Rebun Island (礼文島)

礼 – Salute, bow

文 – sentence, literature, style

島 – island

“If I’m going to be alone, I’d rather be alone in nature, than alone surrounded by empty streets and buildings.”

A quick google search confirms that no one in fact said the above quote; however, if someone had, they would have perfectly captured my emotions in words.

In the port of Wakkanai there is a ferry that runs to the two Island off of Hokaido, Rebun and Rishiri four times a day (two times a day in the winter). If you plan on visiting either, I would strongly recommend starting early and getting the first ferry so you’re not pressed for time, or even worse, stuck on the island overnight. I fortunately made it back to the ferry in time, but I have heard that there are only a few hotels that are pretty pricey, and the hostels that are not expensive, have a mandatory wake up time, and group singing…If you know me personally, you’d know that I would be perfectly fine with the former…but would never be ok with the latter…

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Still….no people….

Getting to the island is simple enough. Exploring the island is even easier. There are multiple tour buses that start from the Ferry station. You can rent a car and even rent a bicycle to get around (which most people do).

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Imagine living in that house

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My original intention coming to Rebun was to hike its 8 hour trek; however, there was rain that day as well as the next five days. I debated trying to wait it out another day or two, but that would mean going back to Wakkanai and staying another night. After exploring the island all day I got back to the ferry terminal and checked the whether forecast one last time. 100% chance of rain for the next five days. Awesome.

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I decided that I would end my trip early and head back down south. There wasn’t much left for me to see in Wakkanai, and the guaranteed rain definitely didn’t help. I took the ferry back, purchasing a plane ticket on the way, and planned to take the next bus to the airport so I could make my flight. As luck would have it, I missed the bus, my fault completely, and I had to take a $50 cab there instead of a $6 bus ride. I was ready to go back to civilization.

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Airport “shop”

Hokkaido was definitely an interesting place. Every place I had gone to in the region felt like a completely different country when compared to mainland Japan. Sure they spoke Japanese, but the pace was much slower, the people much less Westernized (more Japanese I suppose?). I really hope to return one day, in warmer weather and with better plans (read: company).

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If you look at the wing of the plane, put your finger where the wing and horizon line up and work your way left from there, you can see Mt. Fuji!
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Mt. Asahi (旭岳) (Pt. 4) 2291m

About halfway through the hike, the elevation REALLY started to pick up. Fortunately, it seemed as if I was outside of bear territory; however, I was no longer just “coasting along.” Instead, I was in drenched in sweat, muscles aching, reconsidering my decision to hike this mountain. Rather than clearing, as I assumed it would once morning gave way to noon, the fog decided to pick up. I could not see more than 50 feet in any direction, and had no reference other than the occasional height post, of how high I really was. Given this, the edges seemed THAT much more terrifying.

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A little after noon, I decided to take a quick energy/snack/water break. A group of two, younger Japanese women who seemed to be in better shape caught up to me. “Konnichi wa!” they greeted. Just as I prepared to reply, a rude and obnoxious clap of thunder interrupted me. “Hmmm…” I thought, “probably not the best time and place to hear that.” I looked at the two girls the same way I look at flight attendants during turbulence. These girls looked like mountain pros and if they weren’t worried, everything should be fine.

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One of the girls looked out into the fog, tilted her head to the side, and drew her breath in hesitation. She said something to her friend, and they both contemplated what I’m assuming was their decision to continue on. I forgot what the word for safe was so I stated the word for danger in a rising intonation and pointed behind me. “Abunai?” The friend that had been silent before laughed and said “Oh-Kei desu…..maybe.” We were over 1500m (4900ft) in elevation, and there was thunder, I assumed either next to me or below me. I frightenly chucked, “nice…ki o tsukete” and they were off. I took a few more minutes to hydrate and eat my sugar gummies as they faded off into the mountain. IMG_0041

This being my first mountain, I couldn’t grasp how much personality she had. But between the fumaroles, the smell of gas, the colors from green, to blue, to brown, to red, and even the noise of wind rushing past thousands of feet in the air…it was hard to not be overwhelmed. Not to mention the unwelcomed thunderstorm.

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The rest of the hike was quiet, besides the constant thunder in the distance. The higher the elevation, the higher the elevation change, or so it seemed. At certain points, I was, hands and knees, climbing over boulders, thanking myself for investing in quality hiking boots and pants.

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These birds at the top of the picture were ZOOMING by and making this incredible screeching noise.
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“Hello!” Never missing an opportunity to practice their English.

