Breakfast in the sunshine. Our folding camping table (Camper’s Collection) has proved itself perfect for our purpose. It folds neatly, to slip under the seat during the day; outside it is a good height and size to cook on or eat off and it fits easily inside the car to serve as a reading table or more importantly, a bar. Once all is packed, a daily task that takes about 30 minutes, we head for the Shiretoko 5 Lakes.
Shiretoko-Goko Lakes Field House
Our aim is to walk in the natural forest and enjoy the scenery around the lakes. To enter the heritage forest, it is necessary to get a permit. In order to get the permit, it is necessary to attend a lecture at the field house. The lecture, which takes about 15 minutes, is about brown bears.
In essence, the idea is not to meet a brown bear and if you do don’t run but rather submit, gracefully, to your fate as there is little other choice. If we have any food on our persons we are told to get rid of it. If we have sweets we must double wrap them in plastic bags. Carry nothing that might attract a brown bear and remember they have an exceedingly powerful sense of smell.
＊Shiretoko 5 Lakes field house (admission) 250 yen/ adult
The effect of this information is to make you seriously consider why on earth you ever thought you wanted to visit 5 stupid lakes in the first place. It is one of those situations where you have come too far to back out without some serious loss of Cojones. So, more hesitant than we were when we were just hesitant, we set off, through brown bear habitat, that, we are assured, has a higher population of brown bears than anywhere else in Japan, and, as was stressed, this is their place not ours.
Shiretoko-Goko Ground Pathways
We are a party of I think 7, A young couple, an elderly couple (us) a mother and daughter? And a lone, youngish man. This, possibly suicidal, loner soon outstrips the rest of us as we begin out uncertain way but we steadily get used to the idea of walking with the possibility of brown bears.
D. has purchased a bear bell which, at least, gives one Dutch courage; like whistling in the dark or, as I find myself doing, humming “The Teddy bears’ Picnic”. The further we progress the more comfortable we feel but still clap our hands every so often, as instructed, so as not to surprise an unwary brown bear.
The scenery and the lakes are very tranquil; some Autumn colour beginning to show, but no sign of wildlife; for which we are, selectively, thankful. There are lots of mosquitoes, however, as the weather is still very warm. The lake walk, though splendid in its way, is not really out of the ordinary.
At the last stage, our permit only course joins the bus tour route. To join the regular path, we have to pass through a high, strong, metal fence with double gates which protects the tourist industry from unfortunate incidents with non-permit holders. Permit holders, I suspect wander at their own risk. Having survived and beginning to realize that the chance of encountering a brown bear up close is pretty remote, we drive over the mountain pass to the Pacific Ocean side.
＊Ground Pathways at Shiretoko-Goko is 3km walk
This is a spectacular drive R.334 of high mountain passes; dramatic, desolate scenery. The trees become steadily more stunted, until they peter out; leaving the rocks, the wind and the sky. We, unbelievably, see cyclists straining their way over theses passes as we sweep by listening to Bowie or someone. We wind down the other side into the outskirts of Rausu. This appears to be a very active fishing port but we don’t go into the working heart which is off the main road.
We do stop for a late lunch and I have a memorable Ikura Donburi. (Salmon Roe on rice).The rice buried beneath a topping of Ikura almost 2 centimeters thick. I don’t go in for food tourism but that was great. D. mistakenly, and probably for reasons of false economy, has seafood ramen. As we leave, replete, the cyclists from the summits start to arrive.
On down the coast to a campsite at Notsuke peninsula in Betsukai. This is a good, open site on the sea with only 2 other occupants, an early middle aged gent in a K wagon(light wagon) and a young man on a bicycle with a tent. The site, being on the sea, is rather wind-swept but the cooking area has some wind protection screens which is lucky. The site had only recently reopened after installing electric fencing due to a brown bear sighting.
Cooking outside the protection of the wind shielded cooking site was not feasible so we move our meal preparation to the shelter of the cooking facility. This brings us into contact with the other 2 occupants of the campsite who are drinking at the next or adjoining booth. Inevitably we meld together and the alcohol flows. We contribute our cheap pack of shochu(distilled spirits) whist the middle aged gent from Osaka, digs out specialist whisky from various distilleries he has visited on his travels. One of these he, unfortunately, drops so whisky fumes rise and glass crunches from under the table. It was an enjoyable, well lubricated, evening as our man had a lot of interesting information about traveling around by car as he had clearly been doing it for some time. Our young cyclist was waiting on exam results. If favorable, he was going to university if not, he would join the military. I wished him well.
*Odaitou fureai campsite 300yen/person, 500 yen/car
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.