There are so many beautiful colours around in autumn that I thought I’d make a video about them! Armed with my new camera and not much knowledge of how it worked, I took to the streets of Hirosaki and Kazuno to capture them.
During the Obon holidays, Shaheen and I decided to visit Hakodate in Hokkaido to make the most of having time off at the same time. This is the low-down on the city, and it features a first-time contribution from Shaheen!
FOOD & DRINK
If you’re a foodie, you’ll love Hakodate. There is an abundance of different types of food and drink here. We quickly (and regularly) made the most of the fresh seafood on offer, feasting on the local speciality, ikasoumen (raw squid sliced so thin that it resembles noodles), as well as various types of scallops, flatfish and salmon. Another local dish is the Oyaku-don (parent-child rice bowl). This usually consists of chicken and egg over rice, except in Hakodate, they make it with fish and roe on rice! In the name of tourism I tried it and it was pretty good, although I’m not really a fan of fish eggs popping in my mouth…
Lucky Pierrot is a chain of burger restaurants only found in Hakodate with rave reviews so we decided to go. Each restaurant has a different theme - we visited one that had a church-like theme and another that had an art deco theme. In terms of their food, they have very different fillings to what you’d find in McDonald’s or Mos Burger. At one point they had whale burgers! However, these were nowhere to be found when we went. Shah went for a Chinese chicken burger while I had a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) burger. They didn’t disappoint!
[Can’t believe we found a place in Japan that does gravy ‘n’ chips!!!]
The Beer Hall in the Bay area was another delight. The surrounding area is perfect for a stroll and is illuminated at night so it’s really charming. We dined like royalty here at a reasonable price. They also have a brewery so I tried the local ‘Red Brick’ brew while Shaheen went for the tried-and-true Sapporo beer.
This is just some of the food and drink we stopped to take photos of.
[Top l-r: Ika soumen, grilled squid, Beer Hall; Middle l-r: Eiley’s Irish Pub, fresh Sushi in the Daimon area, Lucky Pierrot takeaway bag for the journey home; Bottom l-r: Snaffles bakery, sliced deer! in tataki jelly, grilled abalone]
Renowned as offering the best view in Japan, Mount Hakodate’s summit is also regarded as one of the top 3 night views in the world, alongside Hong Kong and Naples. We were lucky to have enough time to visit it during the day as well as at night when the Peninsula really lights up. It’s hard to do it justice with a camera, no matter what set-up you have, as we noticed from the hordes of people trying over and over to get the perfect shot from the top of the TV tower. Some people had been there for a long time, either trying to get a good shot or waiting for people to move out of the way! Luckily, there are plenty of great (and less frustrating!) photo ops from the mountain itself, as well as other numerous points in the city.
[View from Cape Tachimachi, Night view from Mt. Hakodate and my jagged view from the hotel]
Goryōkaku Park has the remains of a star-shaped fort which is the oldest European-style fort in Japan. Whilst hosting many events throughout the year, it also has an observation tower above the fort offering another great view of Hakodate.
Cape Tachimachi’s name is a Japanese translation from Ainu (Yoko Ushi), which means ‘a place to stand and catch fish’. On a clear day you can see the tip of Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture and the view of the clear blue sea is breathtaking, as is the strong wind…
The Bay Area in Jujigai has a lot of history behind it as it was from here that Hakodate was established as an important trading port. Walking along this part of the city felt very reminiscent of somewhere in Europe. This would make sense as it is the place where the first foreigners arrived in Japan, leaving traces of Britain, Russia, Germany and The USA. There is even a foreign cemetery here!
[Street signs offering info in Russian as well as Korean and Chinese; The Russian Orthodox Church; us messing about in the Old British Consulate Museum; a very Japanese-style painting of an Englishman which I found amusing]
[The bear and anchor monument in the top middle is said to be the very point of entry for the first foreigners in Japan. You can also see the red brick warehouses in the other photos]
At times I felt very much at home, especially when walking over cobbled streets and looking at red brick buildings. I never noticed how much I missed these things until I found myself taking photos of them!! Other remnants of British life would be the very English-style garden on the ascent of Motomachi Hills and the Old British Consulate where you can enjoy afternoon tea. Splendid! There are also a few churches in the city, including a Russian Orthodox church. You can even see a French convent on the outskirts of the city.
There are a few interesting museums worth visiting for a change of scenery. I recommend the Museum of Northern peoples, which is an insightful look into the lives of the Ainu, the original inhabitants of Japan.
Hakodate has a system of Streetcars (or trams if you are British) that are a fast and convenient way of travelling around the city. There are tram stops at all of the major tourist hotspots in the city, and there is plenty of English guidance making this the ideal form of transportation for the foreign visitor in Hakodate.
This year marks the centennial of the trams, and the system doesn’t look like it has changed much in that time. Some of the trams look like they could well be relics of that time, whilst others are far more modern and include modern conveniences such as air-conditioning. Here is a selection of some of the more interesting looking trams.
