Saroma, while surrounded by mountains, isn’t dwarfed by them as is Palmer or other towns in Hokkaido. Saroma sort of melts into the softly rolling, forested mountains, many of which are small and gently sloping enough to be farm fields. There is one mountain at the very southern edge of Saroma that is a decent peak. Mt. Nikoro, or Nikoro-yama, is 829 meters tall (2,719 feet) and acts as a border point between the Tochigi area of Saroma and the Ainonai area of Kitami City. My predecessor Nik recommended the mountain as an accessible year-round hike with great views. However, the trail to the top is on the Kitami side of the mountain and I never got around to bothering. For almost two years, I didn’t hike the tallest mountain in Saroma! Unforgivable.
Luckily, Graham, the ALT in Kunneppu Town, and some friends headed up a few weekends ago and I was able to tag along. The trail follows a summer access road for communications towers at the peak, so is quite gentle with ample switchbacks. It’s also well hiked (and probably snowmachined as well). The snow was packed down hard enough for us all to walk without snowshoes all the way to the top.
Looking north into Saroma and the sea. The bumpy mountain center-right is Mt. Horoiwa.
Now, aside from the quality of the hike, there was one unique thing about Mt. Nikoro that I had heard from Nik, and from other English teacher friends who had hiked it – The Old Man of Mt. Nikoro. No, he’s not a ghost or someone who will try to scare you off, but an incredibly kind gentleman who hikes the mountain nearly every day of the year. The man, Mr. Kisaku Sato, is rather famous – the website he keeps about the mountain is the first hit on Google for Nikoro-yama (仁頃山） in Japanese.
Looking toward Rubeshibe town. The pointy mountain is Kitami-fuji.
We had a late start in the day, and began coming down the mountain as the sun was getting low in the sky, around 3pm. I thought perhaps we had missed Sato-san, as elderly Japanese people tend to do most things much, much earlier than groups of foreign English teachers. But, about 1/4 of the way down from the top, there he was! He seemed quite pleased to see us, and remembered Graham and Aisling from a previous hike. After pointing out that the two mountains visible to the southeast were in fact Mt. Meakan and Mt. Oakan (Steve thought Mt. Meakan was Mt. Shari – I was right!), he quickly interviewed us, asking our impressions of the mountain, along with our nationality and the towns that we each taught English in. Then he asked to take our picture for his website and after one shot, he wondered aloud “Aren’t you going to do anything funny like make a face or wave?” We obliged and he snapped the photo below. Sato-san put both photos and our profiles up on his site in Japanese on this nice page about our encounter. I chose Babelfish to translate the page for the benefit of the Japanese-illiterate because it translates Holland written in Japanese into “Hoe land.” Google translate just messed the whole thing up without any added humor.
The Genki Gaijin Group