This time for JA8, I spoke with a previous activator of two summits there, none other than Toru JH0CJH, looking at either Hakodateyama JA8/OM-066 or Kijihikiyama KA8/OM-038. His advice for me was simple, “look out for bears”. This of course led to much frantic Googling of risks of bear attacks in Hokkaido, which led to reading about the Sankubetsu Bear Incident, which made me consider whether I wanted to activate JA8. In truth, both summits are close to the urban environment, so there is no real bear risk. Instead, there’s a strong risk of ticks (about which I’m psychosomatically itching right now). I chose OM-038 as it was closer to the train station, and is almost drive up – the road passes just below the activation zone.
The journey to Hakodate was via the Hokkaido Shinkansen, a bit over 4 hours. Of interest is the lack of WiFi on the Shinkansen, given the prevalence of WiFi just about everywhere else in Japan. Anyway we arrived on the dot of the appointed time which is no surprise to those who have visited Japan, but for anyone who’s gone V/Line in the past, it’s a novel experience.
Along the way, a lot of summits are visible – passing through the spine of Honshu into Aomori and to Hokkaido. At the end, you pass through the Seikan Tunnel, 53km entirely underwater between the two islands, which is an interesting experience.
Renting a car in Japan is quite easy, but you do need to be prepared – firstly, you will need an International Driving Permit. I had lost my last one, but as they are only valid for a year it was out of date anyway. Your local automobile club will hook you up for one, or you can get them online. The other thing about car rental in Japan is you can rent at rates that are less than one day, and there are classes of vehicle that are quite cheap.
In particular, Kei-cars are quite prevalent in Japan. These are small cars with a remarkable amount of space courtesy of fold down seats, a legally limited 660cc engine in them, and in return, cheaper tax rates on registering. They have a yellow number plate, which makes recognising them easy. A drive up a mountain in a 660cc-engined CVT car with pillowy suspension is fun, with the engine screaming its proverbials off and each curve nearly giving you motion sickness from the sway.
The summit is about 15km from the station, and takes under 30 minutes to get there. The drive is stunning. I picked the one October day that Hokkaido has sunshine and the view down onto Hakodate from the road was worth the car hire alone. Another funky aspect was the musical roads – grooved roads that play a melody as you pass over them, providing you go at the speed limit.
Once I arrived, I parked at a viewing place, and walked into the activation zone. I set up the dipole down low, but without much to strap it to, I didn’t have much choice. That prevented me using 40m. 20m however was a money band very quickly, with Toru being first in the log, guessing where I’d pop up and hearing me “tune up”. Actually, I dropped the key and one of the paddles was being pressed by my bag, but I called CQ after that and back came Toru. JA8 activated for Mountain Explorer in about 10 seconds, and with that, I had successfully activated all 4 JA associations, becoming the second person to do so after JJ0QOT. This was also association number 25.
On both activations, I have also struggled to remember my JA callsign (JI1GBE) when I call CQ, and often halfway through a QSO. It didn’t seem to matter much as I qualified the summit quickly and worked about 10 chasers, including JS6TMW down in Okinawa. I switched to 15m CW when I got no bites on 20m SSB and worked a bunch more (including Toru), but eventually my ability to pull callsigns out was limiting me again, and I decided instead it was time to pack up. I said sorry and went QRT, heading back to the train station.
The activation zone was filled with horses, who observed me from the other side of a fence, perhaps expecting a feed. They aren’t quite brown bears, but I was more than a little concerned had one decided it didn’t like my poor CW and jumped the fence.
Along the way, there was a panorama point that I stopped at and grabbed a few photos, before my phone decided it wanted to reboot whenever I was trying to take a photo. I took that as a sign and headed back to the station (albeit frustrated). Another musical road on the way back, and then I stopped for petrol.
Another advantage of them is the small engine is remarkably efficient. For 30km driving, they could only put 440mL into the car. Total cost 57 yen (65 cents). By my count, that’s about 1.47 L / 100km, which is pretty handy economy for a car that is 660cc and screamed its proverbials off as I climbed the mountain.
Back to Tokyo via the 14:44 Shinkansen, writing up some blog posts on the way to be posted once I got back into Wifi range. All up, highly recommended.