After last year’s awesome adventure to the snow corridor, I was really excited to go again this year. This year, the snow walls reached 8.1 meters high!
I remembered that before the road officially opens to road traffic on April 1st, they hold an annual Hakkoda Snow Corridor Walk & Onsen event. On March 30 and 31st, the road opened only to pedestrians for an 8km (5 mi) walk. You book a course from your city that costs 3,900 yen, which covers the coach bus fare (round-trip), the walk entry fee, and hot springs entry fee. This year would be the 23rd annual walk!
And I did it!
I got up early on Sunday morning and was on the bus by 8am. We bussed up to the mountain and waited for all the other buses to arrive. I asked a couple girls to take my picture against the massive wall of snow. Yeah, it was huge.
At 9:50am they held the “opening ceremony” where a person on the loudspeaker led everyone in stretches. They all shouted while counting the stretches: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight…Hakkoda!” Group stretches/exercises are totally an Asian thing.
And then we were off.
I was the only foreigner there (that I could see) that day, out of six coach buses full of people. Tons of Japanese people and me, the tall foreigner who stuck out like a sore thumb. It was kind of funny. Plus, I wore my running tights (with shorts over) because I didn’t have hiking pants or pants that I wanted to walk a lot in. I got scolded by this older man who was one of the workers at the event. He said that he had never seen anyone in all his years do the walk with bare ankles. I couldn’t really understand everything he was saying because he was speaking fast and had a thick Tsugaru accent, but I think the gist of it was that he was scolding me for showing my ankles and telling me that it was dangerous going bare-ankle-ed up on the mountain. I didn’t quite get why it was such a big deal that my ankles were showing, but oh well. I survived!
Addendum: The old man wasn’t being particularly mean to me. He was probably just worried about my safety or something. But if he saw the short shorts the girls in Hirosaki wear in the winter… Haha. Oh, and I also joked with him a little bit. I responded to his words by saying, “Since I am so tall, it is hard for me to buy long pants in Japan.” He nodded and laughed a bit, replying, “Ah yes, the Japanese special characteristic is short legs.
We walked from 10am-12pm, stopping a couple times along the way for a rest and to take pictures. The walls were really really really really high. And felt like rock-solid ice.
I was torn between walking with my head tilted upwards to admire the snow walls and walking with my eyes turned down to watch out for patches of ice in the road. It was really slippery in some parts and I wasn’t exactly wearing the best of shoes.
One of the cool things was that a Japanese person actually talked to me! He wanted to practice his English. He says he studies English for 2 hours a day by listening and reading the Japan Times newspaper. But he is an accountant clerk at a company, so he doesn’t have any opportunity to speak English. His English was so good! He impressed me with his vocabulary, even when he said: “I have no chance to speak English, so… I study in vain.”
He was very kind and offered to take my picture for me several times!
(This is me and the guy who I talked with along the way. He said thank you for the conversation and we parted ways after that. I could tell he was really happy for the opportunity to actually use his English skills.)
It was a little after 12pm when we got to the goal point. They were offering a sort of pork soup for the people who had finished, but I declined that and retreated to the bus to get warm.
The bus left for Tsuta Onsen at 12:30pm and we arrived a little before 1pm. I wasn’t starving yet, so I decided to make a beeline for the baths before it got too crowded. Apparently Tsuta Onsen is one of Tohoku’s most famous traditional ryokan hotels and dates back to 1909. The building was really old and the bath also had this really aged feel to it. It was really cool. The entire bath was constructed out of wood and had high ceilings. The wooden beams looked so dark and weathered.
I couldn’t take any pictures, but I found one online from another blog:
(Photo credit: Let’s Go Tsugaru)
The water was so incredibly hot (or maybe my body was just so cold) that I did not stay in for long. I washed up, soaked a bit, and then got dressed again.
I ate lunch alone in their huge tatami room with all the other people who had brought their lunch. After I had finished eating, a Japanese woman sitting across from me asked me where I was from. We continued to have a chat, which was nice because I was feeling a tad bit lonely! It was interesting because she said her daughter lived in Nevada and had married an American. She had been to the US several times to visit her daughter.
After that, I decided to take a nap! I just flopped over on the tatami mat, crumpled up my jacket to use as a pillow, and fell asleep. Many other people were already asleep around me.
I fell fast asleep for about a half an hour, miraculously waking up mere minutes before I was supposed to report back to the bus for departure. The tatami room was pretty much empty at that point, so I was pretty lucky to have woken up at that moment.
The bus ride back was uneventful (lots of switchback roads and no cell phone service), but the weather had cleared up and the sun was shining. It was so beautiful in the mountains.
We arrived back in Hirosaki a little after 5pm, ahead of schedule. I had time to go home, eat a snack, and get ready for Easter dinner with the girls. (Which was fabulous, by the way.)
All in all, it was an awesome experience and I’m so glad I got to do the walk this year. I mean, how many people can say that they were able to do an 8 kilometer walk along massive snow walls in the mountains of northwestern Japan?