KUSHIRO is an industrial city, and coal seems to be a big deal... you can see coal lying on the side of the street here, and smell it burning on the breeze. The fumes from the steelworks reminded me of Wollongong, where I went to high school, in NSW, Australia. Get away from the town, however, and beautiful scenery awaits, including the first wilderness I have encountered in Japan. Cranes are a symbol of Japan, and the sky was particularly wonderful today, as I have already remarked. For train buffs there is a freight line, linking Harutori and Shireto, owned by the Taiheiyo Coal Services and Transportation company. I imagine this is what it would be like crossing Siberia by train in summer, except here the people were nicer. One of the towns was called Tomamu, and beyond it the valleys became U-shaped, as if they had been carved by glaciers in the ancient past. Before too long we were in Shintoku, a quaint northern town. There was a ski resort nearby, and trains leaving for Furano and Takikawa, on the Nemuro Line. We stayed on our Super Great Sky Express; Takikawa would have to wait. Forests of boreal trees, punctuated with farms and ski resorts, led us on the way to Obihiro (Tightening of the Kimono Belt, or something like that), a prosperous agricultural centre. ... Suddenly the sea appeared on the right, and a grey crash of beach. This was a sign we were getting close to Kushiro. Birch/beech driftwood sat on the beach, bare as whale bones. That long black beach is called 99 Ri Beach ("ri" being a Chinese mile)... I am not sure if it is really 99 Chinese miles long, but it is cool name nonetheless. And a famous place for surfing!