Day 28, October 2016,
Michi no eki Shihoro Onsen
As expected, it is a cold morning at michi-no-eki Shihoro onsen, though we have no problem as we sleep very cosily. Unfortunately, rolling up our sleeping mats in the cramped confines of the car I hurt my back. This is potentially a major problem as I have a history of back trouble.
We are at a bit of a loss for the day as D. has no plan for this area. The typhoon damage has closed off our intended route. A middle aged gent and fellow, dubious, shachuhaku(sleep in a car) character, informs us that the radio is warning people to stay out of the mountains due to sudden temperature drops and heavy mountain rain.
Decline of Yubari
We decide to head for Yubari. I am interested to see this town as its collapse, as a coal town, was much on the news in my early days in Japan. I recall if vaguely, strike, disaster and finally closure, as it was deemed unviable. This lead to the total economic failure of the community as coal was the only game in town.
Tower Blocks in the mountain scenery
As we are driving to Yubari through some wonderful mountain scenery, suddenly four, monstrous, skyscrapers appear from nowhere. These are massive tower blocks, 32 stories high; totally dominating the landscape, like Eisengard. How did any local government officials approve such hideous structures in a scenic tourist area? Perhaps one would have to follow the money to answer that conundrum?
On checking further, we discover that originally the towers were built by the local government in conjunction with a Japanese company. This was an effort to revitalize the local economy, but the venture collapsed with the bubble. It has since been revitalized due to American and, later, Chinese investment.
Arriving in Yubari, D. decides we should go to the coal museum but when we arrive it is closed. Uneconomic?
I want to just wander and get a feel of the place and take some pictures but D. is not keen. So, after photographing a few pretty cats and some derelict buildings ,we take our leave of Yubari.
Movie posters and film festivals
There was one significant feature of Yubari, besides the derelict buildings, that was impossible to miss. Large movie posters, from bygone eras, feature prominently on many buildings. Here is Torasan (a much loved character from a long series of Japanese comedy films) over there My Fair Lady and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and so on.
From 1990, Yubari had an international film festival, that the city sponsored as part of its plan to revitalize the area. But since the city went bankrupt, in 2007, the international part has been dropped. It is now a festival for young Asian film makers.
The city is trying very hard to revive itself with melons, film festivals, ski slopes and attendant hotels but most of the place remains empty, if not derelict. Many of the closed shops and small businesses clearly have people living in the accommodation above but the business is no more.
In some ways, the more lived in parts reminded me of a town from a 1950’s American western, perhaps the cowboy film posters prompted this feeling but a kind of frontier ethos is prevalent in Hokkaido.
Leaving Yubari, we press on to our campsite but on arrival it is not there. There is a patch of desolate land with not so much as a portable toilet, so we keep moving to the next campsite.
We don’t think this second site is a congenial place either so, yet again, we move on to a third. A place that is billed as having only 7 parking spaces next to the main road. If that sounded attractive, the one we passed up must have been pretty bad.
We are pleasantly surprised when we arrive at this campsite. It is much better on closer examination than it at first seemed. There is another parking area well away from the road. This is probably to serve the small BBQ and camping area adjoining the surrounding park. No one is using the camp site as the season is well past.
The car park is on a bit of a slope but, as there is no one else around, we park against the grain of the parking spaces to avoid a sideways tilt. Never good, if you are sleeping in your vehicle.
It is raining so for the first time we cook inside the van. This proved not to be a problem though nabe(Japanese stew) was probably not the smartest choice.
＊Kuriyama park campsite 500yen/tent
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.