Tag Archive | Hokkaido

Tsugaru Channel swim: the EPIC video

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. I shall just say that 2018 has been an EPIC year for me. And hopefully I’ll get around to writing about some various highlight at some point before the year end.

But for the past 8 months of the year, I was swimming. A lot. I achieved a bucketlist item of swimming Tsugaru Channel (that body of water between Honshu and Hokkaido) and one of the Oceans Seven swims. I swam it as part of an international 3-person relay with two friends (also expats in Tokyo). And for the record, I’ve been trying to do this swim for the past 2-3 years and was never chosen for a slot. But at the end of 2017, I was finally notified of a last-minute slot for 2018 (I think due to someone else cancelling).

It was quite the journey in terms of training and build-up and the actual swim itself. Will eventually write an epic swim report, but for now, I will leave you with the EPIC video documenting our channel swim which we did on 19-20 July 2018. The film was shot and edited by my amazingly talented friend (and crew support on the swim) Matt.

For your viewing pleasure: (and yes, we really did this!)

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Cape Soya: The most northern point of Japan

On day 2 of our northern Hokkaido road trip, we were up early and on the road again by just after 8am. We woke up in our hostel and checked out the view over Wakkanai. I was surprised by how big the town was. I was expecting a tiny nothing town.

From Cape Soya

Sea views. Not bad for a youth hostel.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

The hostel looked run down from the outside but was pleasantly nice and modest on the inside. For 20buks (2100yen), can’t really complain.

From Cape Soya

Packed up the car and we were on our way.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

From Wakkanai town, it’s only a 30minute drive to Cape Soya – which is the most northern point in Japan. Can’t get any more norther than that! It was nice scenic drive along the coast line.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

We saw a lot of fishermen out in shallow waters, all in full body wetsuits collecting some kind of seafood. These northern coastal towns have a thriving fishing industry.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

And then finally we reached our destination! Cape Soya. The most northern point in Japan. Woo hoo! That’s what I’m talking about.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

We got to the peak probably a tad before 9am. It was beautiful sunny day, although a little fresh.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

It was rather exciting to be standing there at the point. We could also see out to Russia – Sakhalin. We could make out the land mass beyond the sea. Sakhalin is only 43km from this Cape.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

Along with all the other people, we waited our turn to get the obligatory photo standing at the tip of Japan.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

It doesn’t get much north than this. Literally some rocks, and then the ocean out to Ohktohsk sea and you’re on your way swimming to Russia.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

Japan meets Russia:

From Cape Soya

For a bit of extra novelty, here are the most northern toilets in the whole of Japan. Unfortunately, I did not leave a piece of me behind.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

There is also of course, a souvenir shop.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

At 9:30am it was 12 degrees. And the coordinates of our location were displayed out the front, showing that we were indeed at the most northern point in Japan. We then went for a walk atop of the hill to look out onto the sea and get a higher view of the cape. There’s a little peace memorial park with some monuments atop of the hill.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

We saw a fox up there which was pretty cool. It’s leg was a bit injured because it limped about, which is why I was able to get photos of it without the fox running away.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

So much excitement for one day, or rather one hour. Our day had barely begun. More photos at the top. A few cool monuments to check out and great views out to sea.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

You can faintly make out the outline of Russia in the distance in this photo. Better seen with the naked eye than through a camera lens though.

From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya
From Cape Soya

There’s also a tiny little shrine at the Cape as well.

From Cape Soya

That was our morning at Cape Soya (Soya misaki). Not even 10am yet and I had checked off another item off the Japan bucketlist. Drove on back down to Wakkanai for the next part of our Hokkaido adventure.

Hokkaido roadtrippin’ and Tiffany tea (Day 1)

We just had a long weekend here, so I headed on up back to Hokkaido for a road trip. Our destination: THE most northern point in Japan! On Friday morning, I woke up early and was on the first flight out, up to Sapporo.

From Road trip north
From Road trip north

Arrived in Hokkaido, and got the train into Sapporo where I was meeting Fi and Debs to begin our road trip. Perfect timing as their car pulled up right as I was exiting Sapporo station. A long drive ahead from Sapporo to Wakkanai. Was feeling like I had a cold coming on so I grabbed a Vitamin C drink for the road. This was a bit excessive though. The equivalent of 50 lemons’ worth of Vitamin C. Either lemons contain very little vitamin C, or I was about to OD on the vitamin.