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Finally making it to the top, I took a picture of the “view.” I was a little disappointed at first with how low visibility was, but, it gave the mountain quite a bit of personality throughout the entire hike.

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Peak of the mountain. 2291m (7561 ft)

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The hike back down wasnt TERRIBLE. However, the steep incline, or decline I should say, made it tough to go at a slow pace. All of the locals, along with their bear bells, seemed to have trekking poles that they would use to support them going down. I had no such contraptions and my knees took quite the beating for it. I made it down in roughly three hours, and back to the hostel in four. I had JUST enough time to through my clothes in the laundry one last time, shower, and catch the last bus back to Asahikawa.

I would HIGHLY recommend this hike, late in the summer. It is grueling, but well worth the pain. Thinking of going? Check out the Live Webcam to see the snow coverage. I personally wouldn’t go if there was snow due to how steep some parts were, but some of you may be more adventurous than I. If you have any specific questions about the hike, how to get there, when to go, feel free to find us on Facebook or fill out our Contact Us form. Hope you enjoyed the trail! Next stop, Wakkanai.

Mt. Asahi (旭岳) (Pt. 3) 2291m

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Pressing on through the hike, I was calmed considerably by the beauty of the trail. I had never seen a fumarole in person before and I was pretty awe-struck by it, as if I was getting more intimate with Earth. I’ll let the beauty of the hike, speak for itself.

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Fumaroles in the distance

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Someone took a picture of me…taking the picture you see above this one…

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Mt. Asahi (旭岳) (Pt. 2) 2291m

I had set my alarm the night before for 5AM thinking I’d be the first one up, the first one showered, and the first one on the trail. The middle aged Japanese man I had not said a word to somehow had me beat. By the time I rolled over and turned my vibrating phone off, he was throwing on his jacket and walking out the door. Much respect to that guy.

It only took me about thirty minutes to shower, eat, and step out myself. I was met with a beautiful morning fog, and a refreshing mountain morning chill, the kind that makes you feel suspended in air as you cut through it. From ryokan to the base of the mountain is about a five minute inclined walk. I dint see anyone on the road with me and took it as a good sign that the trail would be sparse as well. Right at the base of the hike, you have the option to take a cable car up, or hike the beginning. I asked the guy behind the counter on the second floor if the beginning hike was special or worth seeing. “No,” he replied, “It is more populated with bears though.” “1 ticket for the cable car please,” I casually requested as I thought for the first time of the potential of seeing a bear. I had just missed the first cable car of the morning and the next one wasn’t for another twenty minutes so I had time to spare.

I walked back downstairs to check out the small store they had and buy some hiking snacks. Walking around, I found it quite odd that there were so many bells. “Do the locals like to ring each other as they pass by on the trail?” I thought to myself. I grabbed some water, rice snacks, and some sugar gels and proceeded to the counter. I set my items down, and there, at the counter, were more bells. The lady began ringing my stuff up and I had to ask, “kore ga nani?” She chuckled and pointed to a small picture of a large bear. “So they can hear you,” she smiled and practiced her seldomly used English. I could tell she was just eating up the confused, startled look on my face. “Would you like to buy one?” “Ah…no, irimasen,” I unconvincingly replied. “Ki o tsukete ne!” I thanked her and returned up to catch the cable car. The bear bell was ten dollars…I’m sure it was just a store sale tactic…I doubt I need a bear bell…at that, so a bear can hear me?

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Cable Car Station

I boarded the cable car and was pretty impressed. Everything seemed very modern and the view was amazing. Two very friendly Japanese hiking women asked me where I was from and why I was in Hokkaido. We talked for a bit about the hike and they mentioned that there were two paths. The path to the left led to a flower hike, where you could see flower species located only in Hokkaido (and only on that mountain I believe, but cant recall exactly). The path to the right, they told me, led to the peak of the mountain, and they recommended that route to me since I was a “strong foreigner.” “Right it is,” I replied, commended them for their great English, and thanked them for their advice.

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View from lift off.

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Once the cable car got some altitude, the fog rolled back in. I had never seen so much fog in my entire life, but all I could think of was, “I wonder how many bears are down there…”

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I don’t remember the last time I felt such a concoction of excitement and fear as I did when I stepped off the cable car. I saw a few people with me that were just starting their hike as well. All of my senses were running at full speed. The lack of depth caused by the fog somehow seemed to diminish my sense of hearing.

