Monday, August 8, 2011

Relaxin' in Hokkaido...

For the past two summers, we have traveled to Hokkaido for various adventures. The first summer was backpacking in the northern portion of the Daisetzuan national park and then exploring the Abashiri in the northeast corner of the island. We also met Toby and Maiko, who were building a rice straw bale house in Higashikawa. The second summer, we stayed with them in their new house and then ventured to the southern side of Daisetzuan.

This summer, we flew to Hokkaido to house sit for Toby and Maiko while they are traveling,
enjoying the cool breezes and some down time to catch up on Japanese study, reading and writing. One of the real joys of staying here are the three cats. It has been wonderful to hang out with friendly animals - and torment them with feathers and other flappy objects.

We will be here for about a week before taking off for Kushiro in the southeast corner of Hokkaido for bike touring along the coast and couchsurfing with Japanese hosts.

One nice side story: on Saturday afternoon, when we were riding around the town, checking things out, when we saw a group of people bustling about with tents and tables in a parking lot. We couldn't tell if they were setting up or taking down. So later that evening, at the end of a long bike ride out into the rice fields, we swung by to see what was going on. There was a small crowd with meat on the grill, onigiri being made by hand, and a keg of beer. We stopped and asked what was going on, everyone turning to see the foreigners. It turned out to be a "tanabata" block party - a Japanese star festival that usually happens on July 7th where the deities, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are lovers, are able to meet once a year across the Milky Way that separates them.

"Oh. Ok. Thanks," we said and started to keep on riding. There was a flurry of conversation
behind us, and a voice called out, "Oh-ni-san, mat'te kudasai!" (Older brother, please wait!) We turned back, and not surprisingly, they invited us to join their party. We had a wonderful time eating yaki-niku (grilled meat), the handmade onigiri, and cold draft beer. We sat with a younger couple and their baby (Keisuke, Keiko, and Taise), talking in a mixture of Japanese and English. Many elders, in various states of inebriation, stopped by to welcome us and ask questions. Looking around, it quickly became apparent that the four of us
(not counting Taise, who was three) were the only "young" people there by 20 to 30 years.

At the end of the festival, we exchanged emails with our new friends and made plans to get together during the week. We rode home in the dark, full of that happy glow (and beer and grilled meat) that makes Japan so awesome!