From Road trip north

Hokkaido has such beautiful scenery. It’s God’s gift to cyclists. Lots of flat terrain that stretch on forever over vast expanses of green fields and rice farms – popular with cyclists and runners.

From Road trip north

We made several conbini stops for toilets and snacks. Did you know there are a ridiculous number of Seicomarts in Hokkaido! We must have passed a good few dozen over the long weekend. We stopped for a late lunch at Big Boy – a hamburger steak restaurant with salad bar! Just a family chain restaurant which wasn’t too bad.

From Road trip north
From Road trip north
From Road trip north

Fi and Debs posing with the Big Boy:

From Road trip north

Fi and Debs are friends from my days when I lived in Hirafu (Niseko, Hokkaido). Fi now lives in Sapporo and Debs still lives in Hirafu. More scenes from our Hokkaido road trip up north.

From Road trip north
From Road trip north
From Road trip north

We spent 11 hours on the road on that Friday! Lots of conversation, some napping in the backseat on my part, a few pit stops along the way, some Glee music to pass the time. We took only the main roads and avoided the toll roads (which would have gotten us there faster). Going north, we took the central inland Hokkaido route. The drive should have only taken us 6 hours, but we drove 2 hours off-route. We were so close to the peak…and then we found ourselves taking a wrong turn and driving 2 hours back south! Yabai! It was dark, and around 7:30ish. We had been on the road since 10am. We pulled into a random hotel to get directions. We also had no accommodation planned. We had tents and sleeping bags and were planning on just camping somewhere. But it was also pretty cold up north. At the hotel we stopped at, we rang around for some hotels near Wakkanai to stay at.

We consulted the Lonely Planet book I had carried along (for emergency use). The first hostel in Wakkanai wouldn’t take us because it was already 7:30pm and we were still two hours away, and we were pretty much just booking then. Tried another youth hostel in Wakkanai, and they told us we could stay there only if we got there and checked in before 9:30pm. It was already after 7:30pm and we had over 120km to get to Wakkanai! We put the pedal to the metal and arrived in Wakkanai just after 9pm. And we didn’t really know how to get to the youth hostel. We called up the guy at the youth hostel to get directions and to kind of stall him, so that if we arrived after 9:30pm he’d let us in. We arrived at the youth hostel literally right on 9:30pm! What a blessing. We had lodgings for the night after 11 hours on the road, including 2 hours of “being lost”.

This was the best youth hostel I’ve ever stayed in. It was pretty palatial for a backpacker joint. They had either dorms or private rooms. Private rooms being more expensive. We opted for the dorms, but I swear the room we were in had to be the private rooms. It was basically a self-service apartment. There was a dining room, our own shower, own washing machine, fridge, microwave, kettle, and stove, tv, and a tatami mat room that could sleep 5-6 people. All self-contained and private. I couldn’t get over how nice it was! And for 20 buks each for the night.

From Road trip north
From Road trip north
From Road trip north
From Road trip north

What followed next was a most awesome surprise! So, Fi knows how much I love afternoon tea and so she had packed her own little afternoon tea for us. I had no idea. Bless her. She had brought along some fancy cakes, teabags, and even really nice mugs so we could enjoy a proper cup of tea. And these weren’t any ordinary tea cups. These were Tiffany & Co tea mugs!!!! She had packed along a set of cups nicely wrapped in a box. (The Tiffany & Co mugs were a set that she had received as a gift for attending a wedding). How awesome is that. I’m not much of a jewelry wearer or into labels, but Tiffany mugs are pretty special! And after a long, long day of sitting in a car, roadtripping up Hokkaido, a cup of tea was a welcome treat, as was a little Youth Hostel afternoon tea, courtesy of Fi. (Thanks, Fi!!!)

From Tiffany Tea

How cool are the Tiffany mugs – in their signature blue with the ribbon as well! And they, of course, came in a cool Tiffany box! Cups of tea for three:

From Tiffany Tea

I so want to get me a Tiffany mug. I know they’re just mugs, and it’s not like they were spectacularly designed mugs, but still fancy nevertheless. I googled the Tiffany website today. The mugs are not available on the Japan or Australia site…but you can get them on the US website. They cost 35buks! And I think that was for one mug…although it could have been for a pair.

