Got a whole lot of driving lined up for today. Technically it’s kinda a free day and I don’t have to do this, but I hear the area around Lake Towada is hella beautiful, so off we go!
Caption: Iced coffee is the breakfast of champions, but I can’t deny that moe sells.
Caption: So I’ve gotta get my car out of Toyoko Inn’s autostacker garage thing. Uhh… I think this is how it works. Wave the card, drop it in the slot, receive vehicle.
Caption: One of the things we hear about a bit in the west is “those crazy automatic parking garages” that Japan has. Well, this is one of them. That’s it in the centre, and behind it to the right is the Toyoko Inn that I was staying at; yes it’s significantly taller than the hotel itself.
Caption: The tower is seriously tall, it looks like it holds 12-16 cars in a stack, and there’s 4 stacks in total.
You can see in one of the pictures that there’s only two access doors, which does limit how quickly you can get a lot of cars in and out of the garage.
I think the thing that surprised me a bit was that at the garages I dealt with, it’s not fully self-service. I wonder how practical these would be in Australia. If you built them with enough parallelism, maybe you’d be able to get people in and out quickly enough for a shopping centre
Caption: That’s a car on the bottom of the stack to give you an idea of how much room there is.
Caption: My little rental racer, a Corolla Fielder
I think the car is still trying to tell me how to get back to the rental centre. There’s a point marked on the satnav that I don’t have the time nor ability to identify, but it looks like where I picked up the car. I’m not using the satnav at all due to the language barrier, but I can’t figure out how to switch the damned thing off, much like the ubiquitous telescreens in 1984. I do my best to turn the volume down and ignore it.
The Tohoku expressway is mercifully easy to get to (with Google Maps), only a few km from the hotel. This is the first time I’ve used a toll road, as the Shimokita peninsula is too small to have that sort of heavy infrastructure. I don’t have one of those fancy electronic tags, so I get a paper ticket instead. It’s really easy, phew!
Caption: I was only on the highway for a short time, maybe 15-20 minutes. I got this ticket at the entry point in Aomori, and exited at Kuroishi IC (interchange).
Caption: The area around the tollbooths is really nice, I pulled into this little rest area for a drink once I got off the expressway at Kuroishi.
Caption: Like pretty much everywhere in Japan, they’re big on tourism. This is one of the maps in the rest area. And, like most Japanese area guide maps, it’s hard to tell where you are now and what direction you’re facing.
Following the directions blindly (something I’m still not very good at yet) I move from one loopy ramp to another, and eventually onto route 102. It’s a well maintained road but definitely not made for speed or capacity. Very laid back, with one or two lanes unseparated in each direction.
Caption: I don’t even know where I am right now, but the scenery is spectacular.
Caption: I’m in pursuit of this guy on the mountain roads, am I doing it right?
The drive is pretty easy but it demands concentration, it’s an endless series of back and forth curves once I’m out of town. Then I’m into what’s easily some of the most luscious and dense countryside that I’ve seen so far, as I wend my way slowly up the volcanic mountain.
I reach the rim and almost miss the turnoff to the lake. I’m now at an elevation of about 700m, and it’s a fairly quick drop down to the surface of the lake, about a 300m descent in 3.5km of road. The final approach into the caldera is a lot sharper, with a number of tight hairpins and zigzags. I’m back in video game territory again, and it’s exhilarating. The tree coverage extends right overhead and it’s like driving through a sun dappled tunnel.
Caption: I won’t lie, it feels like hooning around in Initial D.
Caption: Remember what I said about Japanese maps? WhereTF am I!?
I’ve hit the lake! Driving down the western shore (I think) I’m eager to find a spot to jump out and soak it up. The road is quiet, punctuated by the occasional building or lodgings of some description. Eventually I find what looks like a carpark and boat ramp, under the shade some large trees and next to a closed-up storage building. The shore is a little way down a leaf-covered path, opening to a beach of sorts.
Caption: Little waves arrive at the shore, breaking over well worn rocks. The water’s so clear, I feel like I could just walk out into the middle of the lake and float around.
Caption: A little way down the shore families are playing with waverunners and towing the kids around on inflatable rings, it looks like a lot of fun. Far off in the distance you can see people speedboating around and having a good time.
It’s a nice spot, but I need to keep moving. After sitting around with my feet in the water for a little while I’m back in the car. I could just keep going, but I need to leave enough time to get back to Aomori and drop off the car at 15:00.
A bit of a way further down the shore is the first traffic light I’ve seen in uhh… ages. The traffic light is positively comical, guarding a patch of road just two lanes wide against very infrequent cars, but here’s as good a place to stop as any.
There’s a little carpark just off the road, and down the bank of the lake is a pier. Nowhere to launch boats, but a nice spot to go fishing from. Which is exactly what someone is doing, but there’s noone actually holding the four fishing rods that I can see.
Caption: Someone’s lashed four of these fishing rods to bollards on the pier and rigged them up to some sort of signalling system. I good tug on the line will drop the clothes peg, which presumably sounds a buzzer somewhere.
Caption: Is it this guy? Nope, he walked down to the pier and enjoyed the view for a few minutes, then headed off again.
Caption: These are pretty long rods, I wonder what fish they catch here. A longer rod usually gives you a better casting distance, which is particularly useful if you’re fishing from a beach and need to get past the break, but that wouldn’t be much of a concern here.
I’d really like to keep going and explore the two peninsulas on the south of the lake, but I suspect there won’t be enough time for it, I’ve only got about two hours left.
