IT was a sunny day today, Day Four of our post disaster tour of northern Japan, and the sky had that kind of pristine blue which Japan does so well (even down in Tokyo, with all its pollution). We had arrived at Sapporo's bustling railway station to board the Super Ouzora for the four-hour trip, via Okibiro, to Kushiro (K53). Ouzora means "great sky" in Japanese, and the sky was particularly wonderful today, as I have already remarked. Once we were past the airport and out of the city the land opened up, and the trees started to take on a Siberian bent. Shirakaba (beech/birch) trees lined the hills, their silver/white boughs glistening in the sun. Hills and mountains creeped by, while the Nordic little alpine towns were positively whirring. 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!