We stayed at Hotel Siena which was conveniently located in Goryokaku, a central location close to the park. While initially a little spooky, what with the whole facade of the building being covered in ivy and a few of the reception staff looking a little Dickensian, we eventually found ourselves charmed by the place. A never-ending soundtrack of twinkly music boxes (one of the things Hakodate is known for) can be heard on every floor of the hotel. Although small and lacking wi-fi in the bedroom, this was no major concern to us, as we could use our phones and there was internet access in the lobby. Plus, we weren’t that interested in staying indoors anyway as there were so many things to do outside! We even bathed in an outdoor onsen!
To wrap up, I’d say that Hakodate is a lovely city and it felt very holidayish (we even found a beach!!). I would definitely recommend spending a few days there to anyone travelling around Aomori. It also happens to be perfect for a romantic getaway. Hakodate is easily accessible by train (our method of travel) or by ferry.
Both the food and the architecture is so different from that of the rest of Japan, and whilst it has a city feel to it, it’s nowhere near as hectic as Tokyo. Being able to take your time in Hakodate is what really allows the city’s true character to emerge.
Recently, we’ve had a few visits from The UK and while we still have more to come, we have been reminded of many of the small ways in which we have adapted to life in Japan. It’s so easy to forget all the small steps that make up an experience. This has become more and more apparent to me from the questions about Japanese customs and nuances that we are now able to answer without thinking but more so by being the source of amusement to our visitors. This new self-awareness has inspired the following list:
Being able to trust the weather forecast - The seasons are stable and consistent here and while the weather in North Japan can be extreme, you can still trust that the weather report is somewhat accurate. I have forgotten how necessary it was to always have an umbrella in my bag all year round, you know, just in case it rained.
Ease of travel - Man, how I miss cheap-as-chips travel from The UK abroad!! I’m still kicking myself for not making the most of it. In Japan, whether you’re travelling abroad or nationally, it’s expensive and/or cumbersome. And what’s all this about having to organise a holiday months and months in advance to get the best deals? Come on Japan!! Another thing I’ve realised is that here, public transport is reliable but not always convenient, whereas in London it’s exactly the opposite. I can’t have it both ways, I guess…
The joy of riding a bike - Cycling is scary in most parts of London. Having to ride in the road is like being a gnat travelling in a swarm of bigger, faster bees. Owning a bike, no matter the quality of the bike or the security of the lock, invites all kinds of theft that makes me think that Barclays bikes are the only way forward. In Hirosaki, a decently-sized city, you can cycle on the pavement! Bike theft happens but is significantly lower (and even then, you can be reassured that it hasn’t been stolen by a crackhead AND you have good odds of getting your bike back). This is mainly because bikes are stolen to get from A to B and then abandoned.
Adopting Japanese mannerisms - Once upon a time in London, thinking was usually accompanied by “Errrrmm”, agreeing with someone “Yeah [blah blah…], surprise with “What!!/Oh my…/R U serious?!…” etc, and apologising by just saying “Sorry/ Excuse me”. Now we say “Ahhhh” (or “Ah!” when an idea suddenly appears), “Hmmmm” and nodding when listening to someone speak, “Huh”/”Eh?”/”Eeeeeehhhh?” and “Oh!” while occasionally tilting my head to the side indicating bemusement and the worst culprit of all, bowing my head and raising one hand in front to apologise for things like being allowed to cross the road and walking in front of someone in a supermarket. When did all of this start happening??!
"Holy crap! Everyone’s Japanese!!!" - Yep, sometimes I’m still surprised that I live here. I go about my daily life as a normal citizen but every once in a while I wonder why I can’t read something. Then I look around and remember that I’m foreign, not everyone else!! That sounds silly but it’s actually crazy how easy its to forget.
Happy New Year!
The two-headed Roman god Janus (after whom January is named) represents reflection and insight. This has inspired my first post of the year. Each first in Japan at the beginning of a new year is special, like the first temple visit, or viewing the first sunrise. I didn’t do either of those…
However, my first snowboarding trip of the year was special. I went with Shaheen and a couple of friends to Naqua Shirikami resort at Ajigasawa. Last month I was enjoying it, but not as much as I felt I did last season. I was starting to wonder if my interest in the sport was waning, especially as my confidence on the snow was a little low. This mindset did a 180 (excuse the pun) when we went on New Year’s Day. There was lots of powdery snow and we all spurred each other on to try different things and to venture into new territory. One of our friends is a skier who hadn’t been in 5 years so he was a little worried. We all expected to see Bambi on ice but he picked it up really quickly! Shaheen also got more comfortable with speed and as he zipped (and sometimes hurtled) down the mountain I could see his confidence soar. Seeing everyone else more at ease definitely increased my own confidence and I can safely say that I am still very much a snowboarder.
Aside from the tangent I just went on, I feel that putting one’s goals down in writing instantly makes them more tangible so I’m gonna share a few of mine with you! This year I want to improve my Japanese ability, stay on top of my finances (both here and at home), do more with my photos and get my hair cut more often!
Tales from Thailand coming soon!