Tag Archives: Kamui


Jūichi – Sapporo to Asahikawa

The Taisetsu Liner from New Chitose Airport to Asahikawa, follows a fairly straight route north.

The Asahikawa Taisetsu Liner runs twice daily from New Chitose Airport, Sapporo, to Asahikawa, the current fare being  3,800円 (about NZD45). I hadn’t ridden the bus in this direction before; in fact in the past I’ve always taken the Kamui, but the bus is so much easier as I can just step onto it at the airport, rather than take a connecting train trip from the airport to Sapporo’s main railway station.

A display of ornamental brassicas at Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport.

I had about an hour to fill so I went outside to find the bus stop. It was sunny, clear and cool. Even with the occasional whiff of aviation fuel, the air was invigorating after the time spent in stuffy airports. The outside seats were covered with blue plastic and tied with ropes—a common protective practice during the snowy seasons, so I couldn’t sit down anywhere. The area was, however,  brightened by a planter of cheery ornamental brassicas.

Bus Stop 21. Nobody around except me.

I scrutinised the timetable displayed at Bus Stop 21, then wondered if I should be worried, as according to this, there were no buses until after 4.00 pm that afternoon (more than four hours later than my booking). I re-checked the ticket on my phone and all seemed to be in order, so I decided to trust that all would resolve itself, and it did, with the vehicle arriving within five minutes of the scheduled time.

Each time a bus drew near, I hoped it would be my one.

The driver stepped off, referred to a list, and announced my name (much relief felt by me) and told me I could sit wherever I wished. I chose the left side and a seat with a full window. There was only one other passenger, seated right at the back. We were on our way  almost immediately.

Leaving the airport. On the final leg of my journey, at last!

I sat back and resisted eating my onigiri and choco bun for as long as possible, i.e., for about ten minutes. I’d already drunk the coffee at the airport, while it was still hot. The bus had a conveniently located foot rest, with a reminder to remove shoes before using it. It sped out of Sapporo and into the countryside, smoothly traversing the main highway and only slowing for directional changes and the occasional town.

After eating my food I realised I was too interested in the scenery to doze off. What else could I do but take photos? Hokkaido in early Spring is very different from South Head at any time of year.

Images from the road

A Hokkaido farmhouse.
An arched bridge over icy water.
One of the many intersections we passed through.
A sign advertising Le Petaw Golf Club.
A small convoy of army vehicles approaching the intersection.
A chilly looking expanse of water.
Passing through a small town.
A field of solar panels.
Clouds built up as we travel further north.

I think that something like a train or bus trip is a really good way to adjust from the chaos of air travel in these times of Covid, to the next stage of a journey. Being driven in comfort within a modern, fast, warm vehicle, while being able to gaze out at the changing landscape was the very best way to unwind. The soft thrumming of the engine had an almost meditative effect. And my eyes could rest on the rolling paddocks covered in snow, the occasional signs of life, the the distant hills and mountains, the small towns with their colourful angular buildings, the solitary farm houses, the clear blue of sky and the flashes of dark water.

I knew I was drawing closer to Asahikawa once we reached the hills.

When the road started climbing and the hills closed in, I knew we were drawing closer to Asahikawa. At this stage the road weaves in and out of two or three tunnels, and I could no longer see the flat plains or the criss-cross of roads in the distance.

I looked at my watch and messaged ahead that we were going to be early! And before I knew it we were through the hills and approaching the outskirts of the city. I put my phone away and felt a complex mixture of warm feelings wash over me.


Japanese Diary

Ichi – First Impressions

My flight to Japan was scheduled for the ungodly time of 1.15 on a Thursday morning.  I arrived at the airport well in advance of this and after a less than enthusiastic circuit of the duty free stores, settled myself into the Koru Lounge for a long wait. I was barely hungry and not in the mood to drink more than a 1/2 glass of chardonnay at such an early hour, so I spent most of the time writing notes in a diary and contemplating the six weeks ahead of me.

