31-May-2003 -- I explored this confluence with Michel Dion (Mitch for short), a Canadian English teacher at the same school as me in Sapporo. He likes outdoor activities and was very gung ho for going confluence hunting.
This is the first confluence to be found on Japan's island of Hokkaido. It's only 75 km away from Sapporo, one of Japan's biggest cities with 2 million people. It's one of only 2 confluences that are close to Sapporo.
We decided to head out by hitchhiking to save money. In contrast to the great sunny weather that we had had all week, on the day of our journey, Saturday May 31st, it was threatening rain.
We took the subway out to Oyachi Station in Sapporo's eastern suburbs. From our map, it appeared that we could use several of the highways that emanated from there. We grabbed some onigiri, triangular-shaped snacks made of rice, tuna (in our case) and seaweed and walked quite a way down a highway until we found a spot where people might pick us up. In only a few minutes a young man pulled over.
He took us about 30 or 40 minutes south to a city called Eniwa from where we could catch another highway. Unfortunately he took us to the wrong highway and we had walk a long distance, take a taxi and then take a train one stop. Finally we found the highway we needed but we had lost a lot of time. That was not the only unfortunate thing. Now it began to rain huge drops and the highway, a toll expressway, was completely fenced off and had no entrances.
We decided our only option was to climb around a fence. We then scrambled up the embankment to the highway, a smooth, precision-engineered motorway much like an autobahn. There were very few cars and almost every one that passed was an expensive sedan or SUV. We thought we must look pretty crazy out there hitchhiking in the now heavy rain at a distant part of the highway that no one could access.
We waited in the rain as our time ran out and we began to doubt if we would make it to the confluence. I should mention here that about a month ago we went out to attempt this confluence but had to cancel because we missed the train out there. We were seriously thinking we would have to report back to our friends with another failed attempt.
Suddenly our luck changed for the better. A guy in a sleek Toyota Landcruiser or similar SUV pulled over. We tried not to get too much water from our wet clothes on his fancy, fluffy seat covers. The interior was cozy, a nice change from the rainy outdoors.
He was a welder and appeared to fit the stereotype of a Japanese construction worker with his styled, frosted, and slightly poofed hair. He was headed to Obihiro to see his girlfriend and showed us a photograph of her. He drove very fast yet seemed relaxed with one leg tucked under the other, Indian-style, and the other gassing the accelerator. He was really excited to have us foreigners in his car and took photos of us with his cell phone and sent them to his friends.
He let us out at Shin Yubari where we only had one last stretch up a valley to get to the confluence. At this point it was easier to take a local train which was really cheap. We did so and went just a few stops up the valley to Shimizuzawa station which was surrounded by a small town of the same name. This is close to Lake Yubari and Mount Yubari, where some outdoor enthusiasts like to go. Also nearby is Mount Racey ski area.
From our map we knew the station was close-by to the confluence and we registered it at about 650 meters. It was raining lightly, but at least I had a rain jacket. Mitch, on the other hand, was well equipped as he always is for every outdoor occasion. Fortunately for me, he had an extra pair of rain pants which I borrowed.
We crossed the train tracks over to a highway which we followed to get closer to the point. The point was up in some slightly steep hills that seemed very forested and wet and we had not spotted any easy approach. The highway took us a little better than perpendicular to the point, over a scenic small river and past houses and businesses. Finally, just across the highway from an Eneos gas station we saw a trail. The point was now registering about 400 meters away.
We followed the trail for less than 50 meters when we saw that a drainage led right up the hill more direct to the point than the trail. Everything was now under forest canopy but it was relatively easy to move around.
We slithered up the wet drainage of slick downed tree trunks, stream-polished rocks and bushes which when pushed down made a straw slide difficult for rubber shoes to grip. The bushes, which Mitch called 'bamboo grass', were the same type as those I saw at my confluence in northern Honshu 40°N 141°E
, but smaller and easier to move around in. The drainage opened up to a sloped forest floor of bamboo grass.
Soon we found ourselves on a high ridge near the top of the hill. There was a nice view of another misty valley down the other side of the hill. We came across what appeared to be an old road that was completely overgrown with vegetation. We followed it for a few meters and went a little down the hill and documented the confluence while the rain cascaded down from the pelted canopy above. Not long after finding the confluence Mitch broke out a Sapporo beer which we drank to celebrate Hokkaido's first confluence find!