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I took a few steps and was still in awe of everything I couldn’t see, if that makes any sense. And then it hit me. There was this chorus of pings going off. “Ping, ping ping, ping, p-ping.” “Are these all bells? Does everyone seriously have bells?! IS THE BEAR THREAT SERIOUS?!?” I nervously thought to myself. I grew up in Virginia Beach, far from the country side. I had never seen a living bear, let alone worried about one chasing and mauling me down. “I should have bought a damn bell,” I mentally slapped myself. “Well….I have this change in my pocket from the store……what if I hold it in my hand…and shake it as I walk……” I laugh now thinking back, but that’s exactly what I did, for the entirety, of the hike… I was not prepared to see a bear that day. I guess a bear seeing me first and not being startled is the better of the two options.

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Mt. Asahi (旭岳) (Pt. 1) 2291m

  1. Sitting at 2,290.9 m (7,516 ft), Mt. Asahi (aka Asahidake 旭岳) is the tallest mountain on the Island of Hokkaido.
  2. Mount Asahi is an active stratovolcano, with a volcanic activity rating of C given by the Japan Meteorological Agency.
  3. Last eruption was in 1797.
  4. Rock on the mountain is from the Holocene era making it almost 12,000 years old.
  5. 旭 – rising sun, morning sun.
  6. 岳 – point, peak, mountain

At the end of very long and winding road, our bus finally arrived at the last stop, Daisetsuzan Shirakaba-sō, a youth hostel/ryokan hybrid right next to the mountain. I cannot recommend this place enough. Not only was it affordable, roughly $70 compared to the $200 nightly rate of some of it neighbors, but the staff was extremely friendly and accomodating.

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At the end of very long and winding road, our bus finally arrived at the last stop, Daisetsuzan Shirakaba-sō, a youth hostel/ryokan hybrid right next to the mountain. I strongly recommend booking here if staying hiking Asahidake. Not only was it affordable, roughly $70 compared to the $200 nightly rate of some of it neighbors, but the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating.

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The rooms were spacious and comfortable. I had two extremely friendly roomates. One was a engineering college student in Hokkaido, the other was a middle aged Japanese man whom I exchanged zero words with for whatever reason. Seemed like a really nice guy though. My last roomate was a talker. This guy was 50 or 60, from New York, and had stories about EVERYTHING. He asked me what I did, where I worked and that conversation just snowballed for further and longer than anything I had the energy for. Finally, when the college student returned, I invited him back into the conversation as I strategically slipped out to do laundry. Fortunately there is a washing machine downstairs you can use for $5 the first time. I ended up using it three times, and when I went to pay the second and third time, the guy just looked at me and said don’t worry about it man. Dinner was AMAZING. I imagine that’s where a good portion of the $70 goes towards. Breakfast was two or three onigiri, nothing special, but a solid fuel source for a hike start. Oh, almost forgot to mention, there is a small onsen downstairs. Since there was no TV and I had already finished my book, I spent the majority of my time here in this onsen.IMG_0062

 

Asahikawa (旭川)

  1. 旭 -rising sun, morning sun
  2. 川 – stream, river

“Take the first train out in the morning to Asahikawa, then from there its an easy trip to the mountain. There is not a lot to do in Asahikawa so I recommend staying in the station,” – Life-Saving Patagonia Woman (Mina-san).

I checked out of my AirBnb at around 7AM. I figured that would give me enough time to eat breakfast, walk to the station, and still make first train. I seriously do not know what I was thinking, perhaps I was still tired from the endless night with no A/C. I COMPLETELY missed the first train. By the time I got to the station, not only had I missed the first train, I had missed the first 8 trains! Again, I’m not sure why I failed to realize the first train left at 6AM. Even more confusing, I felt a rush of shame, as if I had let Mina-san down. I purchased my tickets and was on the next train North.

It was about a two hour trip and I got in to Asahikawa right after noon. Not knowing anything about how to complete my trek to the mountain, I smartly went to the information center. “Hello….English?” I foreigner-ingly asked. “Yes, how may I help you,” the quiet, middle aged woman behind the counter replied. “I’m trying to go to Asahidake.” A concerned look snapped across her face and she let out a sigh of regret. “Did they close the mountain?” I thought to myself. “The bus leaves in ten minutes,” she said with a regretful face. “Ok, ill buy the tickets, I’ll take it!” Unable to connect with my level of  haste she calmly replied, “I’m sorry Sir, but the bus is full and you have to have a reservation with hotel before you go. There are only three buses and I believeeee the last one is fullll.”

