Friends: I am in a nice stretch of tourist sites that attract the Japanese, but not noteworthy enough for the Westerner on a two or three week tour. The tourist offices have all had free Internet, a welcome bonus after finding so few on Hakkaido.
Even though they are not in bloom, the 300-year old cherry trees of Kakunodate are a site to behold, full-bodied and majestic, nobly perched on an embankment along a twisting river, standing in pairs flanking an enchanting walkway with periodic benches. During the spring cherry blossom season they are one of the highlights for those who make a northerly pilgrimage to as many of the cherry tree sites as they can.
Kakunodate is also known for a several block area of historic homes, known as the "Samurai District." The town calls itself "Little Kyoto." Even on a Wednesday afternoon in the fall there were a good number of Japanese tourists strolling the grounds of the many homes, a few pulled by rickshaw tour guides. The gardens of bonsai trees and rocks around the old one-story wooden homes were often as noteworthy as the homes. There was one area of garden plots. It was like walking through a museum looking at one painting after another, each of the plots distinctively arranged with plants and rocks.
It is not uncommon to see such well-sculptured gardens in people's yards as I'm bicycling along.
There are few traditional homes, mostly conventional box houses that could be anywhere, but their gardens are distinctly and pleasingly Japanese. There are also occasional Shinto and Buddhist shrines along the road that provide a nice spot for a peaceful break. Rarely do I encounter anyone else at them.
I've been in apple orchard country the last two hundred miles, many of them unharvested, the tress thick with large, lush red fruit and unfenced, as there is no need to fear banditry in this country of such law-abiding citizens. Rarely do I see people lock their bikes, unless they're leaving it all day at a train station. It is common for people to leave their cars running when they duck into the mini-mart. I thought it was a given that I would spend at least one night camping in one of these orchards, but they have all been small and clustered close to a home, unfit for wild camping. Last night I ended up behind a boarded-up business in a somewhat gravelly
yard that just barely allowed my tent stakes to grab hold. When it started raining at two am I feared lack of drainage could leave me in a pool of water. I did have a little seepage, but nothing drastic.
Miraculously, the rain let up after a couple of hours, though I remained under a thick, threatening cloud cover all day. There are three sacred mountains within 25 miles of here that are presently cloaked in clouds. I'll be camping in their midst, hoping for the skies to clear tomorrow.