The first week of May in Japan is fantastic. Four national holidays converge upon one week, meaning that if you play your cards right, you can get up to a week off work. Aptly, the week is referred to as Golden Week, or GW for short. While Golden Week in other parts of Japan might mean blossom viewing in warm spring weather, Golden Week in Hokkaido is still cold. Like snow-still-on-the-ground cold. But if the skies are clear, it can be a great opportunity to get outside. So, we (my wife and I) planned to get outside.
A four-day cycle tour around some campsites and onsen (hotsprings) within a 60km radius of Sapporo City, following some of the area’s main rivers (Toyohira River, Ishikari River, Yubari River), to be exact.
We invited members of the Hokkaido International Outdoor club to come along. Three hardy souls responded. A Brit, a Czech, and a Japanese.
It essentially proceeded to rain for the next 96 hours straight. The only respite was a period of approximately 10 hours where the sun appeared for approximately 32 minutes.
I may be exaggerating slightly, but I think the other members will agree that it’s not too far off the truth.
We started in Sapporo at 11am on Friday the 3rd of May, aiming for the Shinotsu Park Camping Ground in Shinshinotsu. The aim was to try to keep to the Toyohira River and Ishikari River cycling paths as much as possible. It was raining when we left.
But the team was in good spirits.
Ganbare Nihon! (Let’s go Japan!)
For the most part along the Toyohira River, there was either a cycling path alongside the river, or a paved river access road on the top of the floodbanks (non-accessible by car).
Once onto the Ishikari River floodbanks, however, the paved roads gave way to gravel. These would be fantastic for a group on wide-tired touring bikes, but for the three on narrow road tires, the going was tough.
Travelling-by-floodbank meant no automobile traffic, but it also meant limited access to places to get a warm meal. For lunch on this first day, we consulted Professor Google, and she guided us to a cheap local restaurant on the other side of the river. The Emergency Center on the Ishikari River in Ebetsu was a very welcome respite from the cold weather for five hungry cyclists. Here, we ate our fill of curry-rice or ramen or soba noodles for around 600yen each (US$6). The small restaurant had their heaters cranking, and we all managed to get some of our wet jackets dried out while we were there.
Hitting the road again after a warm lunch, we had to steer clear of the river floodbanks, due to the gravel roads.
After a cold wet 50km, we arrived at our campsite at around 3pm. The camp registration lady told us we were their first campers for the season. Aki, our sole Japanese member on the trip, was not surprised. The campground, for the most part, was a soggy marsh. Piles of unmelted snow loomed in the background.
The big drawcard for this campground was that it is about 1 minute’s walk from two separate onsen (hot-springs). We each paid 800yen (US$8) per night for the campground, and 300yen (US$3) for a fantastic soak in natural hot spring baths. A little pricey as far as campgrounds go, but the cheap onsen made up for it. Dinner was had at the onsen restaurant, because none of us could be bothered cooking in the cold wind outside. At around 800yen (US$8) each for the meals, it hardly broke the bank.
Fri 3rd May: Sapporo to Shinotsu Park Camping Ground
Approximate Route: http://goo.gl/maps/cKdf5
45km along the Toyohira River Cycle Path and then the Ishikari River Cycle Path/stop-bank road. The campground is right next to Airis Onsen（アイリス温泉, costs 400円）and Shinotsu Lake（しのつ湖 ）. Campground opens 1st May, and costs 300yen per person per night, plus 1000yen per tent (second tent is 500yen).