The next thirty minutes were spent locating hotels near the mountain that were not already booked and within a reasonable price range. (If you’re not like me and would like to search and book your hotel BEFORE you start your trip here is a list of good places to stay near the base of the mountain). Finally, we found one. I had my reservation, my bus tickets, and my maps. I was ready to go. Only problem was, since there were only three buses every day, I had two hours to kill. So…I googled “Top things to do in Asahikawa” and was somehow shocked by the results. No.1-Zoo. Ok, fair enough, that’s reasonable. No.2 Asahikawa Train Station. Whoah. The train station I was standing in, was ranked as the number two thing to do in the city…..I remember thinking to myself “These are going to be a long two hours.”

I put my phone away and decided I might as well see if some things somehow just missed the list. I’ll let you decide for yourself with the pictures below.

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No cars went down this road for 15 minutes

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Still have no idea what these guys were

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Not too many pedestrians
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The largest amount of activity I saw outside of the train station

Needless to say, I was more than happy when 3:30PM rolled around and I was able to get on the bus.

Set Off On Adventure (Pt. 2)

“Mr. Smith-Mena?” A Japanese flight attendant at the gate asked as I tried to look calm, cool, and collected. “Yes, thank you,” I replied, handing her my boarding pass as I wiped the sweat off my forehead and forearms, a telling sign of my panicked sprint through the airport. The ever so friendly flight attendants smiled and closed the gate behind me. I boarded the plane, found my seat, and as my adrenaline faded, slipped into a reassuring sleep where I reflected on just how lucky I had been.

The flight itself was quick, less than two hours. (How long did it take for you to get to the airport Mario?) I’m glad you asked. The trip TO the airport took a whopping two and half hours, longer than the actual flight. If you’re traveling to Japan, you can except the same, as the main airport is tucked away two hours away from the city. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but EVERY time I travel, the absolute worst part of the trip, is getting from home to airport.

Alas, I woke up as we landed, and there I was, in a new city, ready to resume the adventure. After exploring the city by foot for an hour or two, I realized, I REALLY REALLY need to get rid of these pants, somehow, someway. I pull out my phone and find a Patagonia store, 3 kilometers away from my location. Perfect. The only way to get there was by walking or by taxi, so I decided to save some cash and burn some calories. About 20 minutes into my walk, I realized they closed in an hour, so…..my “explore the city pace” turned into a “seriously…..again?….” pace. I got to the store with 30 minutes to spare.

“Konban wa….ano…..eigo ga?….” I stumbled through, in my then preschool Japanese (that has since been upgraded to Kindergarten level Japanese). “Shou shou o-machi kudasai” the man replied as he looked around, then called a women to the counter. In the best English I have seriously ever heard in Japan, “How may I help you?” “Whoah,” I stupidly muttered, as I always do when caught off guard by great English. “Umm…I bought these pants yesterday, and….they’re a little tight. Would you happen to have any that could fit me?” She pulled these blue pants out and had me try them on. Still. Too. Tight. I walked out and shook my head. She laughed, “You have very thick legs.” I can count with one hand, the number of times I’ve been complimented on my legs. I had no idea if she meant it as a compliment, or just as a matter of fact, but I blushed and grinned as if someone had just proposed to me, “Really hoping you have a larger size.” They did, I tried them on, and for the first time in 8 hours, my legs could breathe. “I’ll buy two.” I picked a grey pair and we went to the counter.

I asked her if I could return the other unworn skinny pair I had in my bag. “Of course.” Then I pushed my luck and asked if I could return the pair I had been previously wearing. These pants weren’t cheap! “Sorry I don’t think so…” she replied with a frown. Just as I was saying I understood, she motioned for me to wait and went off to talk to her manager, the guy that supposedly didn’t speak English. She said something, he said something, she said something, he nodded his head, she returned smiling and told me I could in fact return my misery pants. I couldn’t have been more thankful.

She asked what I was doing in Japan, and I told her I wanted to hike something cool. “Which mountain?” It hadn’t hit me until just then that I had done ZERO research on ANY mountains in Hokkaido because I had been so focused on just getting there….and then my pants. “Haha, actually I don’t really know, do you recommend anything?” I could see the passion glowing off her skin as she told me about a mountain called Asahidake, Mt. Asahi. She showed me pictures of some cool hikes she did there over the winter and I was really impressed by how nice and adventurous this woman was. She explained how to get there, and that was that. In the morning I would wake up, and head towards Asahidake.

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Really cool employee at Patagonia!