“It’s Lucky Pierrot!” exclaimed Saoka. We’d just exited the expressway after hurtling down south from Sapporo for 3 hours, and it was clear Saoka had been looking forward to this. It would be my first time to sample the famous-in-Hokkaido burger restaurant. Curiously, this branch of the chain is, really, in the middle of nowhere. No huge mass of metropolis population to support it. But there it was.
I’m always left hungry after eating a burger from a Japanese domestic brand of hamburger. Mossburger, Lotteria, Freshness Burger…their burgers are little more than bite-sized snacks for my usual appetite. So I asked at the counter what the highest-calorie burger was. “Fried chicken with double cheese,” came the answer.
Lucky Pierrot is known for its gaudy, over-the-top circus-themed decor. The fried chicken double-cheese burger lived up to the recommendation – it was heavy, juicy, and definitely not light on the calories. Perfect fuel for an afternoon’s paddle on Lake Onuma.
After the quick stop at Lucky Pierrot’s, we hastened our way to the center of the small tourist-trap that is Onuma Village. I spent a couple of minutes asking in vain about where we might put in our own canoes. An ambivalent, clearly tourist-weathered duck-boat operator muttered that there was nowhere we could put in here. His eyes were squinted. Pursed lips held an old toothpick in place. “You can’t put in at this end of the lake,” he hissed. “Go paddle your row-boat at the campground.”
I got a similarly salty response from another boat operator, clearly in a hurry to herd his boisterous busload of East Asian tourists onto his tourist boat, piercing synthesizer jingles blaring from the boat’s external speakers only just drowning out the pushy chatter.
Plan B was quickly put into action. I’d spied a potential put in just north of the village, off the main road. We hightailed it back, and immediately sighed a collective breath of relief. It was quiet here. The crunch of gravel underfoot, and the occasional quack of a duck nearby. It was worlds away from the gaudy bustle of the tourist trap.
We got the canoes loaded up, and got on our way. The weather suggested we’d have a northwester blowing, so we opted to paddle the northern shoreline to the campground, hopefully keeping in somewhat in the lee of the wind. This was a mostly successful tactic, and we found that we mostly had the wind at our backs for the whole way.
It was Saoka and Natalie’s first time paddling together, but they soon found a rhythm, and we were flying.
After about an hour of paddling, a brisk, frigid wind had picked up from the west-northwest as forecast. We hugged the shoreline, keeping mostly in the lee. Half way to the campground, we stopped in at a sheltered bay for a snack.
The wind pushed us on to the campground. While we were happy to have had a nice tailwind to the campground, we were less thrilled that the same wind was buffeting the campground straight on the nose. There was precious little shelter from the bitter wind, so we put up the tents, and propped the canoes up as makeshift wind-breaks. We’d hoped to have an onsen at the closest onsen – a 30 minute walk away – but a sign on the main road informed us they were closed for refurbishment until next spring.
“The hope of a warm onsen was kind of one of the things keeping me going,” murmured a dejected Saoka.
It was still relatively early in the day, so we went for a brisk walk around the small peninsula near the campground to warm up.
After the walk, we got a fire going and settled in to cook dinner – a warming nabe hotpot. It wasn’t too long after dark that we all headed to our tents for an early night.
The morning broke to gorgeous sunshine and an almost mirror-smooth lake. The forecast was predicting a brisk northwesterly breeze from mid-morning, however, so we were keen to get on our way to beat the headwind back to the village. This meant a nice early wake-up, some time to play with the neighbor’s gorgeous labradoodle dog, and a bit of extra time to put the drone up for some aerial photos.
We pushed off from the campground with our friendly neighbors waving us goodbye.
Just around the bend in the shoreline, I set the drone up again. The weather was just too good not to. Mt. Komagatake standing proud in the distance – we couldn’t have asked for better weather.
We soon came up on one of the more interesting shore-line features of Lake Onuma. On the southern shoreline is a jumble of small islands. Weaving one’s way through these islands on a canoe is hopelessly relaxing.
Further on was a less relaxing jumble of islands. I’d had high hopes for the islands dotted around the Onuma Village. I’d hoped we’d be able to zig-zag our way through on our canoe, under foot-bridges, island-hopping. It wasn’t to be the case though. High-speed tourist boats powered through the main channel, making it a harrowing ordeal. The main channel cut through the middle of the islands, effectively reducing the explorable area by more than a half. Once across the channel, we ducked into the relative calm and protection of a small waterway between a few islands, protected by some low-ish foot bridges.
We parked up the canoes at a small inlet, and joined the throngs of tourists for a short while.
After a quick toilet stop, we headed back to the canoes, and made our way under the main road bridge to Lake Konuma. By this time we’d been out for about 3 hours, the wind had picked up, and we were generally done with flat-water paddling for the day. We did a quick circuit of the northeastern end of the lake, and decided to call it a day.
This would be our last canoe outing for the year. As it was, the weather was just warm enough for this final hurrah before winter hit Hokkaido for the following four months. It was a great way to see the last of the non-now weather with a fun crew.