Trip Report

Cycling Across Hokkaido, Japan (Day 1): A train from Sapporo to Nemuro

Posted on Aug 15, 2014
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Posted on Aug 15, 2014

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Reading time: 4 min

It seems somewhat paradoxical that I would start a cycle-across-Hokkaido blog mini-series with the title “a train from Sapporo to Nemuro.” But that is the start of our two-week meander by bicycle across the island, from Nemuro to Sapporo; we had to get to Nemuro somehow.

Last updated Oct 14, 2018

And that somehow was by train.

All trains in Japan will allow bicycles on them. But only if they’re wrapped up. In principle, if the bicycle is not folded or dismantled (i.e., wheels removed) before being wrapped up, station personnel may frown, despite the max length being a relatively generous 2m (see guidelines in English and Japanese). Better to take the front wheel off to keep the length short-ish.

By the way, we’ve never had any issues with leaving the handlebars and saddle sticking out of the bicycle bags. My bicycle bag is a stretchy home-made job…I can get away with not removing the pedals that way.

Taking bicycles on a train in Sapporo Station, Hokkaido, Japan

We caught a 7:05am express train from Sapporo, headed to Kushiro City, about 350km to the east of Sapporo. From last year’s excursion up to Wakkanai City in the north, I knew we’d have more luck getting the bikes on the train if we put them in the very end carriage. Indeed, there was a convenient space there we could stash the bikes.

Being the busy season we opted for the 700 yen extra fee for reserved seats. In the end we needn’t have worried. Even the non-reserved area was relatively empty. But at least we had the super plush seats.

The Ozora Express train from Sapporo to Kushiro, Japan

We had 10 minutes in Kushiro City to transfer to a completely different sort of train – the ubiquitous “oneman” train, found in many rural areas in Japan. As the name suggests, the one-carriage train is essentially a bus on tracks, with just the one driver. On this particular occasion, however, our train happened to have an extra track maintenance guy on board…so I guess that made it a “twoman”?

The "oneman" slow train from Kushiro to Nemuro, Japan

Since this was one of only a few local trains to head in the Nemuro direction, the train was more or less packed for the first half hour or so.

The "oneman" slow train from Kushiro to Nemuro, Japan

And once again our bikes were crammed in the back of the train.

Bicycles on the "oneman" slow train from Kushiro to Nemuro, Japan

By the time we were approaching Nemuro City, a cool 470km east from Sapporo City, right across the other side of Hokkaido, there were only a handful of faithfuls left on the old bus on tracks.

As the train gets closer to Nemuro, the passengers thin out (on the "oneman" slow train from Kushiro to Nemuro, Japan)

And we all collectively sighed relief at being let off the rather stuffy train into the cool air of eastern Hokkaido. Nemuro had an air of end-of-the-world about it. Sort of similar to Bluff or Riverton, at the southernmost tip of New Zealand. The only roads leaving from Nemuro head west.

We had arrived in Nemuro at just before noon. 5 hours on the train, and we were ready for some lunch. Seafood lovers would love the place. Crab restaurants were a common sight around the station, hoping to cash in on the groggy tourists stumbling out of the station. Haidee is a vegetarian, so we headed down the road a bit to find somewhere with more options. That somewhere ended up being an old-style Japanese cafe, which among other things is (or was, long ago) famous for gravy-topped katsu – crumbed and fried pork. The place had a pre-economic-bubble air about it. Oppulent, but slightly on the tacky side. The place smelled like stale tobacco.

A traditional coffee shop in Nemuro, Hokkaido, Japan

I went for the gravy katsu on rice. They made Haidee a fried rice dish without the chicken. Both dishes were satisfying. Steam-cleaned carpet would have made them taste better, I thought.

Our final destination for tonight would be Cape Nosappu (Nosappu-misaki). This prominent cape 25km east of Nemuro City central is the closest point in Japan to Russia. Just 3.5km to be exact. That’s the distance to the Russian-claimed lighthouse off the coast. The closest inhabitable island is just a mere 7km away. More on that interesting state of affairs tomorrow.

The 25km ride to the cape was non-eventful, but our bodies were a little unresponsive after the long train ride. On one of our stops, we wandered into a gated field of roaming ponies. They were disinterested, even in a juicy plum tomato. Snobs.

Horses near Nosappu Cape, Hokkaido, Japan

We had entertained staying at the local riders’ house at the cape. Riders’ houses are very basic accommodation, often run by equally basic restaurants, that are found all over Hokkaido. The accommodation only caters for motocyclists, bicyclists, or walkers (probably they’d let a long-distance skateboarder in too). They can range from free of charge to around 1,000yen. The riders’ house at Cape Nosappu looked adequate, but only one large room for all guests to sleep in, so we gave it a miss. We opted for wild camping at the local “we-love-you-Russia-but-give-us-back-our-islands-you-thieving-bastards” park (more on that tomorrow).

Free-camping at Nosappu Cape, Hokkaido, Japan

We weren’t the only ones with this idea, and were soon joined by a university student from Tokyo on a motorbike, and a university student from Sapporo on a bicycle. They helped us eat the watermelon we picked up for 200yen in Nemuro City.

Free-camping at Nosappu Cape, Hokkaido, Japan

A great bunch of free campers at a nice quiet spot.

Free-camping at Nosappu Cape, Hokkaido, Japan

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