Caption: Sweet, a map that actually tells me where I am!
Caption: Maybe this guy owns the fishing rods, he’s having a nap in a hut just up the bank of the lake.
Caption: That’s a pretty big lake! The green land in the distance should be the westerly peninsula that juts most of the way into the lake.
The map pretty much settles it, the mountain hiking will have to wait for another time, it looks like I’ve got an easy route out of here heading sorta-west. I avail myself of the toilet then start up the steep climb out of the caldera, onto the Jukai Line. The signs say that’ll get me to Kosaka, which I think will get me back to Aomori. Eventually.
From the rim of the caldera it’s a very gentle and mostly straight run down to Kosaka IC. I kill the AC and put the windows down to take in all 28 degrees of this wonderful fresh day. I don’t drive very much, but this is how driving should be. I’m not too sure what the limit is here, but there’s not too many other cars on the road and we’re all pulling about 90 km/h.
Something I’m a little worried about is apple goods. Specifically, the fact that I don’t have any, what with apples and apple-related propaganda being Aomori’s primary export. So you can imagine how pleased I was when I spotted it, a low, flat-topped bungalow off to the side of the road with a small attached carpark. Bam, an apple store, right in the middle of nowhere!
According to my maps, I think I’m… here, an orchard named Hiratsuka:
りんごの里 平塚果樹園 Hokibata-105-1 Towadaoyu Kazuno, Akita 018-5421, Japan
Caption: Apples ahoy! Also known as Apple Village, it’s literally all they sell. They appear to have a dozen different varieties on offer, though I can’t read all the kanji in the names.
Caption: 3000 yen later I’ve got a bag full of apple goods :3 The place is big, about 3-4 classrooms in size, so they’ve got heaps of different goods that I took advantage of - fresh fruit, juices, snacks, gummis and weird dried things.
I’m going to have to put my foot down a bit, it’s now 14:00 and Aomori is about 100km away. Google Maps reckons that’s going to take me about 90 minutes. I dunno what sort of assumptions they’re making, but it sounds like bollocks if you ask me.
Caption: Perfect scenery on the way to Kosaka.
Caption: There must be pokemon in that long grass.
Caption: Kousaka, you say? That’s the one, the route I need to take.
The Tohoku expressway is only 15km from Hiratsuka, so I’m zipping along again in no time. Mostly.
Actually it’s not that simple. I screwed up and missed the turn-off and was forced to overshoot for about a kilometre until I found a spot where I could turn back. FML.
Caption: 100mphの勇気, or something. Got my tollbooth card again, Towada to Aomori.
Caption: Indecipherable traffic lights near Aomori. Seriously wtf does this even mean? I can’t proceed except to go straight or left? Why not just have a red right-arrow or something?
To the silent chagrin of Google Maps I arrive back at Aomori well before 90 minutes has elapsed, though I still need to find a service station and fill the tank before returning the car. It puts me at 15:25, surely not a problem, though I feel a little bad about being late.
Caption: Filling up at the service station, rumour has it that sometimes customers enter the shop (seriously I don’t even need to leave the car here; it’s weird, everywhere in Australia is self-serve and probably has been for at least 20 years). Also I like their uniforms.
Caption: 36L to make up a full tank, at 159yen per litre, 5717yen all up. I reckon I’d used maybe 70% of the tank judging by the petrol gauge.
I take a quick photo of the dashboard before returning the car, I’ve apparently driven 465km. Not too shabby, and that looks like roughly 13km per litre. And it’s 32 degrees outside, bloody hell I’m going to be sweltering on the way to the train station.
Caption: I spotted this wall on the way to the train station and… I have no idea what it is. Maybe a timetable/schedule for some training school thing?
Despite the temperature it’s actually not so bad getting to the station. There’s a fresh sea breeze and the humidity is moderate, making it much more tolerable, though the suitcase still weighs a tonne.
My shinkansen service from Shin-Aomori isn’t for a little while yet, so I laze around at Aomori station for a bit to burn some time. It’s a really nice station with a good waiting area, and right on the harbour, so I’m more than happy to sit outside and people-watch while I sip at my konbini drink.
Caption: Yeah, this is the train I really wanted to catch north from Tokyo to Aomori, making the whole trip in about 3hrs, but couldn’t. I’m on it now!
Caption: Time to get into those apple goods! Two for 350yen, they’re nice and I finish both in pretty short order.
Caption: Aomori does seafood so… let’s get seafood for lunch (with obligatory beer). Itadakimasu~! I got a hotate (scallop) bento, which I think is labelled as having produce from Mutsu.
Back in Sendai there’s not much for me to do. It’s about 18:00 and most things are closed, so I hit up a game centre. It’s not quite as fun as having comrades around egging you on at the UFO catchers, but it’s a lot cheaper this way so I don’t feel like a bum for indulging in rhythm games like Maimai and Jubeat for two and a half hours.
Caption: Right, so actually not everything is closed. Yodobashi Camera is closed, but Toranoana is open until 22:00! \o/ I have no idea what this is, some muscle-crossover Rozen Maiden thing. I lol’d.
Caption: I could head back to the hotel, but I’m kinda peckish, more than konbini food will satisfy. Luckily not everything is closed - Saizeriya! It’s not amazing, but they’re open and it’s cheap, This is just the right saiz. Seriously, 636 yen for a one-person pizza and unlimited drinks, this is ridiculous.