Kawayu Onsen to Kushiro

Somewhere along the way on this trip we lost the inclination to wake early. We were planning to catch the early train to Kushiro, then change for Nemuro, where we would eat crab and sushi from the original Hanamaru.

I’d been to Nemuro last year, but I promised B fresh seafood…

Alex keeps asking when it will be his turn to do things on this holiday. As in go to a railway museum and play with ticket gates or visit an arcade games centre. Not in this town.

Like yesterday, I am prepared for plans to change. As they do.

We sleep in and miss the early train to Kushiro. On the plus side, we have the breakfast we paid for at the hotel. Fairly typically Japanese, with delicious cooked fish, almost raw egg in sushi, rice, miso soup, a packaged tub of natto (stays packaged), pickles and a tiny pot of spaghetti salad. Plus some agedashi tofu that nobody can finish.

Check out time comes. I am pleased I managed to understand enough of the owner’s Japanese to work out he was asking if B was of Japanese descent (no, Chinese Malaysian, I reply) and where we were off to next. I also notice the bus timetables.

We drag our bags up the street I passed down last night. There is a trendy looking cafe open and we would definitely be tempted had we not just had breakfast. Opposite is another little shop, Pan Pan, which I deduce, correctly, sells buns and also knick-knacks.

The stuff is so cute. For no good reason I purchase a little pad of alien notepaper and we also buy some rolls for later. They are absolutely delicious. I absolutely love these little shops in nowhere places, am utterly delighted by the discovery.

The others would rather be in a big city.

The station waiting room is now open, but the cafe and foot bath are both still closed. It turns out that this is a public holiday, Sports Day, hence even less is open than normal.

It’s more than an hour before the next train and there isn’t anything much to do, but I have an idea based on the information I saw at the hotel counter.

Maybe we can do some sightseeing! I don’t need to cover the entire railway line, I did it last year. Instead we can take the bus up to the Lake Mashu, apparently the world’s clearest, lookout and from there another bus to Mashu Station, where we can pick up the train we are waiting for here.

There’s a tourist information representative in a nook in the station and from him we purchase day passes on all the buses. Probably more expensive than individual tickets, but a lot easier than fumbling for change.

We are the only passengers on the Akan bus. The steep road up to the Lake Mashu observatories is very winding and immediately we know we will be disappointed as the low cloud closes in.

From the lookout at the First Lake Mashu Observatory stop, the terminus of the bus, we can only just see the water of the lake straight below before that too disappears under the fog.

It’s also very chilly up here and we aren’t wearing our warm jackets. Fortunately there is a tourist shop and cafe nearby. It’s full of Asian tourists purchasing Hokkaido snacks as part of their tour, but for us it offers shelter and treats. We succumb to the urge to buy a few extra snacks after tasting things. I buy a cup of deep fried cheese balls. None of the others want them, but I enjoy the unhealthy flavours and heat as we trudge back to the bus to collect our luggage.

We are also the only passengers on the next bus, owned by Mashu Bus, a little more luxurious than the first. The road down isn’t as steep, but there are some interesting rural sights along the way as we drive into the town of Mashu, a bit larger than the Kawayu Onsen we left.

 The station building has a little snack stand slash tourist information desk. We had seen a big onsen facility on our way in and, like Kawayu Onsen, the streets are steaming. There a tap and cup in the station for a taste of the onsen water, purportedly good for gastric ailments though the sign warns it contains arsenic.

I deduce that there is a foot bath outside and am correct. So we spend our last few minutes bathing our feet in hot water, massaging them against the pebble stones. It feels so very, very good. Fortunately I have a towel handy as well.

After such luxury we have to rush for our train, a two car KiHa Type 54 DMU, an express service from Abashiri. We take our unreserved seats and chug our way down to Kushiro.

Along the way we pass Lake Toro and the Kushiro Marshes leading to the river of the same name. This is the home of the bird symbol of Japan, the famous, but endangered, Japanese crane, so well known through origami and the sad story of Sadako and the Thousand Cranes. Alex’s class studied the story of the young Hiroshima atom bomb survivor who suffered cancer at school last year and I gave a talk to them about it.

I give B some options. Maybe we can catch a train as far as Akkeshi instead of Nemuro and she can have fresh oysters. Or we could go all the way to Nemuro and return to Kushiro for dinner. But she and Alex have had enough of long train rides. So we decide to just head straight to Kushiro itself. I get some ideas for what to do, but Google thinks that many sights are closed today because it is a Monday.

Fortunately we check at the tourist office at Kushiro station, who tell us that the sights are indeed open today and will close tomorrow in lieu.

Our hotel, the Kushiro Prince, is a bit of a walk from the station. I deliberately take us past through the Washo Seafood Market and suddenly B is excited. Despite the hunger of lunch pangs, we can’t stop with all this luggage, so we continue on to the hotel.

The is the first time we’ve booked a Prince hotel other than the Shinjuku branch and this is really nice, especially for the low price we paid. Fantastic views of the port and glass elevators, which Alex loves.

I’ve also found an attraction for him. A short walk away is the Kushiro Children’s Museum, a hands-on science centre.

He insists on going straight there. The centre is busy with children attending Halloween related activities, including shooting a giant paper witch with an air gun. Unfortunately you needed to get some sort of special card to participate, but there are plenty of other activities Alex can join in.

We’ve now been to so many science centres around Australia, Japan and elsewhere in Asia, but there’s always something new and interesting in each. This one has a static bike which generates enough power to blast a propeller up into the air, some interesting air blowing and sound generating experiments and a giant bubble making apparatus.

What Alex likes most of all is the huge sandpit at the bottom, filled with brown coarse grained sand. He plays and plays in there, despite there being much nicer sand at our nearest beaches!

As the light fades we finally extract him and head off to the Washo Market for an early dinner. The individual stalls hold a variety of creatures from the sea. I’m not such a huge fan of seafood, but Alex and B order a rice bowl which they fill with a variety of sashimi for sale from a stall, while I spend up big for a live hairy crab to be cooked and delivered to the table.

By the time we finish the stalls are packing up for the night, but at least I’ve satisfied one of B’s reasons for coming to Hokkaido.

It’s dark outside, but we decide to have a look around Kushiro. First up we find a small model store, filled not just with plastic models of cars, aircraft and various gundam and other anime vehicles, but a small selection of model trains as well. I am sorely tempted to purchase some just for the fact that it is a small shop in the middle of nowhere, but we leave just buying Alex a small first model for him to build.

Kushiro is reasonably lively at night, but the public holiday had definitely impacted things and we are pretty tired. Plus there are clothes to be washed in the hotel laundry, so we head back to the hotel.

While I wait for the washing to finish I reflect on the day. It was so typically Japan. You completely change plans, but you still find something special to do, to eat or experience.

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