Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Hokkaido Akanko

Photographs of the potholes and flowers, but not a single one of the lake, what the area is famous for... huh. It was rainy and misty, that's my excuse!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Hokkaido - New Friends

We were lucky enough to spend a day with the lovely Vicky and her equally lovely family while in Hokkaido. We chatted, we visited a local hand-made glass shop, we visited a local historical site, and then ended up with lunch and a quick walk around Ecorin-mura. It didn't feel like a first meeting and the day sped by far too quickly, but both U and I felt the day was a highlight of our trip and hope to go back and visit again!

the ceiling of the bathroom of the glass shop -
Vicky instructed us to go to the bathrooms to check it out,
poor U didn't realize why he was being ordered to the toilet,
but dutifully went (and then went again when he was shown my photos!)

long past the end of lotus flower season in Tokyo we spotted these beauties

Ecorin-mura, a delightful mix of gardens that we sadly had too little time to enjoy

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Hokkaido - Porotokotan

Try and say that five times fast - Porokoro... Porotokoka... Porotokoko... Porokoto...

Okaaaay then, just try and say it once, slowly!


There you go.

Porotokotan is Ainu, "Poro" means large, "to" means lake, and "kotan" means village. It is the name of an Ainu outdoor museum near Shiraoi, where we stopped the afternoon after visiting Toshogu.

I had read a few articles about the museum, heard about how it was part of the local Ainu community, how it was creating pride among the community, and how it was contributing to keeping alive or bringing back traditions. I was excited about the museum. It started off well.

The Kotankorkur (statue of the chief) welcomed us.

And two wooden bears stood at attention at the entrance to the village. Unfortunately, however, they aren't the only bears at the museum. There were a handful of large bears and a whole flock of dogs in small cages just off to the right of this picture. I was disgusted and couldn't bear to look at them, let alone take pictures, so we hurried next door, to the Ainu Museum. 

The museum was dated and the exhibits were old, but easy to understand and informative. There were exhibits on traditional Ainu life, hunting, clothing and jewelry, ceremonies, and history. But what really caught my eye was that in addition to Japanese on the interpretive panels there was also English, Korean, and both simplified and traditional Chinese. This was a theme running through the entire site, as we were about to find out as we followed the suggestion of an announcement piped through the site - and made our way to the first big "house."

Inside the "traditional Ainu house" there was a stage and layered seating for probably about fifty people. It was almost full and rather stuffy and dark. We found ourselves a seat and watched a short presentation on traditional Ainu arts - dance, song, and music. While the music and performances were interesting, U and I both agreed that the most interesting thing was that the entire performance was translated into both Korean and Taiwanese by the tour guides of groups sitting on opposite sides of the building. The speakers on stage were obviously used to having what they were saying translated as they would speak a few lines and pause, wait for translation and speak a few lines again. They knew just how much to say and how long to wait and didn't get anxious while waiting. U, who hasn't seen that kind of translation before was very impressed, and I think spent more time listening to the tour guides translate than he did watching the stage.

Sadly it was pretty obvious to us that the entire outdoor museum is geared towards tour groups and individual guests are just extras. For example, only larger groups can book a hands-on experience (crafts, etc) or an "Ainu meal." If regular guests get hungry they have to make do with nikuman and Hokkaido ice cream from a rather sad looking glass-walled shop.

But the lake (that the museum is named after!) was eerily beautiful against the grey overcast sky. And the rain stayed away until we clambered back into our rental car!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Hokkaido - Toshogu

When U asked me where I wanted to go to in Hokkaido, my immediate answer was Hakodate. I could try to tell you that it is because whatever I had heard about the city had convinced me that I would love it - the ocean, the mountain, the historical buildings, the European feel...

But despite the fact that all that is true, you probably wouldn't believe me when I told you that there also happens to be a Toshogu just outside of the city. And of course I would be lying if I said that that didn't have anything to do with my answer!

Hokkaido Toshogu isn't the most northern Toshogu, as there supposedly is one in a shrine just north of Sapporo, but it is a big one, giving its name to the surrounding community of its current location, and it has a history that I can appreciate as someone who has not lived at a single address longer than three years since elementary school!

