September 2016, Day 1
Mitou SA (Chugoku Highway)
We left Fukuoka around 9:30 pm. D. was already in her pajamas. Took the urban expressway from Imajuku and drove straight to the Mitou SA. in Yamaguchi Pref.. There were a lot of big trucks on the road and not much else and after Shimonoseki very little traffic at all. Arriving at the service area a little after midnight,* we don’t use our sleeping bags, just a thin blanket. It is a warm night and we sleep reasonably well.
*Japanese highways are expensive but if you’re on the highway between midnight and 4 am it’s 30% cheaper. <probably change in 2024>
*Mitou SA is large and has clean modern toilets. There is also a reasonable food-court.
To Tottori city
We wake around 6:30 a.m. There is a lot of truck activity. Breakfast consists of canned coffee and yogurt. There are a few middle aged ladies cleaning the parking area wearing visibility jackets, helmets with yellow balloons on top. We must have missed the party.
Around 8 a.m. we set off and take the Chugoku Expressway. This road is a joy to drive; there is almost no traffic and features long, sweeping, downhill curves. In many places the road unwound before us with not a vehicle in sight, nothing in the rear view mirror and nothing on the other carriageway. There is so little traffic that in places there is grass growing in the fast lane!
We exit the highway at Tsuyama and head for Tottori on the Japan Sea. Here we find a free campsite by the dunes, called Yanagijyaya Campsite. The car park is rather damp and overgrown, with standing water in places, but the campsite itself is a more open, sandy area in large pine trees. After setting up our table and cooking a chicken stew which we eat under the pines. A group of young people arrive, while we are cooking, and set up a large, impressive tent uncomfortably close. Once they have the tent erected, inexplicably, they leave and never return.
＊Yanagijyaya campsite Free ＜close for renewal until April 2023＞
Again, we wake around 6:30 after a good night. The empty tent is still there as we set off for an early walk to the sea across the Tottori dunes. The view is very beautiful, the sand dunes, the sea and mist shrouded hills stretching off into the blue distance. A few young people are filming – a couple of characters, one dressed as a sort of white rabbit but with a long tail and another as a kind of Kamen Rider (A Japanese children’s TV character), both of whom are prancing about. I suspect the film is not going to be very good. There are also a few para-sailors.
Later we set off for Maizaru in Kyoto Pref., from where we plan to take the ferry to Otaru in Hokkaido, but first we indulge in a trip down memory lane by taking in Tango Hanto ( a peninsula in northern Kyoto pref.). We frequently used to visit Tango, by motorcycle from Kyoto city over 30 years ago.
We go to Hei beach and Nakahama but realize our memories of these places are very hazy. Although the area is fundamentally unchanged, we didn’t really recognize much. The area is now obviously popular with Osaka’s surfers, so people around even this late in the beach season.
We find the wooden house that a friend’s parents ran as a minshuku (B&B) but it is no longer a minshuku.
This is where we stayed on our first ever trip together and from where we set out to join the obon dancing that was, I now realize, very special. Obon is the festival for ancestors spirits and the dance, apparently, serves to calm them. All the people from the little fishing community, that is Nakahama, dressed in yukata (summer kimono) on a hot, summer night singing and dancing in a large circle to real, live, hypnotic music – not a recording. The music was as haunting as the memoryI have of it. I was very new to Japan then and did not appreciate just how rare genuine O-bon dancing to live music was. I have never experienced it since.
To Maizuru Ferry Port
A long drive and we arrive at Maizuru port around 6 or 7 in the evening. Boarding is not till 11 p.m. so we have some time to kill. There are few facilities at the ferry port, so we buy food from a convenience store and eat in the car. There are a lot of trucks waiting to take the ferry and a large group of self-defense force also bound for Hokkaido. D. boards as a foot passenger and I drive into the bowels of the ship. The vehicles are packed in very close together, but the crew has done this, many, many times and the ship is loaded within an hour and underway on schedule.
We have a small but comfortable cabin with a porthole. Food is a problem on this ferry because the café and restaurants never seem to be open or rather only the expensive one is open. The ferry does boast a Dai-yokujyou (big public bath) and that was interesting; sitting in the tub watching the waves outside. I sleep well on the ferry but D. does not.
leaves Maizuru at 0:30 and
arrives Otaru at 20:45 Sailing 1,061km.
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.