A night in the waiting room of Kiyohata Station, Hidaka, Hokkaido, Japan - Unfinished Business - CycleBlaze

A night in the waiting room of Kiyohata Station, Hidaka, Hokkaido, Japan

The announcements continued at precise intervals until 10.30 PM. We could not understand a word but were certain of the message – “due to a whopping great storm that just flooded the area, train services are cancelled until further notice. We are sorry for the inconvenience”.

A night in a railway station waiting room was not part of our plans but neither was not spending a night in a railway station waiting room. In fact, we had no plans to be anywhere at all. This was our 37th day in Hokkaido and we typically cycled until there was an hour or two of daylight remaining and then looked for somewhere to pitch our tent. Time in Japan is set so that the sun rises early and sets early. In mid-August, the sun rises at about 4.30 and sets at 6.30. Thus, we adjust our day accordingly and are up and on our way early. It had been no different today. We emerged from our tent in a nature reserve about 2 km northwest of Cape Erimo causing a herd of Sika deer to give their familiar amplified yelp before bolting. We ate our eggs and bread, slid our bikes under the fence and got underway as the drizzle started oblivious of what lay ahead.

In spite of the weather, the 50 km to Urakawa was pleasant cycling as the road hugged the coast giving views through the mist of dramatic rocky outcrops and, in places, a shore heaped in kelp. The highlight of this stretch occurred in the first few km when a herd of 10 or 12 deer came tearing across the bamboo grass, leapt the fence, crossed the road a little in front of us, jumped the next fence and went on their way.  Did I get a photo? No!

With no sign that the rain would stop, we ducked into a bus shelter in the middle of nowhere for one of our quality breaks, when we relax, write our diaries and drink and eat. These places are magic with windows and sliding doors. In no time, we had the windows steamed up so much so that the locals will think that we’re doing something untoward. I guess we are: the stove is raging and soon we will be having coffee and cake.

The Japanese really have the sliding door worked out so that they glide, untouched, to a gentle close. This meant that I could lean forward, open the door and toss out the coffee grounds before the door closes. This I did and moments later an old fellow came wandering by and I realised that I could have put a stripe up the right leg of his immaculate trousers. Now there’s a lesson to look before you throw.

It was 10.30 by the time we got going once more in the Hokkaido drizzle on a smooth road but with a shoulder that was rough in places.  It’s funny that I mentioned that because it proved significant on our next leg – the 43 km to Shizunai, famous for its 7 km of cherries lining the road that would have looked brilliant, even in the drizzle, three months ago. The morning’s drizzle was just a warm up for the continuous hard rain that soon flooded gutters and filled depressions. The harder it fell, the faster we went – 26, 27, 28 kmh, aided by a slight tailwind and a fast surface. I watched the kms flick by – 60, 70, 80 and then, on 89, six km short of our planned lunch stop in Shizunai, the road shoulder came into play. Cora’s front wheel lodged in a groove and she hit the ground so fast that she had no hope of getting a hand down and thus breaking a wrist. I just managed to get around her, clipping her bike and losing a pannier as I did. Fortunately, she was shaken but unhurt and her bike undamaged. It all happened outside an army barracks and near a bus stop so I got Cora on her feet and into the shelter and then gathered our things. This was unlike all the Japanese bus shelters we had experienced, with a mountain of beer cans and a mound of cigarette butts, some of which ventured forth to prevent the sliding door doing its thing. The filth didn’t stop us changing into dry clothes and firing up the stove for a hot drink and some noodles. By then it was 1 PM and the rain was still belting down. What should we do?

We mustered up the courage to change back into wet clothes and to continue. Cora headed out first, as I packed, with the plan that if anything was wrong she would return or wait. She did much more than that and got to the outskirts of Shizunai before me. Now let me say a few words about Shizunai before I mention the rain. While travel guides can harp on about cherry blossoms they fail to mention that Shizunai is otherwise unremarkable. It could be anywhere. Having cycled the coast of Hokkaido with its fishing villages and sleepy outposts, one suddenly arrives at this place of billboards, advertisi8ng pylons, shopping malls and, heaven forbid, Maccas. I don’t recall seeing one of these wretched places in Sapporo although we did see a Colonel’s greasy chicken joint. And toss in a bunch of Pachinko and slot machine places and you have the cyclist’s view of Shizunai on a rainy day.

The rain: simply unbelievable! Drizzle turned to rain, rain turned to hard rain and hard rain to belting rain. Dry gullies turned to streams and streams became rivers which, in turn, became swollen entities that flooded riverside parks and turned the ocean brown. I guess it washed our bikes and clothes too. But we pushed on, on a busy road that was not easy to ride. The shoulder was often narrow and rutted while a channel ran just to the right of the white line on the road’s edge. I don’t know how many deep puddles we rode through as we strived for Monbetsu (in the road atlas) and Monbetsuhonch, on the road signs.

I was open-minded about, and on the lookout, for any suitable accommodation. We had just passed through one non-descript town and were reaching the outskirts of another when Cora pulled up eyeing a bus shelter. My eyes were set on something much better fifty metres from the road – a railway station waiting room. How good does it get in one’s time of need?  We investigated and found a simple room that was partly wet due to a door having been left open – so unlike Japanese! Otherwise, this spotless room measuring 4.5 x 3 metres with solid ends and glass back and front offered four seats, a timetable and a noticeboard to which were pinned someone’s spectacles. As the rain showed no sign of relenting I pondered how many stars this place was worth.

Soon after we moved in two women and a man arrived in a little black car. And here we are monopolising the seats! Various announcements came over the PA and soon the people left. But half an hour later, as we were about to light the stove for a cup of tea, the two women – Akiri and Satoh, returned, not for a train which apparently are cancelled, but to give us hot drinks – a Nescafe and a lemon drink for each of us. How nice is that! We thanked them profusely, managed to convey basic information about ourselves and our journey and then they left as the PA played music signifying 6 PM.

This coincided with the rain stopping and the wind increasing to what seemed gale-force. We had our hot drinks and cake and then leapt into making dinner – a big pot of vegetables, tofu and some dried scallops served on noodles. We got two big bowls each, just reward for our 118 km in the rain. As we ate the intensity of the announcements increased. We hoped that they refer to the cancellation of services and not to the fact that we’re on camera and have broken 47 rules regarding railway facilities. It wasn’t long before we got our next visitor when a bus came by. The driver stuck his head in the door, smelt the glorious aroma, saw our stuff strewn over the floor, laughed, checked the platform and got on his way.

We thought that this is one of those days of real travel – the stuff you just won’t get on a tour, for which, we admit, most people would be thankful. And then the day of real travel went up a notch when the police arrived, having been tipped off about our presence. They checked our passports, recorded our names, we conveyed the details of the day including, of course, Cora’s fall from her bike. We shook hands, they wished us good luck, we assured them that we would vacate by 5 AM and that was that. Never for a moment did we feel that they were going to issue our marching orders. I did make one good move in turning the stove off when I saw their car arrive. After all, we do run it on unleaded gasoline and it does sound something like a light plane taking off. This seemed a better option than saying “sirs, would you like to try my miso soup?”


While I was checking some details such as the spelling of “Kiyohata” I came across the following: “Kiyohata Station is a railway station on the Hidaka Main Line in Hidaka, Hokkaido, Japan, operated by the Hokkaido Railway Company. Services on the 116 km section of the line between Mukawa and Samani have been suspended indefinitely since January 2015 due to storm damage.” I wonder whether the damage was caused by “our” storm.

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