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Japan Tourism / Traveling North through the Sarobetsu Plain, Northern Hokkaido: A Vision That Changed My Life

Photo by Koji Yoneya / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri publication
At dusk, a majestic view of Mount Rishiri can be seen through the train window. During the journey I was overcome by a feeling of solemnity.
Japan Tourism

It was 39 years ago, in the summer of 1985, when I traveled through northern Hokkaido with an all-Hokkaido excursion ticket valid for twenty days. Four days after I left home, I arrived in Asahikawa on the Okhotsk Limited Express I took from Abashiri. I then transferred to a local train bound for Wakkanai on the Soya Line.

The train left Asahikawa at 11:28 AM and arrived in Wakkanai at 7:07 PM – a 7.5 hour journey. Although there were express trains available on the Soya Line at the time, I wanted to ride the local train to the northern tip of Japan.

Making long stops at major stations – Nayoro, Bifuka, Otoineppu – the train moved slowly and steadily north. When it left Horonobe at 5:42 p.m., I was on the last leg of my long-distance journey.

As the sun set and the evening gradually darkened, a vast plain came into view from the train window through gaps in the dense, snow-covered forest.

While I wondered if it was the Sarobetsu Plain, a panoramic view opened up just after the forest was broken down.

The endless plains stretched out in the orange light with a depth beyond the reach of my vision. When I strained my eyes, I saw the silhouette of Mount Rishiri on Rishiri Island, better known as Mount Rishiri-Fuji.


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Photo by Koji Yoneya / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri publication
JR Pippu Station, which was featured in a TV commercial

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Photo by Koji Yoneya / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri publication
At Bifuka station I canceled departing trains on the Biko line, which was due to be taken out of service in September 1985.

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Photo by Koji Yoneya / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri publication
Local trains running between Asahikawa and Wakkanai, both inbound and outbound, exchange carriages at Bifuka Station.

At that moment the song ‘Forgotten Saga’ by The Square came on through the headphones of my cassette player. Because the landscape and the music were in perfect sync, I was moved again and again. When the song reached its piano solo, which was one of my favorite parts, I couldn’t stop crying.

Shortly afterwards the sun set and the wind blowing in through the open window became cold. Then in the dark the lonely whistle of the diesel locomotive reached my ears.

It may seem like an exaggeration to say that the landscape changed my life. But the emotion I felt then was unlike anything I had experienced before. To be able to encounter such landscapes at the age of 17, a sight that moved me with a sense of solemnity, was something that would last a lifetime.


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Photo by Koji Yoneya / Special to Ryoko Yomiuri publication
After passing Nayoro, the Teshio River comes into view.

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Japan Tourism is presented in collaboration with Ryoko Yomiuri Publication, which publishes Ryoko Yomiuri, a monthly travel magazine. Click here.

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