Monday, September 6, 2010

Roadtrip Out East (In the Far East)

With a weather forecast calling for typhoon rains, I and a few other Sapporo English teachers headed out on a camping roadtrip to the eastern side of Hokkaido for the weekend to attend the HAJET (Hokkaido Association of Japan Exchange and Teaching) Eastern Welcome Party.

Our destination was a (typically) 5-hour drive away at Lake Akan (Akanko), an area known for its beautiful nature, as well as for having one of the largest remaining populations of people with native Ainu (pronounced i-new) ancestry and heritage.

The Ainu were Japan's indigenous people who were native to northern Honshu and Hokkaido, that is until the 1800s when Japan declared that it had NO indigenous people and instead forced the them to assimilate (such a familiar story). You can read more about this fascinating group here.

As the Ainu weren't declared an official indigenous group by the Japanese government until 2008 (!!!!!!!!), their culture has pretty much been pushed into a few overly touristic remnants and smatterings, hence the Ainu Kotan Village:

Akan Lake itself is beautiful, clear, and especially appealing during a "typhoon":

This weekend gave me the opportunity to hang out with a few new JET is our album cover:

All nature and indigenous folk aside, the Akanko area is perhaps best known for its marimo, or green algae balls which grow at the bottom of the lake. According to most Japanese, Lake Akan is the only place in the world where one can find marimo, although Wikipedia tends to disagree a bit.

And it wouldn't be famous in Japan unless it was personified and made into a mascot! I present to you, Marimokkori, our--ahem--well endowed green algae friend! His name is basically a play on words in Japanese: marimo of course being the algae balls and mokkori meaning 'erection.' All over Hokkaido, you can buy EVERYTHING Marimokkori, from keychains, blankets, and stuffed dolls, to Hello Kitty, plastic toys, and toothbrushes. Of course, he even has a girlfriend:

As well as his own cruise ship, which will take you out on the lake to a little island in the middle which is home to a marimo research center. This was definitely a necessary trip:

Marimo in their full glory!

The main activity of the weekend was mingling, barbecuing, and camping with other JETs from around the island at the Hajet Eastern welcome's always a good chance to get to know others whom we rarely see (especially us "poor" city folk who have a hard time getting past the city limits!):

So now with a little roadtripping aftertaste in my mouth, I'm anxious to get out and explore more of Hokkaido this autumn! Honda Rental, here I come...

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