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  4. 2018.8.17

Puzzling signboards国道231号線沿いの不思議な看板

国道231号線沿いの不思議な看板© Getty Images
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There is a famously scenic driving route that stretches along the Japan Sea coast of Hokkaido. It is popularly known as the Ororon Line. I am lucky to spend part of the year on the section of this route that is Highway 231.

Highway 231 is a rural highway with some puzzling signboards. They are wood panels, often rough, with hand-painted words that don’t make sense. When I see one of these signs, natural curiosity pushes me to find out who created it and where it leads to.

For example, not far from my studio there is an old billboard with a simple drawing of a flying saucer over the words “UFO Park.” But there is no park of any kind nearby.

The closest turnoff from the billboard leads to a dead end. The billboard itself has no description of the park or directions on how to get there. It does have a phone number, but when I dialed it, a recording said the number was no longer in use. I made some calls to the local ward office, but no one seemed to know about the park or the history of that billboard. It remains a mystery.

Earlier this year, I noticed a small handwritten sign that said “Alice Cafe.”

It seemed to point to a weather-beaten red-and-green house close to a collection of summer cabins. I decided to stop there for lunch. But when I entered the house, I discovered that it was a pottery studio and not a cafe at all. I’m happy to say that the potter was a kindred spirit and I made a new friend that day.

More recently, I became intrigued by a square wood sign painted with a simple cat face and triangles stuck to the top like a cat’s ears. The writing said “Cat Play.”

Was it a sign for a cat cafe where customers could drink coffee while cuddling cats? It was unclear which turnoff was the correct one to take or how far it was from the highway.

I persuaded two friends to help me search for this mystery shop. We found it after a long meandering drive between newly planted fields. Our car got stuck on a steep, muddy driveway from which we barely got free. The shop turned out to be a cat art gallery.

Once we had safely arrived, we were delighted by the cat art, as well as by the little curry restaurant connected to the gallery. We spent a wonderful afternoon giggling and gasping and taking photos.

I love the puzzling signboards on Highway 231. They lead me to new adventures. (Deborah Davidson)

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