Saturday, December 15, 2012

Nippon Extremities: Hokkaido I

During two and a half years conjugating verbs under fake lights in a packaged climate, visions of afternoons spent working outdoors of pastoral Hokkaido had looked like the ultimate  reward.   So it was a great disappointment to find that there would be no farming at all during that summer of 1997.   I had also hoped to live moneyless all summer, but no work meant no food, and I quickly found myself spending up to 1000 yen a day.    But most frustrating was the almost deliberate destruction of peace by a probable psychotic and a definite neurotic.  One dark morning, I decided to run away and leave the circus...  

August 2, 1997

...early start hitching.  I awoke to find all the bread gone (A Seinfeld-like "William!").  Just out of Tsurui, I quickly caught a ride with a long logging truck.   It was the first time I've been in a big-rig, and I found myself amazed at the whiplash effect of bumps where the trailer would wag the cab.  The driver dropped me off at a truck stop on the far side of Kushiro, even attempting to ask other drivers where they were headed.  Having no luck, I stood out on the highway, shivering in my T-shirt and shorts, staring at an angry coastline straight out of Kurosawa's "Dreams"  as car after car passed me by.

I finally got a lift from a woman traveling with her two children, the girl teenaged, the boy younger.  Where the trucker had been a bit retentive and difficult to talk with, these two were easy, chatting briefly with me, then returning to their own conversation, or alternately singing along to CD after CD.  They played the latest by "The Globe," a band that I actually like, finding the singer's voice somewhat sexy, but after about an hour, even she became grating, sounding more and more like the usual inane J-pop.  

The mother-daughter team dropped me in the center of Obihiro, and I faced the dilemma of trying to hitch out.  I decided to tackle a more immediate problem, and sought out lunch.  I used this replenished energy to walk two or three km toward the outskirts of town, trying to flag a ride along the wayI was finally picked up by a young couple who were going all the way to Sapporo.  The driver got so engaged in our conversation that he missed our intended turn.  Rather than backtrack, he took a road over the top of a mountain, then reconnected with the highway into Sapporo.   

I was supposed to meet Jordan (the friend with whom I first came to Japan in 1994) for the 4:40 brewery tour, and arrived two minutes late.  The tour was in Japanese, so we joked around like Beavis and Butthead until it was time for the free samples.  Night was falling as we left, and we moved over toward the bar area of town, beautiful and neon and packed with stunning girls.  A group of young dyed-haired hoods stood in a circle on the sidewalk, chanting like it was some sort of yanki-bosozoku self affirmation ritual.  

After eating Indian food, we popped into a bar called 'Blues Alley,' falsely named as it blared shitty pop music.  We left quickly, having had our fill of Guinness and smoke, our exhaustion outweighing the aesthetics of cuteness and the good time feel of a summer night. 

August 3

 Sunday, the empty Sapporo felt eerie, the only sign of life being a band practicing in a basement bar despite the early hour.  A little later, we found that the city's main drag was closed to car traffic and had come alive: all the Namie Amuro-wannabes tan in their spaghetti strap dresses; all the couples hand-in-hand. Jordan and I strolled amidst the power shoppers, watching bad bands playing in front of a big screen TV,  with a gaijin acrobat and daredevil in-line skaters serving as side acts.   

Around dusk, we took the train to Otaru and walked around that city's famed canal, lit up with gaslamps and framed with western-style warehouses, a legacy of its contacts with European traders.  The cyrillic alphabet was everywhere.  It being a beautiful summer night, we wanted to sit at an outdoor table and drink beer, but sadly the microbrewery was packed.  So we took the train back to Sapporo and found a Cuban restaurant with great food, great music, and a laid-back atmosphere that was the perfect setting to watch the lightning weave itself between the city's highrises...

 On the turntable:  McDonald and Giles, "McDonald and Giles"

No comments: