When I first moved to Sapporo, I started hiking in the hills around the city. During one such hike, I passed a large hut that looked unoccupied.
A few years later in winter, I noticed smoke coming out of the chimney for the first time and went over to check it out. I tried the door; it was unlocked so I stepped into a cold, dark hallway with firewood piled up and a damp smell. This led to another door and a place to take off your shoes where someone had put some fat logs to sit on to make the job easier.
As I was about to take off my boots, the door opened and a small, older Japanese man walked through. He went by the name of Takemoto. You should have seen his face.
When he saw this big, bearded Kiwi, wearing sunglasses and full winter gear, he nearly died on the spot but, once he got over the initial shock, he invited me in. As I walked into the main room, I instantly fell in love with the place. A big, old iron fireplace with pots and kettles hanging above was in the middle of the room, and it put out a warm heat that filled the room.
Sitting there with a hot cup of coffee, I noticed long tables with benches along two of the walls, and books and magazine, some dating back before I was born. There was a small kitchen with running water and everything you need to cook a meal. I also found a set of stairs leading up to four rooms with bunks that could sleep about 20 people.
Once back downstairs, I tried talking to Takemoto in very poor Japanese. I worked out that you could stay at the hut for a very small fee. One of the great things about the place is you don’t need too carry a lot of gear. Just food, drinks and gas for cooking.
When I take people up there, one of the highlights is the meals. I’ll take them by a local fish market before the trek, and they can pick out what they want to eat. If you don’t need to carry much gear, why take instant or freeze dried food? Nowadays everyone seems to be going fast and light.
What I want to know is where have all the real women and men gone, people who can carry some weight? I think they are missing the point. There is nothing better than a hot drink and some good food after a hard four-hour trek in deep snow.
You also never know what to expect when you go up to the hut. I’ve had the place to myself, enjoying wine with friends under the glow of the oil lamps. Other times, I’ve had a bit of a party with locals. Takemoto has even been known to bring out a bottle of his homemade sake, which as done me in more than a few times.
The hut sits at the foot of a 300-meter slope where, in winter, you can get some good runs. Even if you don’t ski or snowboard, you can still enjoy it and have some fun.
Takemoto has been working and living here for more than 18 years. He knows the area well and is always willing to share his knowledge of hiking routes and where to catch the best sunrise or sunset. If you want to check out this place and meet my friend, drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or better yet, I’ll take you there.