From Tiffany Tea

It was so thoughtful for Fi to do this. So we sat down to tea and cakes in our fancy youth hostel.

From Tiffany Tea
From Tiffany Tea
From Tiffany Tea

We crashed out and fell asleep soon after. We were all utterly exhausted. Day 1 of the northern Hokkaido road trip was mostly driving. We were officially in Wakkanai – which is the biggest most northern town in Hokkaido and Japan. Wakkanai had been on my Japan bucketlist for a while – even though I’ve lived in Hokkaido twice, I never managed to get up there. Tick. It’s also a cool name for a place. The next day is when the real adventures began, as evidenced by the 500 photos that I took. Plenty more installments to come from the Hokkaido roadtrip.

Lake Toya swim

With swim number 2 behind me, I’ve got another ocean swim race ahead of me this weekend. Here’s a recap of last Sunday’s swim. I arrived in Hokkaido on Saturday morning only to be greeted by clouds and rain at Chitose airport. Upon arrival in Hirafu I had a hearty brunch.

Given the weather conditions for the day, Fi and I had a chocolate bake-off for the rest of the day, but that, my friends, spawns another blog post. In short, there was a lot of drinking and eating had on the Saturday, topped off with a night at the pub for trivia where several glasses sparkling wine and meat pies were consumed. On a very full stomach and a few alcohol units, I somehow managed to get up early on the Sunday morning.

Departing Hirafu at about 7.30am we made good time to Lake Toya. The weather was gorgeous. What a fine day indeed it turned out to be. It was about 29 degrees that day and the sun was out. Courtesy of the sun’s appearance I am now sporting a decent tan despite applying generous amounts of suncream. I’ve got a pretty severe cossie tan. It was a great day to re-visit Lake Toya. I swam in both the 800m and 1.5km swims last year, and was entered again for both this year. Unfortunately, my times were a bit disappointing. It was definitely a slow swim day for me, but not bad considering how little training I did and the amount of food and drink I consumed the day before. Probably not the best training diet. Don’t try that at home kiddies. A sensible diet and an early night’s rest is ideal the night before a race. Oh well, good times were had anyway. It was really quite a miracle that I did not sink in that lake. Lake Toya is a freshwater lake, so the swim was a bit of a struggle. We swam across the shoreline. And man, I really felt the distance in this race. First up was the 800m swim. The distance felt a lot longer. My time was 15minutes and 11 seconds for that one, and placed 8th in my age category of about 17 people. A considerable difference between that and the 800m swim at Atami beach which I did in 10 minutes. The age category was all females under the age of 39. That was a pretty broad group of competitors. I felt really slow in the water and the distance felt like forever. I think the salt water in ocean swims really make a difference. Either that, or I was carrying a lot more weight through the water this time around, coz I felt heavy in that water. That swim was then followed by the 1.5km. That was a struggle. Especially after doing so poorly in the 800m, I didn’t know how I was going to double that. It was two laps of the same course (which would make it 1.6km ja nai?). I was slow and felt like I had been swimming forever. The finish line didn’t seem any closer. Usually I guesstimate my time by the length of a TV show. This swim felt like the Director’s Cut of Titanic along with preview and credits. The whole time I was swimming that 1.5km all I could think about was “how the hell I am going to swim 4km?”. During the week I had sent off an entry for a 4km beach swim. That was more than double what I was doing now! That’s going to be a solid 1.5 hour of swimming in the ocean. 4km! What was I thinking! “I’m struggling to swim 1.5km so how the hell will I finish 4km!” What was also frustrating about this swim apart from being slow and sluggish in the water was the two ends of the course were marked by blue raft boats that we had to swim around, yet they had lifeguards in other blue raft boats that were paddling along the course, so every time I would look up to see how much further I had, I kept seeing these moving raft boats which were the wrong ones and kept thinking I less to go than what I actually had to swim. I spent over half an hour in the water moving my arms and legs. My time ended up being 32minutes and 38 seconds. Another disappointing time.

Because I had entered both races, I could only choose one which would eligible for placings. I chose the 800m as my main event. For the 1.5km swim I wasn’t placed in my age category, but rather was lumped into the Open category. I didn’t improve on either time from last year’s results. Oh well. I’ll just have to do better in the next one. At least I didn’t sink. I will admit that after the swim at Lake Toya, my arms were a bit sore and my shoulder and back muscles were a bit tight. Doing non-arm strokes for over 45 minutes is kinda tiring. Also it’s kinda funny but I also got a sore neck after this race.I think it might have been from straining when looking up to find the buoys and water markers. During the race, a couple of swans even crossed the course. I was careful to get out of their way.

