 through Kushiro City and hitting Route 38 which had us heading west toward Obihiro. Eisaku slept through Kushiro, slept through a bathroom break I took, slept damn near all the way to Obihiro. We made a couple of stops after he woke up, though.

One was to get some photos of a weird, abandoned (or not?) factory complex that had grass growing on the roofs of some of the buildings. Worth one shot, at least.

This was in Makubetsu, just east of Obihiro.

The other photo-op was also in Makubetsu. It was something I'd noticed on the way out to Nemuro the day before. A shrine (gee, there's a surprise). Ahh, yes, but THIS was not just any shrine. THIS was WHITE PERSON Shrine.

Explanation is necessary here. The two kanji characters used in the shrine name were the characters for "white" and "person". I know that this was just a coincidence of matching characters to the original Ainu place name in the area (my theory, anyway), but seeing that stone pillar with WHITE PERSON Shrine written on it made me laugh.

Even better was this.

We also found WHITE PERSON Elementary School.

Trust me when I say that I wish I could make this stuff up.

Then it was time to make a stop for another Obihiro culinary delight, this time the curry at Indian, a chain of curry rice stores in and around Obihiro.

Yep. Indian.

The curry was quite tasty, though.

After that, there were a few more pit stops on the way home, but it was pretty much a straight shot back to Muroran. Five hundred kilometers (312 miles) in one day. That may not seem so bad, but consider that it actually took THE ENTIRE DAY, and you can understand a bit.

The whole trip, over the three-day period, was 1000 km (625 miles). Good times. Long, but much good food was consumed, and much beautiful scenery was...well...seen.

Thus ends the story of the Debuwagon journey to Nemuro and back.

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