Asahikawa - man, this was a very funny and interesting part of our trip. As I reflect back on our 24-hour experience there, there were moments where we had fun but then there were moments that were just…well, not fun. Remember in my last post I said that there are times where you turn back and times where you don’t? Well, our day in Asahikawa was certainly a test of this.
When Avery and I planned this two week trip in Hokkaido, we knew that the Asahikawa national park and zoo were both incredible sights to see. I had a best friend in college who loved the zoo and we always used to go to zoos together - and I believe he still works with animals today. I haven’t really been back since our friendship parted ways. I think of him a lot and wonder how he’s doing. He was such an intelligent and extroverted unicorn and I really hope he’s loving the incredible life he was set out to do. Anyway, Avery really wanted to check out the zoo and explore the national park and I thought these would be fun and lovely outdoor activities. With the leaves changing, I knew it would be a photographer’s dream.
After a two-hour train ride from Sapporo, we arrived at Asahikawa station in the early afternoon. We weren’t able to check-in to our Airbnb until 4pm so we had some time to kill. We looked for a nearby cafe on Google Maps and discovered that there was a mall attached to the station. We were starving so we went purely based on proximity. We walked around the food court and got excited by all the potential snacks and sweets we could devour in one convenient location. We decided to park ourselves at a table, connect to the free wifi, and assess what we were going to eat. Avery came back with some yakitori treats and I followed suit. Then, it was on to the sweets - I chose a glazed donut and Avery devoured a vanilla-chocolate swirl soft serve. To be honest, we couldn’t decide which dessert we wanted for a good 20 minutes - there are just too many choices in a Japanese food court!
Avery mentioned that it was going to rain the whole time we were in Asahikawa. I could tell he was disappointed and I said we should still take advantage and enjoy the outdoors, thinking perhaps there were moments in the morning we could explore (or in the afternoon, whatever). He half smiled and continued looking at his phone and I shrugged it off, knowing I hadn’t convinced him at all. Low and behold, later, he picked up his head again and said “There’s nothing to do here”. I kinda knew this already. I knew tourists came to Asahikawa for only three things: skiing, the national park, and the zoo. (Avery hated coming to a ski town and not skiing. It’s like torture for him - I can imagine). In my opinion, I still wanted to come because Asahikawa was a new destination for us and we needed to go through the city in order to head to the eastern part of the island. The alternative was was to make a 6+ hour trek from Sapporo, which would’ve been fine but why not explore a new city if we can? Asahkiawa is the second largest city in Hokkaido so we thought it would be fun to stop by. But I honestly didn’t even consider the weather when we were planning, foolishly thinking it would be perfect every day. But I’m an East Coaster, rain does not change my plans at all and he’s from California, so rain does dampen his mood (ha ha…get it? Ron Ramin, I hope you appreciate that joke!)
I still felt confident that we would have a good time. And let’s say it does pour like cats and dogs. Then we can catch up on some emails, read, write and drink lots of hot beverages in cute cafes. Or perhaps snuggle up and stay in to have a date night with wine and Netflix. I tend to make the best out of everything. Sure, it’s gong to rain sometimes and it’s not going to be ideal. But we must enjoy it - after all, there are people who take only one vacation a year to Hawaii and sometimes it rains the whole time. We avoided two typhoons, volcanic ash eruptions, and 105 degree weather in Lombok - I’d say we’ve had a pretty good streak so far.
Regardless, I could still tell that he was disappointed but if we get to the Airbnb, he might feel better about it all. When we looked at the host’s instructions on how to find the apartment, we knew we would have some trouble finding the place. Her instructions in English were not clear at all. But being a maps expert, I was able to find the place. It looked a lot like a two-story motel where some doors were pink and some were yellow. We saw door #105, entered the password to get the key from the lock, and opened the door. And suddenly, we became very, very confused.
