13-Sep-2003 -- I set off on the eve of my birthday on the Marimo express night train from Sapporo to Kushiro with two of my English students, Mari and Akiko. Kushiro, a fishing industry city and central hub of sparsely populated southeastern Hokkaido, is famous for its surrounding wetlands which are the winter migratory stop for black cranes. Less than two weeks after our visit the area became famous worldwide. A magnitude 8.0 earthquake, the largest earthquake in the world in two years, was closest to this area. It caused widespread damage, tsunamis and derailed the Marimo.
Although we had been warned of the impending typhoon Maemi, when we arrived at 5:30 AM there was only the silent, gray ceiling of clouds and occasional call of a seagull you might expect in most seaside towns. Once we took a second local train for 45 minutes to Akkeshi, there had already been some sprinkling. Now, at the closest town center to the confluence, we contemplated waiting for an 11AM bus, but instead decided to take advantage of some free bike rentals for cruising around the seaside. With about 12 km as the crow flies to the confluence, Akiko was hesitant, but after a little convincing we headed off into the threatening weather.
Akkeshi looks like something halfway between a resort town and a junky fishing village. We rode on the suspension bridge crossing the harbor outlet where fishing boats ply the waters nationally famous for oysters. One town in the same area and close to the confluence, Kiritappu, lost two fishermen to the eight-foot tsunamis that resulted from the earthquake.
Soon we were beyond the town outskirts and along the seaside road. The beginning of the trip was almost all a grueling uphill climb, which we didn't expect for a coastal road. The rest was undulating terrain next to the sea, which was unfortunately invisible as low-lying clouds became more like fog. We caught a few fleeting glimpses of seaside cliffs and rocky shorelines. We had been told that it might take about an hour to ride there but it ended up taking us about two hours.
The road took us to within only about 350 meters of the confluence. We left our bikes and headed into a forest away from the coast. There was an old, long-abandoned road, mostly overgrown with shrubs and weeds (old overgrown roads are a phenomenon I have been finding very often in my Japan confluencing), leading us in the right direction. It wasn't until about now that somewhat large raindrops began pelting us, but it was intermittent. The road, and another open area led us almost right up to the confluence, which was in a stand of forest.
I documented the point and we headed back to try to beat the rain, a futile effort, it turned out. On the return trip we ended up being absolutely drenched to the bone in pouring typhoon rain. Just look at us! I don't know about the girls, but at least I was ready for more: this was one of three confluences I was to attempt in three days (see 43°N 144°W and 43°N 143°W to find out how the rest of the weekend went).
Nevertheless, it was a pleasant confluence quest with an interesting side-note. Just after I finished taking pictures of the point, amazingly my cell phone started ringing - could there actually be cell phone reception at a remote confluence point? Through the broken reception I heard the strange singing of songs. It was my parents calling from the US wishing me a Happy Birthday!