First Family Road Trip: Driving Across Hokkaido
Hello from Hokkaido, Japan's northern island, where Sapporo beer and comes from and we're driving. More specifically, I'm driving. Japan doesn't have a permit agreement with Germany so I'm at the helm on the left-hand side of the road, with GPS in Japanese. Hokkaido is more Siberian outpost than the techy metropolis of Tokyo or the surfy vibe we just left in Okinawa. It's too early for cherry blossoms and too late for skiing (even though we've had glimpses of both), so we have the place to ourselves.
This is our first big road trip as a family. Because driving really is the only way to see Hokkaido. And Hokkaido is about the landscape.
It's no secret that road trips are exhausting and with a baby, exponentially. I've had to access my creative genius to conjure up the melangé of funny games and songs needed to pass the time. A brave new world for us audiobook-listeners. Every evening after our daily adventure we'd arrive at our accommodation- ryokan, guest house, or hotel- looking like a gypsy caravan on Dead tour, leaving a trail of squeaky toys and sippy cups behind us. We had sushi rolls and canned Ashahis from 7-11 in our rooms because we were too tired to do anything else. The next morning we'd get up and do it all over again.
Because we're traveling and this is what you do. You wear the same clothes, drink terrible coffee and find a roadside onsen with a bunch of naked locals having a soak. The baby part is a new factor. I vaguely remember 4 months ago Sia not being a big "car person," but for this leg of the journey she has no choice but to become one, as my dad used to say to me, get with the program!
And program we're doing. 1,300 km from south to north and south again. I've had Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere, Man" stuck in my head all week. We drank beer in Sapporo, milk in Furano (Hokkaido is famous for its dairy- who knew?), saw snow in Daisetsuzan National Park and cherry blossoms in Hakodate. We had a bad Mongolian hotpot experience in Shari (don't ask) and a breakfast of roe and cured salmon in Akan National Park.
We slept on the floor in ryokans and in business hotels with their tiny twin beds. We saw northern red foxes and macaque monkeys. We saw Russia. We marveled at nature and couldn't believe how multi-faceted the country is. The We drove during her naps, we played in the snow, we savored the cold. It wouldn't be cold again until Africa.
We're handling it. Actually, it's Sia's who's handling it. To tolerate her parents' carpe diem with little more than a 4 pm protest is classy. At 9 months old, I'm so proud of her. And I'm proud of us for taking this chance, defying the fears and hangups that flow through me constantly as a new mom. Travel is the easy part, being a good parent is the new territory. But the more we go down this road, the easier it gets and a decision that once loomed down on us like a long shadow has become as featherweight as a cherry blossom. We make our way, both as a family and down these lonely highways in northern Japan. Together.
She's growing up on the road, and I'm pretty sure we're growing up with her.
People speak limited English in Hokkaido but signs are in English. GPS is in Japanese, but also have map codes that make it possible. Sleeping in a ryokan is a must, mostly for the experience of bathing in an onsen and sleeping on the floor. People in Hokkaido (and all over Japan) will bend over backwards to help you, if they can. Going in Springtime before "Golden Week" will get you better accommodation prices and you can still see cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms were mostly in the south.