There was a rug thrown on the floor against the wall. A number of folded up cardboard boxes in the corner, blocking the entrance to the bathroom. The water and the appliances were not hooked up. Hmmm, strange. I walked into the bedroom and there was stuff everywhere: a few stools against the wall, boxes full of random home accessories, a vacuum, two empty garbage pails, a calendar with a opened box cutter on top, and two tiny side tables - all on the floor, no futons set up. The weirdest part was the brand new carpet that had not been properly fitted yet and was just thrown on top of the existing floor. WTF? I looked at Avery and said, “This apartment is not even finished. What type of host does this to their guests?” At that point, I just started to laugh and then Avery started to laugh with me. I had to admit - the whole thing was pretty funny to me. But then reality hit and we needed to think of a plan. I needed to sit. Hooray for the random stools! I pulled them into the living room and we sat there figuring out what to do next. Avery contacted the host but couldn’t get ahold of her. Then, he called Airbnb who would get back to him on a solution. Meanwhile, I scoped out the rest of the apartment and noticed the bathroom wasn’t even working, plus there was no wifi. We definitely couldn’t stay there for much longer. I suggested that we go back to the mall where we can at least have a working bathroom, wifi, food, and water.
We made our way back to the mall and we were just so confused and shocked with the whole ordeal. I started to look for non-smoking rooms available in Asahikawa as a back up, but everything was booked. Avery questioned whether we should go back to Sapporo. There was some availability, but it was not going to be as comfortable or affordable as our last. Avery contacted the Airbnb host to share our dismay regarding the terrible apartment we saw. She said that we actually went to the wrong apartment - we should’ve gone to #105 with the yellow door, not #105 with the pink door. I’m sorry, excuse me? Somehow, we managed to get into another apartment with the same passcode that was also Apt #105. Isn’t that bizarre or is it just me? Also, I feel like it’s not wise to provide the same password for all your apartments. She encouraged us to go back to the correct apartment, ensuring that we would be happy there. At this point, we weighed our options. Behind Door #1: we go back to Sapporo, knowing we have to go come through Asahikawa again to head to Abashiri on Monday. Behind Door #2: we make our way back to Motel Disaster and hope that the accommodations are actually livable. Avery double checked the photos and reviews on the correct Airbnb and she did have 5 star ratings.
Avery gets this look on his face when he’s just too frustrated to make a decision and he needs me to step in. I tend to be the more accommodating one, but being with Avery has taught me that sometimes I need to make the call. After all, he wants me to be happy which I really appreciate. To conclude, I decided that it was best for us to stay and take a chance on Motel Disaster. It didn’t make sense to go back to Sapporo to only come back this same direction. We would essentially have to redo our entire itinerary. Sometimes, you just have to let go of your ego and accept that we made an error regardless of who was to blame. If the other apartment was really that bad, we will figure something out. I have no problem knocking on strangers’ doors asking for their hospitality or sleeping on a bench at the train station. I know Avery would never let us do that, but I was mentally prepared for anything. I knew something like this was going to happen on our trip where we’d potentially be homeless and needed to stick together and trust that everything will be okay. Life could always be worse. At least, we have each other.
After a quick refreshment and a high five, we headed back to Motel Disaster. As we headed towards the other #105, the neighbor next door peaked her head out the window. She must’ve been 75 years old. She smiled and nodded her head and said a few things in Japanese. I wonder if the host contacted her and told her about our ordeal, and she was just making sure we were okay. We nodded and smiled back, entered the same code and unlocked the door. I inhaled and exhaled deeply, taking in all my yogi and meditation knowledge, and opened the door. Eureka! It was the exact same apartment as the photos online! WHOO HOO!! We threw our stuff down and laughed. Pretty crazy, huh?
