"Can you see them?"
"No." I peered through the binoculars.
"Yes you can, keep looking, you will see them."
"What do they look like?" I saw nothing but rocks.
"They look like rocks," she said.
"Ooh, I see them."
There are at least 20 seals in that picture, sunbathing on the tail of rocks jutting out into the Pacific Ocean.
I was with a seal/wind expert named Ayako on the second-floor observatory of a wind-themed tourist attraction called the Wind Palace. The people of Erimo love their wind. According to the information booklet,
The day on which the wind blows more than 10m/s is over 290 days in a year. To us, Erimo's townspeople, the wind is inseparable.
Not as inseparable, however, were me and my $5, which I eagerly forked over to experience the second attraction of the Palace -- a large wind tunnel that blows up to 90km/h, simulating the gale-force winds frequently felt on the cape.
Standing in the tunnel, I leaned into the wind created by the huge fan in front of me. My heart beat faster. The roar of the air rushing past me was deafening. I walked closer to the fan with my arms spread wide, pretending I was Bill Paxton in Twister.
"It's an F5!!" I screamed, but the wind stole my words and Helen Hunt couldn't hear me.
It was a cool place, but unfortunately other tourists aren't as enthused. Apart from about 10 staff members I was the only one there. One of them kindly drove me to a local youth hostel, noting, as he drove, the yearly decline in the number of tourists the area sees.
He blamed the economy -- I blame their marketing. Five bucks for a wind tunnel experience and seal-viewing? Give me a marketing budget and a small office (sheltered from the wind) and I'll get revenues up.
In any case, if you're ever in southern Hokkaido, do the Erimo folk a favor and check out "Kaze no Yakata" (Wind Palace) in Erimo-misaki, Japan. It'll 'blow' you away.