Japan day 35

Japan day 35
Wakkanai
A day for sorting important practicalities…..like getting the bike back home. I always rely on a local bike shop at destination giving me a box that they would otherwise throw away. I also needed to visit the local airport to smooth the way for the carriage of this large package on a small internal flight….which could be no more than a prop-shaft puddle-jumper.
I followed the signs to the airport, fully expecting to find a few cabins and a grass runway at this frontier town (only joking, of course!) but I was astonished to find that it not only had a full control tower,

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but I walked into an ultra-modern little terminal to be greeted by two smiling check-in girls, wearing their brand new ANA uniforms, waiting to serve…….well, to tell you the truth, absolutely no-one…..I was the only person in the entire departure lounge…..and looking at flight departures on the screen, they probably only have 2/3 flights a day anyway.
When I walked in wearing multi-coloured lycra, I was definitely the entertainment of the day. They jumped out of their lethargy, found a colleague in the back office who had some rudimentary English, and we spent a little while discussing airline policies regarding bikes (and I had done my homework….company policies differ, and I was flying with three different airlines, but the BA policy should take precedence on these connecting flights, being the principal long-haul flight, and they allow bikes up to 23kg free of charge).

Once we had got that sorted, out of the blue, I was asked if I liked Japanese food, and did I know how to use chopsticks…well, of course, I said ‘yes’ to everything, then suddenly one of them disappeared into the back office, and came back bearing gifts…..two packs of ready-made noodle meals and a packet of biscuits. I was unprepared for this….so unprepared I forgot to politely refuse several times……

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(photo for illustration only…not the actual girls).

I now have this memory of three prettily uniformed check-in staff, standing at the door of the airport, waving me off. I don’t remember this ever happening at Heathrow or Gatwick…..let alone even receiving common courtesies from Ryanair check-in staff.

Then to the Togawa bike shop, about a bike box….I wondered if they had received my badly Google-translated letter I had sent a few weeks before my departure from the UK.

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When I arrived, I was greeted by the husband and wife team, tried to explain my purpose and, within a few seconds, he disappeared into the back shop….only to re-appear a few seconds later clutching my letter. I looked at it, nodded my recognition, and saw he had annotated it extensively….I think I’d had my homework corrected!

He scampered up the stairs, and came down holding the box he had specially put aside for me……and it looked like the very dimensions I had asked for. I thought yet again…”only in Japan”. I asked them to hold it for another few days, thanked them profusely, and left.

Practicalities sorted, I headed up the hill to visit this shrine

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…which was obviously dedicated to a deity overseeing warrior archers, or hunters

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….then I continued the climb for another 100 metres, past freely roaming deer

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to yet another hill-top park, this time with monuments honouring the sacrifices made during the war with Russia, and the loss of what is now Sakhalin Island.

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The most memorable sacrifice for the Japanese people was the heroism of the ‘nine maidens’, who kept the telephone systems operating until they couldn’t escape from the invading Russians. To avoid capture, they all took potassium cyanide….which moved the Emperor to write a poem in their honour.

I may have joked a little about this being frontier territory, but it really is. Northern Hokkaido is overshadowed by the proximity of two super-powers: Russia and China, and throughout recent history, there has been a lot of bad blood between Japan and these giant neighbours.

And so tomorrow….to the islands of Rishri and Rebun….and the forecast is encouraging…amazingly!

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About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 24, 2015, in End-to-End of Japan 3000kms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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