Its beginnings are unclear, but the shrine now known as Hokkaido Toshogu is said to date back to the late 18th or very start of the 19th century, either prior to or at the time Ezo (the name for Hokkaido during the Edo period) was put under direct control of the shogunate. It seems to have originally been part of Toju-in, a Tendai temple under the patronage of the shogunate and one of the three most important temples on the island. Toshogu was moved in 1864 when, in the last years of the Edo period, the Hakodate magistrate's office and Goryokaku were built. Toshogu was moved to Kamiyama, a village to the north east of Goryokaku. This placed Toshogu at the important "demon gate," guarding the fort from the unluckiest of directions. The village was also renamed at the time, changing the way the name had been written from 上山村 (Kamiyama-mura: upper mountain village) to 神山村 (Kamiyama-mura: sacred mountain village). The Toshogu is known to have been well-loved by the villagers and visited regularly for special prayers for the shogunal family, the emperor, and the village itself. This is likely due at least in part to the financial benefits to the village of having the shrine relocated and rebuilt in their village.

Unfortunately, however, only days after the monthly rituals on the first day of the fifth month of 1864, the main building of the shrine caught fire and burned to the ground. The shrine moved temporarily while building was begun on a new shrine on the Kamiyama site, but in the meantime the Meiji Restoration happened. Hakodate, however, was still in Tokugawa hands and they felt Kamiyama was too far away, so Toshogu was moved closer to the city in 1874. It then moved a further three times in the following five years and settling for a while before being moved to its current location in 1991 and being named Hokkaido Toshogu.

The first torii gate is a rather modern-looking one on the main road, a few minute drive from the shrine itself.

The second torii is more traditional

and the shrine grounds are green and wide open - much like Hokkaido itself!

Although it looks like (and felt like) there is not a soul around, the priest drove up in his car (in black Shinto priest robes!) as we were throwing coins in the box and doing our two bows, two claps, one bow.

U dashed off immediately to get our shrine stamp books, and the priest good naturedly (although somewhat bemused and not quite sure of who or what we were) stamped our books and sent us on our way with pamphlets.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Our trip to Hokkaido this summer almost didn't happen. Other plans had fallen through and fallen through and we kept putting it off and off and off... But we went, and had an amazing time! It was a little random - I wanted to go to Hakodate and U wanted to go to Shiretoko (think completely opposite sides of the island) - but U managed to take nearly two weeks off so we had 10 wonderful days in Hokkaido. (Don't worry, I'm not going to try to cram it all into one post, I have too many photos! And besides, I want to drag it out as long as possible for my own benefit!)

We started and ended in Hakodate - and both fell in love with the city. I kept jokingly asking U if there were a university there for him to work at... but sadly there isn't, sigh!

We started things out perfectly - after a long day of trains we arrived in the evening, checked in to our hotel, showered, and set out for dinner - and found a beer garden just steps from our hotel. We didn't get much further, enjoying Genghis Khan (grilled lamb and veggies) over a portable grill on a picnic table in a park, a refreshing breeze blowing from the ocean a few blocks away, enjoying a gorgeous summer evening under the stars.

We crammed a whole lot in to the next day - starting with melon and raw fish in the morning market for breakfast, then going to the star-shaped fortress of Goryokaku and the newly-rebuilt magistrate's office.

Goryokaku Tower 

Finding the infamous Hakodate fast food chain Lucky Pierrot to be a popular lunch choice we got take out and found ourselves a bench by the ocean and watched a stray cat hunt the seagulls and pigeons that eagerly awaited our hamburger crumbs.

Lucky Pierrot's best seller: the "Chinese Chicken Burger" was... ummm... interesting? 

Then I dragged U to not one but THREE museums - which he put up with amazingly well (he claimed he enjoyed it! the boy knows how to humour me!) ending at the old British Consulate where we melted in the tea room and had tea and scones with jam and whipped cream (not the same as clotted cream but still yummy). A short meander along old and very European streets brought us to the foot of the ropeway up Mount Hakodate.

We got up to the top of Mount Hakodate, along with approximately half the population of Japan, with plenty of time to watch the sun set in a blaze of pink and golden clouds.

And then plenty of time to stand four or five rows deep and attempt to take the famous photo of Hakodate lit up at night...

 Undeniably very pretty but the hordes of people trying to take this picture? Muuuuuuuch less pretty!

The perfect start to a pretty amazing holiday!