The Road To Hirafu

We had lunch in Date at a restaurant that served tasty little dishes ordered at the table using an iPad that displayed thumbnails of available dishes, which could be enlarged for closer inspection.  A waitress brought the food within five minutes or so of our placing the order.  When we had finished, we wanted to try a couple more dishes so we chose from the iPad and the waitress very quickly brought the new food.   The squid salad came with prawns, mango and avocado, it was very fresh and tasty.  When it was time to pay, the waitress counted up the number of empty plates on the table – different coloured plates represented different prices. The cost of our meal, with beer and an endless supply of tea was £8 a head.   

Tempura Squid With Salad


The following day we were travelling towards Hirafu to spend a couple of days at one of Jonny’s ski lodges.  We stopped for an ice cream made from the the local milk before having a buffet lunch at a restaurant in Nikeso, a ski resort at the base of Mount Yotei.  On the buffet bar was a large cooling dispenser which served their local drinking yoghurt which folk were having with their meals.  I didn’t really feel the need for more dairy after our ice creams but later I did try a glass and it was quite delicious and refreshing.  I am sure it aided digestion.

We passed an ostrich farm with beautiful views of Mount Yotei and then we called in on a friend of Jonny’s who was self building a house facing that mountain.  He had been working on the project for eight years and was nowhere near completion.


The House That Rob Built . . .


. . .With An Amazing View From The Roof


Lack of a common language was the hardest part of our every day life in Japan and you couldn’t begin to guess what a word meant, even if you saw it written down.  It really was pot luck what food would arrive when ordering in a restaurant  – adding to the fun and our sense of adventure.  

Supermarket shopping was also challenging and took a lot longer than shopping in the UK, especially when trying to find a specific ingredient – in one case, sesame oil.  Regularly I had to approach fellow shoppers to ask if they spoke any English, most people just shook their heads apologetically but occasionally I struck lucky and I soon learned that  the younger, better dressed shopper was more likely to be able to help.  

Supermarkets were very well stocked and had the freshest array of produce.  Staff tried to be helpful even when they didn’t understand what you wanted. They would listen to your question, bow politely and trot off using a small running shuffle to find a colleague to help. That colleague would bow and trot off to find someone else. Ten minutes later you realised that they had no idea what you were asking for and, in order to release them from their search, you had to physically face them and thank them for their efforts. Then they would then bow in a sorrowful manner and you would nod back to be polite and then they would bow again . . .  

 One item I had great difficulty in sourcing was wholemeal bread.  Most breads we bought in the supermarket were much too soft and sweet.  As there was a bread maker at the Lake House I thought I would solve the problem by buying wholemeal flour but it seemed the Japanese just did not do “wholemeal” at all.  Some of the breads we bought at the small bakers in the village looked quite promising, lovely and nutty or seedy on the outside but when you cut into the loaf it turned out to be plain white inside.  We asked by showing them the Japanese word for wholemeal flour and they eventually produced some kind of wheat meal flour that produced a disappointing but edible loaf.

 The baker had a two month old boy and she was happy for me to take a photo.


All the Japanese we met were kind and friendly and always ready to practise their English with you.  The lady who owned the coffee shop was telling me she had been to England and had visited Rye, Hastings and Battle.  Then she went on to say what sounded like “We need a poo”.  She repeated it several times hoping I would understand her meaning – “poo, poo, poo” she insisted and I could only nod understandingly assuming she had encountered some kind of dreadful toilet problem.  Then it finally dawned, she had visited the Ashdown Forest and was saying Winnie The Pooh!

Phoenix Toya Club

One of the popular restaurant recommendations in the area was the Phoenix Toya Club, a hotel just ten minutes’ drive away from the Lake House and situated on a hill overlooking the lake.  

They offered a set menu of French cuisine, starting with an amuse-bouche, then a cold starter, a hot starter, fish course, meat course and then the most beautifully designed desert that tasted as good as it looked.  Waiters, dressed in their formal black, hovered attentively all evening.  We finished with coffee and petits fours.  By our standards the portions were tiny and we were surprised how full we were by the end of the evening

But we were in Japan and eager to try traditional Japanese cuisine – French restaurants were two a penny in the UK.  We appreciated that for non-Europeans this style of meal offered something different but, for those of us who are newbies to Japan, give us sushi, sashimi or the good old noodle bar!

Nakajima Islands

We took a touristy ferry across to the islands in the middle of Lake Toya, called Nakajima Islands.  There were lovely walks through the forest and pleasant gardens where you could sit and wait for the next ferry – which came every half hour. 

Walking Through The Forest

There was a natural history museum displaying the huge variety of stuffed creatures that lived, or had lived on the island.  Outside the café we saw a snake a metre long that most definitely was not stuffed.  People were screaming and running away from the snake but we were told it was not dangerous.

Pssst – Not A Real Bear!


. . . . . . But This Was A Real Snake


Rita and Brian At Nakajima


   An evening swim in the lake was a good way of cooling off after a long day sightseeing.


Is Marion Not Waving But Drowning?


A Walk By The Lake

These photos were taken on a short walk along the lake.        

The next day we took to our bikes along the lake and into the local town.  We had lunch in this little wooden café on the main street- chicken with noodles in a broth, chicken with sticky rice and I had a fiery coconut chicken curry, all washed down with some beers for about £7 a head.  It was delicious.


Volcano #1

The whole of Japan is seismically active and there were several live volcanos in our area.  Late one afternoon we visited the nearby Mount Usu, a 737 metre active volcano.  In 1944, the volcano erupted and the lava produced a second mountain, which they named Showa-shinzan.  This mountain looked brand new against the heavily forested slopes of Mount Usu – parts of Showa-shinzan were still steaming.

Mount Showan-shinzan, still steaming


We stopped at a local farm for their home made ice cream.  We sat outside in the sun and ate our cornets on seats overlooking Mount Yotei, designated as an active volcano.

Mount Yotei



One wet day we went for a drive and visited the Geyser at Sengen Park, an hour’s drive through the mountains.  Every few hours, the geyser would noisily thunder 2000 litres of hot (80°) water and steam 8 metres into the air.  The spouting lasted almost an hour.  All the hotels in the area provided onsen, thermal water baths.

The Geyser At Sengen Park


Further up the road we viewed the start of Hell’s Valley where volcanic energy from magma stored underground produced hydrogen sulphide gas and hot water out of natural vents in the ground.  The forest that had existed in the area for thousands of years had been destroyed in the closing days of World World II and again in 1954 with Typhoon Toyamaru.

Hell’s Valley



Lake Toya was an almost circular lake 10k in diameter; the Lake House was on the northern side of the lake.  The drive right around the lake took about forty minutes.  The town of Toyako was on the southern shore and from there you could get a ferry to Nakajima, the island in the centre of the lake.

Toyako was larger than Toya and had five or six large hotels overlooking the lake and shops, restaurants, cafés and bars.

Ferry Terminal at Toyako

We found a public footbath along the promenade.  The sign said that bathing the feet would alleviate symptoms of cold, muscular pain, cold sensitivity, menstrual cramps, stiff shoulders and fatigue without having to take a bath.  The water didn’t  look very inviting but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to gain all the benefits offered, so we sat down and dabbled our toes in the hot thermal water and found it extremely pleasant.  We relaxed bathing our feet for ten minutes or more and felt quite invigorated.  I think it worked!

The Foot Bath On Promenade


Our Lunch Spot At Toyaku