Japan, May 2014: Day Four

I’m not even sure what day it is, but I do know yesterday was crazy.

Our day started at 4:30am as we had to be up early to catch the first subway train of the morning to Tokyo Station on the opposite side of the city.

It was time to put our JR Pass to proper use and catch the Shinkansen to Shin-Aomori at the very north of the main island (Honshu) before switching to a Limited Express train that would take us under the sea to the north island of Hokkaido and the town of Hakodate.

Until this point, things had been awesome. The trains are immaculate, spacious and extremely comfortable – mainly because we have chosen to ride in the Green Class carriages (basically, First Class – although on the Shinkansen we rode, there is one Class above).

However, all the Green Class seats were booked for the journey between Hakodate and Sapporo, so we would have to slum it in the Unreserved carriages for the last leg. Arriving with 8 minutes to spare, all the seats were taken, so we were forced to stand until some became available. After a few stops, Emma managed to get a seat (even though it’s normal class and unreserved, there was still no danger of hitting the seat in front with your legs); whereas I continued to stand in the dark between the toilets and luggage area.

With more and more passengers boarding as we continued towards Sapporo, the likelihood of me getting a seat disappeared. As we pulled into Sapporo 3.5hrs after setting off from Hakodate, the wobbly, dark journey had left me ruined. Exhausted and suffering with some kind of vertigo, I just wanted to curl up and die.

No chance. We’d booked ourselves on a night time sightseeing tour and so there was no rest for the wicked. With the rain pouring down, I concluded there was no point taking my camera and so we dumped all our bags in lockers and headed to our bus. We were greeted at the bus by our guide; a short, round lady with a sense of urgency about her – think angry R2D2, that’s her.

Whilst a guided tour by a tour guide you can’t understand may seem a bit of an oxymoron, we were made to feel welcome and simply made up the bits we didn’t understand.

Our first stop was Mt. Moiwa. One of the highest peaks around and it gives spectacular views of the city… Well it would, but it’s raining and the storm was getting worse. In any sane country the tour would have been called off; however, despite the weather, we piled into the cable car and proceeded to ascend.

For about 30 seconds the view was great; then we hit the clouds. Visibility dropped to around 30 meters – not ideal for sightseeing and we thought this would be the worst tour ever… Then things got exciting. Nature may have denied us a view, but it delivered wind. Lots of gusty wind. When all you can see is the cable above, no ground, no sky, no cable car towers; you have no point of reference to gauge exactly how much the car has begun to swing.

My point of reference was how hard our previously vocal tour guide had begun praying. Silently propped against the glass, hands pressed together so tightly her fingers were turning white, eyes firmly shut and communicating with whichever deity she’s affiliated with (all of them at this point probably); whoever she spoke to obviously listened as five minutes later we reached the top.

Predictably there was nothing to see except the illuminated ‘Lovers Sanctuary’ exhibit, whereby couples ring a bell and get blessed or something – all we got was wet. We were given 7 minutes to explore before being herded back into the cable car for another trip into the cloudy abyss below. The car was shaking so violently we were forced come to a complete stop at one of the support towers for fear of hitting it as we went past. In the dark, with zero visibility and precariously close to the only thing keeping you in the air; and with the xylophone version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” playing from the speakers – this was a hilariously creepy and frightening experience. I’d still recommend it!

Next stop was Mt. Okura. Famous for hosting the Winter Olympic Games back in 1972 – yes, they are still riding that wave – and still boasts a ski jump. Our guide had recovered from the cable car experience and proceeded to tell us about the mountain. We recognised the words Kyu Ju, so this was probably a 90 meter jump or something. We piled out the bus and went to the foot of the landing area. If you’ve never seen a ski jump in real life (we hadn’t); it’s high, like crazy high. This sport can only have been created by accident when someone fell off a mountain and landed on their feet, because in no way would you have built something so impossibly massive on purpose – just to throw yourself off it.

We were then ushered into a restaurant where they had laid out veg and strips of mutton around a hot plate. This is Jingisukan or ‘Genghis Khan’, a local specialty here in Sapporo. I’m not sure why it’s named after the Mongolian emperor – maybe he liked barbecued mutton? However, it was delicious so we won’t dwell on the details.

By this point I was feeling worse for wear. The vertigo was kicking in and I had to get back to the bus. We arrived back at the station and caught the subway to the hotel. On arrival we were informed of an upgrade to our room. We were now on the privileged floor and require a special key to get the elevator to stop there. The room is quite different to the teenager’s bedroom we have just left in Tokyo, we feel all grown up now and look forward to exploring Sapporo!