Avery immediately lay down on the futon and sighed. At the end of the day, we still weren’t totally happy with Asahikawa. Knowing the issue with the weather and the slight dreariness of the city, we decided we were going to stay for only one night versus two. We made the changes to our itinerary with no issues - phew! Finally, a break (thank you spirits and angels watching us!). Essentially, we adjusted our itinerary so we could spend an extra night in Shiretoko where we had one of the best accommodations on the trip with the most beautiful scenery right outside the hotel. We thought that even if it rained the whole time, which it might, we could enjoy a walk in the rain by the lake and potentially see some brown bears. I say this like it’s a good thing and I guess I am. In Shiretoko, the bears are more scared of humans and they don’t typically attack unless you aggravate them, like Jersey girls (I’m improving). Apparently, there’s a “Bear Bell” that you can ring and they’ll run away. Not sure why they do that but apparently it works. We will need to do more research on what to do if we encounter a bear.
In terms of nightlife, Avery’s right - there’s not much to do here. Apparently, Asahikawa has the best ramen but my stomach really needed a rest so I couldn’t indulge that night. There was actually a movie theater attached to the mall by the station - they were showing Sully, the newest Tom Hanks movie at 9:20pm. Hmm, a date night with dinner and a movie with my love! I also have to watch every Tom Hanks movie ever created (he’s my favorite actor, along with Denzel Washington). Since it was raining, and I knew Avery didn’t want to stay in our accommodations the whole evening, this was the next best thing in sleepy Asahikawa.
It was Saturday night and the whole city was in the mall that night. I guess there’s really not much to do here. We picked a classic Japanese restaurant for some donburi (I took it easy on the rice). The cinema was on the same floor as the restaurants which was convenient. You know what else was on the same floor? An arcade! We had some time before the movie for a round or two of games. This was actually going to be the first time Avery and I played at an arcade together. Asahikawa was just full of firsts! We decided to play a racing game. We shouted and laughed the whole time. Then, we played a shooting monsters game which was actually gave me a ton of anxiety but it was so much fun. I beat him at both games, obviously. We walked out of there with big smiles on our face and I knew he was happier.
After a 10-hour sleep, we woke up and decided to have a slow-moving morning, my favorite kind. Our train to Abashiri wasn’t until 5pm so we knew we had time to take it easy. We woke up late anyway so this ended up being perfect. We had to make our way back to the station and decided we were going to eat nearby again. We came across a buffet option that was incredibly affordable - and in terms of food choices, it looked like there were clean options for me. We waited for awhile, and we were just about to give up when a table finally opened up. The buffet was a dream for my stomach. Cabbage salad, soups galore, sushi, grilled chicken, sautéed pork with veggies. I stuffed myself till I was blue in the face. With my diet, I can only have a bite or two of dessert and not an entire helping (that donut yesterday was a bad idea). The dessert display was perfect for me to take pieces here and there, plus a water fountain where I can unabashedly drink a liter in a sitting without bothering a waitress for constant refills. For $15 dollars all-you-can-eat (and technically all-you-can-drink, but non-alcohol), I’ll gladly eat here any time, any day. Luckily in Japan, it’s not too hard to eat clean here but I’m trying to enjoy myself here! I love food (and music, but more food), so this diet is a huge buzzkill. I can indulge, just not everyday. Ah, enforced balance.
Before heading to our train, we played a few more games at the arcade. You really get a rush playing these things. We really wanted to play the game where you’re banging on a japanese taiko drum to a beat, but obviously, on a Sunday afternoon, they were all occupied. There were kids who even brought their own sticks to play. Avery and I both played drums when we were young so I kinda wish we played to see who performed better. I guess we’ll have to try another arcade in Japan some other time.
All in all, Asahikawa was really meaningful to me. I think it gave us an opportunity to work together as a couple in a way that we never experienced before. I excelled where Avery didn’t and Avery manned up when I needed him. After dating Avery for only 2 months, I knew I loved him. I knew he was The One for me and I was going to do everything I could to be his best and favorite partner for life. I know it sounds quick, but I’ve always known what I wanted when I wanted it. It’s days like these that validate the feelings I had for him three years ago. I know he’s my best partner and I am his.
In one of my favorite R&B songs, there’s a beautiful lyric: “when I met you, I met me, too.” Nothing describes how I feel better than this. I love you, baby. I still had a great time in Asahikawa with you.