With the two swims behind me, it was time for lunch which was a delicious spread put on by Jojos. The lunch is worth the swim. Of course, most sane people would skip swimming 1.5km and just go to Jojos instead to eat their food. This year’s NAC t-shirt was also a really nice colour compared to last year’s grey t-shirt. Swim number 2 done and dusted. This Sunday I’ll be off to Chiba for a beach swim. That’ll be swim numero 3. I much prefer beach/ocean swims. It’s a standard 1km swim which is the minimum distance I swim whenever I go to the pool. I would like to do it in under 20 minutes as a personal goal but will prepare myself for a time anywhere between 15-25 minutes. Will let you know how it goes. I believe rain is forecast for this weekend though.

race gear

getting my race number texta-ed on my arm

Lake Toya on summer Sunday morning

in the water

Off to Hokkaido for swim # 2

Most people get woken up by an alarm. This morning I got woken up by an earthquake at 6am. Such is life in Japan. Awake and albeit reluctantly, I hauled my ass to the pool for one last “training session” before the weekend. Open Water swim race number 2 for summer 2010 is this weekend, on Sunday. It’s been a fortnight since my last open water swim race. I’m travelling up to Hokkaido for this one heading up tomorrow morning.

This event is the only open water swim race in Hokkaido, and I use the term ‘open water’ deliberately in this case. This swim is not an OCEAN water swim. It’s in a lake. More specifically a volcanic caldera lake – Lake Toya, a beautiful lake in a nice onsen town. Here are some interesting facts about Lake Toya: – Lake Tōya is said to be the northernmost lake in Japan that never ices, – and the second most transparent lake in Japan. – The 2008 G8 Summit was held here This particular swim event is a private/non-official race in that it is not endorsed or organised by the Japan Open water swimming association. This race is run by a local adventure/outdoor company in Hirafu/Niseko.

This swim is kind of close to my heart for several reasons. Firstly, Hokkaido was my first experience of Japan ever. I first came to Japan as a uni exchange student and I was placed at Sapporo University (not my first preference at the time). Our flight from Sydney was to Chitose airport in Hokkaido so I never even landed on Honshu before arriving to Japan. I lived in Sapporo for one year. It was where I first fell in love with Japan and knew that I would return. After graduating from uni I was back to Japan on the JET program. I also visited Hokkaido again during that time.

After finishing JET, I then moved back to Hokkaido and lived in Hirafu, Niseko (a major ski resort town) for a year and a half. Sunday’s swim race is called Big Swim Toya and it is hosted by NAC (Niseko Adventure Centre). I lived within walking distance of NAC and spent some time there. They have a great restaurant/cafe called JoJo’s – it’s a beautiful casual, spacious restaurant with delicious food to boot. They have a little shop and an indoor wall climbing facility too. They also run heaps of activities and tours all-year round like rafting, snowshoeing etc. In addition to the Big Toya Swim event, they also put on the Hirafu 10km Trail Run which I also competed in last year – the most gruelling 10km run over. It’s not a road run, it’s a trail run – up and down mountains and ski slopes. I also competed in this same swim last year, so it will be nice to do it again and hopefully improve my time from last year. So there you have it – me and Hokkaido go way back. I always like going back to Hokkaido – it’s also one of the most prettiest prefectures in Japan in my opinion. In fact, Hokkaido is awesome – great climate, powder snow, awesome coast line, great onsens, majestic mountains, delicious seafood and miso ramen, gigantic national parks, festive festivals, pretty flowers (Furano and Biei), home of Sapporo Beer and Royce choco, etc etc, stop me now… So this Sunday’s swim at Lake Toya will be a little trip down memory lane.

