Monday, June 30, 2014

Soya Misaki: The Northernmost Point in Japan

At 1:30 pm on Saturday, I boarded the bus to Soya Misaki. It takes an unexpectedly long time to reach the Northern Monument, which is fifty-minutes down a winding road which runs along the coast.  Along the way to Soya Misaki the view is split between a calm ocean coastline to the left, and rolling hills of green baby bamboo leaves which shake like sugarcane in the wind. Because of the very strong wind that blows year-round there are almost no trees in Wakkanai,  creating a pastoral view that is as expansive as the sea. Out in this area there are only a few small fishing boats, and an occasional house interrupts an otherwise completely desolate view.  While my eyes gazed out on this sparse part of the earth I thought of the downtown area near Wakkanai station, and felt it was positively metropolitan.

The bus drops off passengers directly in front of the Northern Monument. Not surprisingly, there were only a couple of people near the moment taking pictures. I came here with a tight schedule, only 25 minutes to be exact, before I had to catch the bus back to Wakkanai Station. If I missed that bus I would be waiting over two hours for the next one.  Originally, I had thought I might stay in Soya Misaki for 3 hours to slowly enjoy the scene, but falling ill the previous day and not being able to do anything, I could not afford to spend so much time in one place. I jumped out of the bus and hurried to photograph the monument. Thankfully as there were very few other tourists, I could take a few solitary photos without delay.

I then entered the peculiar blue gift shop next to the monument. I had seen pictures of this place on the internet and I was looking forward to finally getting to see what souvenirs Wakkanai had to offer. Expecting to find merchandise arranged in clean and simple display (as in all other gift shops in Japan), I was instead greeted with long fold-out tables and plastic bins pilled with branded goods.      The store’s gritty interior made it look  more like an indoor flea market than a proper gift shop for a famous monument,  but in the few minutes I explored it I found treasures inside such as a Putin matryoshka doll, some branded chopsticks, and a single postcard of the monument. I quickly bought a few goods and headed across the street, where a long wooden staircase lead toward the peak of  a grassy hill.

At the top I found the town’s old navel watch tower, and a few other statues commemorating various points in time. I had only enough time to photograph the watch tower and an unusual bronze status of a milkmaid before the bus arrived.

On the side of the street opposite the Northern Monument, I boarded the bus back to Wakkanai Station. I was predictably tired and took the row of seats in the far back of the bus so that I could lay down and sleep through the fifty-minute ride. Sleeping on public transportation is quite normal in Japan, but it is quite embarrassing  and rude for someone to lay down across five seats. Normally I would not have been so bold as to do so, but I noticed a man sleeping on the same bus on the way to Soya Misaki, so I decided this was somehow acceptable.
It was 3:00 pm when I departed and the sun was at a striking angle. The bus followed the same bowl-shaped path along the coast, and while I lay on the back 

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