The forests here are of birch, pine, spruce willow, oak and larch. There also seem to be small bamboo and maple plants. White tailed deer are frequently spotted from the highway and birds are plentiful. There are shadows of volcanic mountains in the distance.

There are green rolling hills everywhere, and it reminds us of Switzerland (in fact there are a few "Swiss-style" buildings here and there). There are also cows everywhere, and farms sport signs in English saying "registered Holsteins." Hay is baled in large round bales, and covered tightly in black plastic, much like is done in Alaska. There are dairy barns and power lines, and things seem familiar. We expected something more exotic, I think.

The small towns have that same spare look of towns we saw all along the Alaska highway. Towns in areas that have good natural resources, but are cold and remote with stores that sell it all from food to snow-cats, and a peculiar lack of a town center. They seem to be spread along the highway like peanut butter on celery. Easier to keep the roads clear, I suspect.

Kiritappu Shitsugen (Crane) Center

Most farms have windbreaks of larch, perhaps 1/4 mile wide. The highways also have metal windbreaks with louvers that can be put up in high winds. And there are also high rebar poles along the rode so that it can be found in deep blowing snow (now that reminds me of Wyoming!).

Driving along the north coast of Hokkaido we could see the hotly contested outer islands claimed by Russia. Their nearness to the traditional fishing grounds of Japan and the people whose survival on this coast depends upon those waters now makes much more sense than the distant news articles we read about in Alaska's newspapers and CNN.

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