I competed in the 800m and the 1.5km swim back to back last year, and will be doing the same again this year. Lake Toya is a freshwater lake, so again these are different water conditions to what I’m used to. For one, the water temperature is a lot colder. Wetsuits are a given at this one. I don’t wear a wetsuit. I don’t own one, and even if I did, I wouldn’t wear one. Plain old togs do me just fine. Also, there is no salt content in the water, which means less bouyancy than an ocean swim. I know my times are definitely going to be slower. On the upside, there is virtually no current. The water is very flat, still and cold. It also means that the water is also quite pleasant to drink should you accidentally gulp some of it. I recall from last year that the water was quite tasty. Cool, clean and fresh – the way water should be. So it’s been two weeks since my last race event. I’ve done a little bit of training. Not as much as I would have liked. The first 800m event I’m not too worried about. I will be fresh so my time will hopefully be ok. My goal is to improve on my 800m swim time from last year which was 14 minutes and 39 seconds. The catch-22 here is that the faster I swim the 800m the greater rest time between that race and the start of the 1.5km swim. But the faster I swim, the more tired I’m going to be for the 1.5km race. From memory last year, I had about a 20min break between the two which was not too bad. As for the 1.5km I don’t expect my time to be so great, just average. After having already gone flat out in the first 800m event, I’m already going to be a little tired by the time I have to compete in the 1.5km. All up, it’s 2.3km all on a Sunday morning. The 1.5km is basically two laps of the first 800m course. If I can improve on last year’s time I’ll be pleased. Not 100% confident that I can pull it off though. Here was my 2-week swim plan in the lead up to this event after the first Atami race: In bold was my planned training schedule (i.e what I told myself I should do). In parentheses next to it is what I actually ended up doing.

July 12 2km swim (nothing. did not go to gym -I was actually sick after the Atami swim)

July 13 1.5km swim and 45min walk(1km swim + 250m swim)

July 14 1.5km swim and 45min walk (nothing)

July 15 1.5km swim and 45min walk (45min walk (4km) and 30min cycle)

July 16 2km swim (45min walk (4km)

July 17 3km swim and walk/cycle (1.5km swim)

July 18 Walk (5.5km walk) J

uly 19 1.5km swim and 45min walk (nothing)

July 20 2km swim (45min walk (4km))

July 21 gym closed nothing

July 22 1.5km swim and 45min walk (1.5km swim and45min walk (4km) – stuck to the plan – yay)

July 23 2km swim (1.1.km swim)

July 24 no swim. Never swim the day before event (will be sticking to the plan)

July 25 Lake Toya Swim Day Race event: 800m and Race event: 1.5km

The above suggests that:

a) I am way too optimistic when I plan my training schedule

b) I am an unrealistic goal setter

c) I am an underachieving lazy human being

d) I spend way too much time blogging about swimming than actually swimming

e) I should take up walking as a sport because I spend more time walking than I do swimming

f) all of the above I blogged a breifly about the Lake Toya swim last year. You can read that old post here. If you should feel so inclined to participate in this swim next year, info can be found on the NAC website here. If you email them (English or Japanese) they can send you an application form in the post. You can then pay by furikomi. Application form, documents etc are available in Japanese and English. double entry for both swims is 8500yen. One event is 5500yen. This cost includes a t-shirt and yummy all you can eat bbq lunch feast and a participation certificate. Also the chance to win heaps of lucky dip prizes. Placings also receive prizes. NAC do a great job of putting on this event. Super organised and friendly staff. You can even camp at Lake Toya the night before. Kudos to the competitors who sleep in a tent and then swim the next morning. I prefer the comfort of a bed the night before a swim race.

Bex made a video of last year’s Toya swim race. You can watch it below: WARNING: A most unflattering video of me. All my wrong angles (why is it always the side angle???) and I’m wearing a swimsuit in pretty much nearly every scene…not a pretty sight coz I ain’t no skinny bitch. I like my food and lots of it too! You were warned. Oh, and I hate my voice too. Maybe I should go drown in Lake Toya rather than actually swim in it. Clearly I belong behind the camera rather in front of it. So apart from me starring in the video, the video is great. Very entertaining and big kudos to Bex for making it. Thank you, Bex! It was actually a fun day and I’m looking forward to doing it again this weekend. I’ll be sure to be blogging about it next week. Here’s hoping for better weather this time around. Last year was wet and rainy, grey and overcast. The lake was kinda eerie with its low mist. So at the risk of personal embarrassment I am going to upload the video. (Video duration: 5min, 24 seconds – – – 5 minutes and 24 seconds that you will never get back from your life again). (Just tried uploading directly onto my blog. Exceeds my blog media file limit. Will upload to Youtube)