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Alaska America car Saroma travel

Natsuko’s Visit

Two weekends ago, I had a nice visit from a good friend.  Well, she wasn’t technically my friend at the time, but I don’t see how she couldn’t have eventually become so.  Natsuko is from Hokkaido, born near Saroma, and grew up near Sapporo.  She went to school in North Dakota with my best friend, and has visited Alaska on her own.  I met her three years ago when I stopped in ND to visit, and she’s been a Facebook friend since.  Facebook is designed to mirror your friends in reality, but we meet so many people once and then never again, that you end up becoming facebook friends, where you can follow along with what that other person is doing but without actually having any contact.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing overall, but in this case it was.  Natsuko was coming back to Japan for a vacation and wanted to see her family up in Hokkaido.  Well, sheesh, I happen to live here in Hokkaido, right where she was going to visit!  We had a great weekend, discovering we had a lot in common.  I grabbed her from Memanbetsu airport and drove back to Saroma via Abashiri and Tokoro, where we stopped to walk on the beach, and found an old man harvesting scallops that had been kicked up onto the beach by the waves.

Tokoro Beach

That night we had a nice dinner at Kaiko in Saroma and talked endlessly about Alaska and Hokkaido and all of the things we had in common but were never quite aware of.  Natsuko had a really nice Nikon DSLR camera that I showed her a few things on, and she showed me some photos of her Alaska trip from last summer, even told me the story of how she happened across a Japanese guy in Denali who had been robbed twice on the outskirts of Palmer… but that’s another blog post!  On Saturday we slept in, I made a good American breakfast, and she attempted to buy train tickets to Sapporo.  We drove out to the lake, went up Horoiwayama, had pumpkin ice cream at the michi-no-eki and then cruised back through town on our way to Rubeshibe.

Horoiwa Natsuko

Car Ply

We had extra time, so we drove past Rubeshibe a ways to Tsuru-tsuru onsen (hot springs), which Natsuko had suggested we visit.  Tsuru-tsuru means smooth or slippery, and it’s applicable to this particular onsen, which leaves a smooth feeling on your skin.  Then we headed back to Rubeshibe for an ALT get together and party at the local izakaya, before an extremely early and somewhat hungover morning on Sunday to go to Kurodake in Sounkyo for skiing.

Snow Road Onneyu

It was a mite snowy, but all the better for us skiing.  Natsuko and I rocked out to tunes in the car on the way there, after stopping at the 7-11 for breakfast.  They had some ham and cheese sandwich things that were just so incredibly good.  I want one now.  Kurodake was cool – Natsuko and I both skied.  She rented skis and used some skiwear I borrowed from a Japanese Teacher of English, and I wore my 5$ purple Marmot jacket I got at the ski swap in Fairbanks.  The snow was fabulous, but the conditions weren’t that great.  Windy, blowing snow in your face, and the top got a bit skied over by the afternoon.  We had an amusing lunch, thanks to a character from Kobe who invited himself to our table, and proceeded to talk to us in the strangest, worst, most confidently produced English I have ever heard, about how “easy” it is to fly on awful American planes, how horrible other Asian nationalities are, and how he once went to Arizona in Nineteen-Nineteen-Nineteen-teen.  Ok, he was a fine fellow, but I feel that if you’re going to be a loudmouth in a foreign language, study up a bit.

After skiing, all the ALTs went off to the onsen, but Natsuko and I had to wait for the last gondola down from the mountain because I had left my glasses up there on top of a vending machine, which I though would be a great hiding place.  It was.  Because we had to wait so long, we missed the other people at the onsen as well as their cutoff time for day-visitors, so we visited another not-as-nice onsen across the road and then drove back on snowy roads in the dark.  I ferried Natsuko to her uncle’s house in Tsubetsu, where they served us dinner, and I left them around 10PM.  Of course, we had to forget something in my car, which was Natsuko’s cellphone.  I found it after stopping in at Mister Donut, where I attempted to buy 1,039 yen worth of donuts and coffee with 1,038 yen.  They were somehow not amused and removed a donut of my choice from the order.  The next day, Natsuko was off to Sapporo, convenient, because that was to be my destination but only a few days later.

To be continued…

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