Jūichi – Sapporo to Asahikawa
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.