Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Hokkaido - Abashiri

Back to Hokkaido! No, not us, we're stuck in Tokyo, but I realized I hadn't finished blogging about our trip to Hokkaido this summer.

After leaving our new friends, we drove to Obihiro (which neither of us can now say normally, we MUST sing it  like the Orihiro glucosamine commercials) where we had quite possibly the best meal of our entire trip, an amazing "Genghis Khan" (grilled lamb/mutton bbq) feast.

The next day we continued north, stopping on the way at Akanko, and going to Abashiri. We spent the morning with all of the other tourists at the Abashiri Prison Museum, which ended up impressing me much more than I had anticipated. It is an open-air museum that tells the history of the infamous prison and role of the prison (or rather its inmates) in opening up Hokkaido. In addition to a traditional museum with exhibits, there were also plenty of hands-on opportunities, dioramas in historical settings, and easy-to-understand explanations in four languages (Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese, the latter was often included in both simplified and traditional, so I should say 5 languages).

 Welcome to Abashiri Prison - in five languages!

a wing of the old prison, with one heater for a long hallway of cells
that must have been bitterly cold in the long Hokkaido winters

a diorama of a more modern prison cell -
you could open the door and walk in and poke around

a line of prisoners... with U bringing up the rear!

After a nutritious lunch of gelato made from Hokkaido cream, we were ready to tackle our second museum of the day, the Museum of Northern Peoples. Very close to the Prison Museum, the Museum of Northern Peoples is sadly not a regular stop for tour buses. We, however, were lucky enough to have a personal tour arranged for us. My advisor knows the museum staff, having been involved in a number of archaeological digs connected with the museum. So after U and I toured the permanent exhibition on our own with the aid of one of their new and very impressive ipod touch audio-visual tours, the head curator gave us a tour of the special exhibition and the so-called "backyard" of the museum - the staff work spaces, the storage areas, and the director's room-with-a-gorgeous-view. The exhibits were stunning - a simple and straighforward but visually impressive overview of the huge range of native peoples that live in the northern reaches of the northern hemisphere. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between peoples who live in similar climates around the world. (and yes, I did get very excited in the kayak section!) Both U and I were surprised to discover that the exhibits date to the original opening of the museum, some twenty years ago. Sure there were some sections (the holographic video display!) that seemed dated, but overall it was a great exhibit.

a range of clothing from a variety of northern peoples

a little bit of home - exhibit on the peoples of Northwestern Canada

It was U's first time to see the backyard of a museum and he was fascinated. He asked tons of questions and kept talking about the museum long after we left. He was most impressed, however, by our guide. The head curator is an obviously very intelligent and dedicated woman who has been at the museum her entire career. She clearly loves what she does and, after a brief sizing up, she and I clicked as we recognized each other as kindred spirits - fellow museum nerds. She made the visit all the more special and I am very grateful to both her and my advisor for arranging such a special experience for us.

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