Asahikawa is  the second-largest city in Hokkaido (the northern-most island of Japan) with a population of around 350,000.  To get there from Auckland you have to first fly to Tokyo, and then on to Sapporo, leaving the island of Honshu behind. After that, you can either take a train or a bus for the remaining 138 km.  Asahikawa‘s latitude is around 43.77N and if you were to head roughly due west for 850 km (over the Sea of Japan), you’d end up in Vladivostock, Russia – that’s how far north it is.

During my flights from Auckland to Sapporo, and on the train journey from Sapporo to Asahikawa, the reality that I was travelling to an entirely foreign country with a completely different season only became apparent in stages. The first indications emerged while I was waiting in the boarding lounge at Auckland airport, where I metamorphosised into a member of the minority culture. But it was just something I noticed – the situation didn’t feel that different.  I could’ve just as easily been on the AUT campus during Orientation Week.

Then there were the suppers and breakfasts served on the Air NZ flight. On both occasions, the ‘Japanese’ option sounded more appetising, which is not to say it actually was appetising (although I have the feeling that it was better than the alternative. ‘Chicken Sausage’ never sounds appealing as a breakfast choice).

Then there was the fact that for every interruption to the films I was watching (and there were announcements at regular intervals) there was a follow-up broadcast in Japanese, timed for about a minute later, just when I’d manage to re-acquaint myself with the plot. (If anyone’s interested, I watched ‘Lion‘ and ‘Manchester by the Sea‘ and enjoyed both.) The Japanese explanations seemed to take a lot longer, and I couldn’t help wondering if I was missing something.

Auckland to Tokyo

The flight from Auckland to Tokyo takes about 10 hours. I expected to notice differences when disembarking and entering Narita airport, but there were English translations everywhere, and announcements in both Japanese and English, and it was a nice surprise to not feel vertically challenged for once. Customs control and baggage checking went smoothly and before I knew it I was free to do my own thing. I made my way from International to Domestic to board my flight to Sapporo. I had a couple of hours to wait but had already gone through the ‘point of no return’ before this dawned on me. So I was stranded in another waiting room, with not much to keep me occupied. I made a note to make sure I picked up some cash before catching the train from Sapporo.

Sapporo airport
The lounge at Narita airport.

Probably the worst aspect of the trip was the size of my suitcase. The large dimensions meant that I couldn’t use the escalators in the airports and railway stations and had to drag it behind me while I hunted around for elevators. I couldn’t even lift it higher than about 15 cm off the ground.

Tokyo to Sapporo

My first view of Sapporo – steam rising from the heated tarmac.

The flight from Narita to Sapporo took an addional 2.5 hours, but thank goodness it was an older style airbus. The cabin was much less stuffy than on the long-distance flight, and I had a window seat so could look out at the snowy terrain unfolding below. The land started out flat then became more hilly, then mountainous. When we flew over the Tsugaru Strait I saw many container vessels and it must’ve been windy as the charcoal-grey water was dotted with the white crests of waves. Then we were on the way down. And as we taxi’ed along the runway at Sapporo, it looked COLD, with grey skies, bleak buildings, and small piles of snow here and there.

Sapporo to Asahikawa

I’d been given detailed instructions on how to get from Sapporo to Asahikawa, including the purchasing of the train tickets,  and finding the correct platforms and lines, so the actual ‘finding my way’ part was reasonably straight-forward. But it had been a long, tiring trip and by the time I was safely seated on the ‘Kamui‘, with my huge bag tucked tightly beside me, I was both tired and hungry.

fleeting view of houses
A fleeting view of houses – I’d only just focus on a group, and then they’d be gone.

The Kamui is a fast train and soon it was whoosing along, out of Sapporo and through the countryside. For most of the journey the terrain was flat, with almost everything covered with a blanket of snow. The houses in the small settlements we passed looked very different from those in New Zealand – they were boxy or angular, coloured with plain earthy tones, or shades of white, or in bright pastels.

train view 03
Similarly, the trees seemed to rush by.

And as we travelled further north, the views reminded me of Finland, with forests of bare tree trunks crowded closely together on low, mounded hills. Unlike Finland, there were occasional glimpses of snowy peaks in the distance, but this was my first impression.

Next episode: Asahikawa