Or at least that’s how it felt when the wind and rain whipped our faces as we got out of our hire car at Nosappu-Misaku (Cape Nosappu) — the most easterly point of Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost island), and – according to Wikipedia – the most easterly point of Japan open to the public…
The car journey out to the cape was almost surreal. It rained heavily the entire way, some areas were foggy, it was cold, and the scenery was strikingly similar to Scotland or Norway in autumn. We found ourselves thinking we could basically be anywhere north of Buxton for a lot of the journey.
‘Open’ was not really the operative word on the day we visited – it was noon on Saturday by the time we arrived, it was cold, rainy and extremely windy, not much at all was open, and it all seemed rather bleak…. It was literally the coldest, wettest, windiest place I have been in over 3 years. I tried making a video, but the noise of the wind drowned out the sound, and the rain on the lens ruined most of the visual…. However, we did find the (warm, indoor) Hoppokan Museum, the ‘Four Bridge Park’, and the lighthouse.
The striking symbol of the park is the ‘Four Bridge’ – an arch of four sections to represent the four islands (or archipelagos) of the Kuril Islands that comprise the Northern Territories of Japan. These islands are the subject of an ownership dispute with Russia. After WW2, Japan had to give up the right and title to the Kuril Islands, but the dispute centres around whether or not the sovereignty of Russia (or the USSR, as was) over the islands has been formally recognised.
Under the arch there is also a sculpture containing a flame lit from the Olympic Flame of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Close to the Kuril Islands themselves (the closest of the Habomai Archipelago islands is just 10km away), all the road signs are written in Japanese, Latin and Cyrillic script! Apparently the majority of the foreign trading ships that stop here are Russian, so it makes sense. That said, the sailors don’t seem to venture far as, one mile out, it’s back to Japanese and Latin script only.
It was a place that had the feeling of being hard and stern – the wind and salty sea air lashes the buildings and ages them before their time, the harsh winters do the roads no favours. This felt like a place that knows what it’s like to battle the elements every day.
The sea looked cold, violent and unwelcoming. We hadn’t seen waves like these since we crossed the Bay of Biscay, and even then, these ones seemed to look even less welcoming. The photos of the sea ice in the Hoppakan Museum were startling, yet that same ice is only a couple of months away this winter.
For all the inhospitable climate and somewhat surreal home-from-home scenery, we also got our first view of the famous Japanese red-crested cranes on the journey. Just hanging out on Lake Furen. And scores of Hokkaido’s sika deer (Servus nippon) too. The Yezo sika are indigenous to Hokkaido and for tourists (especially those with hire cars…) are mostly famous for wandering out into the road in front of you, bewitched by the headlights. We even got a leaflet from the rental agency on how to deal with any deer-related encounters while driving!
It was really good to get out of the hustle and bustle of the cities (and believe me, ‘hustle and bustle’ gets a whole new meaning in the cities of Japan) and see something different. Maybe November isn’t the most temperate time of year to come here, but it certainly a good time to spot some wildlife and get all awestruck at the rugged scenery!