We eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and went downstairs for a Japanese-style breakfast: rice porridge with grilled salmon, fermented bean cheese, stewed daikon and the works, plus Hokkaido favourites, potato salad and pasta salad.
After breakfast, we dashed downstairs for another bath. By the time we emerged, all scrubbed and soaked, the rain had let up. We took advantage of that to take some last photos of the scenery.
Shirohire Waterfall again
that stream sans mist
a closer look
Big Snow Mountain National Park, literally
It was time to leave. The hotel provided a free ride to Biei Station, so it was that we found ourselves back in Biei town, with enough time before our second Twinkle Bus Tour, to check our email at the Tourist Information Centre.
The Hill Country Course Tour would take us to the other side of Biei, arguably the more famous side. This was where many an advertisement had been shot, and the "landmarks" had names like "Tree of Ken and Mary" and...
Tree of Family
Not being familiar with Japanese advertisements, we were happy just to appreciate the beauty of the landscape, not to mention the ubiquitous quirky bits and the lovely architecture.
rolling fields, mountains - we could certainly see why the Japanese, living in less spacious conditions, would fall in love with this place
you know you are in Japan when there are vending machines everywhere
why do people have to be told these things?
woot, the Calbee Potato Chip factory!
The main pitstop was at the rather grandiosely named Northwest Observatory Park
that white structure is the Northwest Observatory...
We walked around, taking in the view from ground level and from the top of the observatory.
landscaped, rather than landscape
bird's eye view of the stalls (of course) and the parking lot
more beautiful buildings
The weather had indeed cleared up, for the moment anyway.
on a clear day, you can see forever
ah, finally, patchwork fields
we couldn't resist a snack
steamed corn and asparagus
I know that looks like bunny food for health nuts, but, believe me, the corn and asparagus were so flavourful, they felt sinful.
a last look
We weren't too distraught at having to leave - our choice of accommodation for the night would put us right smack in the same neighbourhood, but more on that later...
In the meantime, we found ourselves back at...
... the Biei Station
With a couple of hours to kill before our ride to our accommodation picked us up, we had ourselves a nice lunch. We went back to Okirakutei Cafe Restaurant.
country cafe vibe
with little "authentic" touches
The chef himself was in attendance, and explained to us that it was a one-option prix fixe menu i.e. there was no menu, just a set meal. And the main course?
pot au feu
fresh garden salad
We were not surprised that the cooking was more than competent, and made good use of the freshest of local produce. To us, that was so Japanese - that in the middle of nowhere, it would be possible to find classic French food.
The sun was finally out in full force - the town, and in particular its gardens, were in full technicolour.
In the bright sunlight, the town looked like a movie set for "The Truman Show".
Apparently town legislation mandated that all buildings on the main streets had to have triangular roofs and the year they were built emblazoned on their facades.
And then there were the whimsical signs . We wondered if those were mandatory too.
In some ways though, I preferred the more organic, less planned side of town.
the town bath-house!
We finally collected our luggage from the Tourist Information Centre and waited outside the Biei Station for our ride to Potato No Oka. Mr Marushima who had corresponded with me duly arrived at 3.10 p.m.
Potato No Oka was a youth hostel in the fields of Biei. We had long considered ourselves too old for the enforced sociability of youth hostels - young backpackers, shudder - but we made an exception for this one. Every single review we had read had mentioned the excellent food, that plus its excellent location. Hopefully, this being a Japanese youth hostel, it would all be very civilised.
We were given the Pumpkin Room. Small and simple, the room was clean and functional.
ooh we would have to make our beds ourselves
the view from our window
The building was all polished timber floors.
the building had a number of these stained glass sunlights
cosy sitting area upstairs
the view from the upstairs sitting area
the rec room
look who's hiding out in the rec room
the dining area
So far so good - the hostel was quiet, clean and not unpretty. It wasn't time for dinner yet, so we decided to go check out the great outdoors. We were reminded to be on time for dinner - at Potato No Oka, everyone ate together.
the main building
Just behind the main building were some cute cottages...
and a restaurant which may or may not have been open
We went a little further afield, to take in all that Mother Nature had to offer.
we weren't the only ones out walking
We walked up and down that stretch of road running past Potato No Oka several times, and in that time, the weather blew hot and cold. It was fascinating to watch how the landscape transformed as the sun played peek a boo with the clouds.
We even managed to catch sight of some birds:
the ubiquitous crow
We even caught sight of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, hopping up and down a wooden lamp-post, but could not get a good shot of it.
When we returned to the hostel, we found that the tables in the dining room had been set and labelled. We sat down at "our" table on which our dinner had been laid out.
fried fish with tomato sauce, daikon and asparagus
miso soup with tofu and mushrooms
potato gratin with tomato sauce
satsuma (mandarin orange) jelly
Dinner was a real pleasure and every bit worthy of the hype. Again, this was a gourmet meal, using French techniques to bring out the best of Japanese ingredients. We didn't see any chef - dinner was served by the hostel staff - though there must have been one.
After dinner, everyone was served half and half coffee (half soy bean, half coffee). Mr Matsuda, the owner, stopped by each table to explain that half and half would help us sleep better. He assured us that the coffee served in the morning would be full strength!
After dinner, we observed a group being briefed on the next day's cycling tour of the tour of the area. We had other plans. We retreated to our room. While HM showered, I made our beds.
not too bad, eh?
And then it was lights out.