A noisy morning as shachuhaku(sleep in a car) people are early risers and the Sunday drivers are making an early start. The takoyaki stall holders are setting up preparing for a busy day as we leave the michi-no-eki (road station), heading for the Iwate, Sanriku coast. Not taking the highway apparently only adds 20 minutes to the drive, so we opt for that. This turns out to be not particularly spectacular after the scenery we have become accustomed to. At one point, I feel I could be driving through Germany or Austria just the buildings are not so cute.
As we approach the coast, there are some rather fine gorges but they frequently show signs of tsunami damage. In this area there is a lot of construction work in progress. Around lunchtime, we hit the Pacific coast and buy Ikura (salmon roe) shushi from the road station ‘Kuji‘ and look for somewhere to enjoy a picnic. We head out on the coast road, passed the “road narrows” signs. At the first single vehicle only stretch, we meet a tour bus head on. I have no option but to reverse 40 or 50 meters or so. Somehow the bus squeezes by, and we have discovered the start of the famous Sanriku coastline. A kilometer or 2 further on, we stop in a lay-bye, overlooking a sea of sea and jagged black, rocks with steep cliffs behind, to enjoy our sushi.
We have no choice but to follow this coast road which suddenly abandons the Sanriku rocky coast and cliffs and climbs into a thick conifer forest of very old trees. The day evolves into a long drive with little chance to stop except at the road stations where D. examines all the goods on display and I, generally, don’t.
Some of the vegetables are very cheap and there are various, unknown, mushrooms available but we don’t know how to cook them or when we might get the chance. By now most campsites are closed for the winter and road stations do not allow cooking. This is a rule we do not wish to flout as the existence of free, overnight parking with toilet facilities is a blessing that absolutely should not be jeopardized.
Re-joining the Sanriku coast, we stop at a famous viewing point called Kitayamazaki, from which the view of the famous rugged coastline is, it must be said, absolutely magnificent. There are 3 main viewing platforms, the least accessible of which necessitates climbing down and then back up a very large number of steps. Confined to the car, we have had little exercise so the leg action is necessary and therapeutic if, in the latter stages a doubtful ecstasy. The view itself is very much of the impossible, craggy, Chinese scroll landscape variety. The towering cliff faces dotted with unlikely, pine trees plunging into a darkly, turbulent sea with wheeling seabirds as extras.
Tsunami Inundation Area
Surfeited with fabulous views,we head on to Miyako through the area devastated by the tsunami of 2011. We pass through various areas of what were, I imagine, thriving fishing communities but are now vast construction sites. The Japanese government is building a huge stable door all along this coast to restrain any future tsunamis.
In Hokkaido, there were warning signs declaring an area an “estimated inundation area” but here as the road descends into each coastal inlet the signs about halfway down the hill record an actual event – “past inundation area”. The valleys are desolate wastelands, yet at the same time, hives of large scale construction, machines and trucks everywhere, the air thick with diesel and dust. Amidst all this emerges the wall and a few new buildings, civic halls, fish markets, supermarkets and in the middle of a vast plain of nothing a small, brand new building, a hairdresser, perhaps, called “Plum” or something like that.
Kyukamura ‘Rikuchu Miyako’
As it is getting late in the day, we decide to forget our planned campsite as it will be dark by the time we get there.
We shop in a huge new supermarket, so new that most of the vast aisles of selves are still empty, pending the arrival of stock. Supplied, we make for the road station, but it is located in the fish docks that are still under construction so not the most attractive of areas. The toilet is brand new and western style that is a plus.
We realize, however that there are no Shachuhaku vehicles and the cars that are around are not concerned with construction nor the fishing industry but, decidedly bosozoku. There are also various groups of youths hanging around. Again we consider our options, and head out for our original campsite.
When we arrive at Rikuchu Miyako, it is very nearly dark. The site check-in is a large hotel. A tour bus arrives at the same time as we approach the front desk. The clerk is, therefore, busy but, nevertheless, pleasant and very helpful; happy to engage with this strange, elderly couple who are intent on staying in the deserted campsite. He is even interested in how long we have been traveling and where we have been.
Let there be light.
So now we have arrived at a large deserted auto-camp site in pitch dark, no lights anywhere. I check the toilet, which is open and has automatic lighting, but lights for the open cooking area are not functional.
D. calls the front desk and they send someone to illuminate us but, after dithering about for a while, he gives up. A short time later our helpful desk clerk arrives who turns on the lights for the cooking area, the toilets and the various roads, so the camp takes on a much brighter aspect even though it is still deserted. The facilities are very good and new, the campsite was nearer seaside before the tsunami, we heard.
We make curry and eat on a pleasant decked area. It is not too cold to eat outside, even though it is a clear night with the Milky Way clearly visible. Plus a good sighting of a shooting star, always a bonus.
One sight from the day’s drive remains with me – a large, spherical, probably gas, tank painted to resemble a water melon. (An only in Japan moment)
＊Kyukamura ‘Rikuchu Miyako campsite‘ 310yen/per. for tent site
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.