Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Edo meets Hokkaido. (エドが北海道に会う。)

This whole travel thing seems to be a good enough theme; I might as well stick to it for now. Besides, I've had no other amazing brain waves as of late, and far be it from me to stunt  good idea in its prime for no good reason.

Continuing on.

北海道 (Hokkaido), June - August 2007

See, now this one has a reason to be longer than average--I was there for two months during the summer of 2007 on the intensive-language program run by the Hokkaido International Foundation (HIF). I went intending to skip a year of Japanese back at college, and maybe to get a little bit of experience in this country I was potentially getting ready to devote my life to.

I'm pretty sure that that was the summer when I decided to drop Spanish for a bad thing and go Japanese all the way. Sorry, Spain--your food is tasty and your country is pretty, but you're no Japan.


Remember the last post, all about the wonders of my first trip to the capital city of Tokyo?

Well, just after arriving in Hakodate, I took a Japanese language placement test. Yes, I think somewhere around 9 am, after the infamous Haneda debacle, while the majority of us were still reeling from massive jet lag (possibly for the first time in our lives), we were expected to demonstrate accurately our Japanese language skills.

No wonder I ended up in the retard reject 1A. Talk about a jolt of self-worth right off the boat. Or, plane, as it were.

That was also the day we met our host families; certainly a nerve-wracking experience no matter when the time or what the state of your internal clock. Luckily, at least in my opinion (I suppose I could be wrong), I was not signed up to share a homestay with another student, and got a whole family to myself--the lovely Tanaka family.

(You see, I would use an obvious, one-letter pseudonym, like so many other bloggers, but seeing as how Tanaka is right up there with Saitou in "ridiculously common Japanese names 101"... I figure I'm safe with this one. And hey, who said I wasn't using a pseudonym, eh? It'd be just like calling an American family Smith... despite the fact that I've actually never met a Smith in my life... Hm. Anyway. Mull that amongst yourselves, because I'm not telling. )

A nice enough family, even if I wasn't allowed to use their internet because "it wouldn't be fair, since not everyone has internet in their homestays." .... riiiight. The food was good, and I didn't really have a curfew. Not to mention the fact that パパ (Papa; yes, I was told to call them Mama and Papa) would pick me up from the station in the car if it was after dark. And drive me to the station in the morning if it was raining... that was nice.

Pretty sure they were from Honshuu, though, as were most people in Hakodate at one point or another. I guess, being a sort of port-city, it really catered to the migrating population, sick of the crowds and eager for some fresh air.

And hey, the summers are quite nice up there. Not too hot, and no real rainy season to speak of. It did rain for one straight week towards the end of my stay, but I think that was simply the remnants of some typhoon or another.

If you're going to Hokkaido, though, Hakodate is definitely a good place to be. Now, I cannot speak to Sapporo, as I never got up that far (though I should have), but Hakodate itself was a very nice sort of place. Sort of 田舎(inaka), what with one train line that only ran every 45 minutes or so, but still. Everything you needed was right there. Not to mention a ton of good seafood. Port towns are awesome for that. Not to mention the famous イカ (ika, squid), which get their own dance during the 港祭り (minato matsuri, port festival):

That second one's actually from the year I was there; unfortunately, you will see me nowhere in the video, as I did not take part in the parade. Years later, I regret the shyness of my youth. I was far too worried about making a fool of myself to truly enjoy...

Er. Anyway.

Just imagine the streets of a major city, packed with squid-dancing people for hours upon hours, and you'll have some concept of the 港祭り. I mean, sure, there were fireworks and other parades, along with reenactments of Perry's landing (in which some members of my program took part!), but it's really the squid dancing that you go for.

Well, I think so, anyway.

Anyway. If you're going to Hokkaido (specifically Hakodate), remember these things and you'll feel that your trip was worthwhile:

1) 五稜郭 (Goryoukaku) [Linked to a picture and the Wikipedia page, respectively.]

You may remember it as the ingeniously constructed fortress that housed the Tokugawa shogunate's last stand, but I remember it as the hip and happening place to be in Hakodate. If you're a young person going to one of the many colleges up that way, this is definitely your locale of choice come Friday night. Karaoke bars, regular bars, record shops, restaurants... just about anything you could want from your bustling downtown district.

And hey, there's a tower to boot. You just can't go wrong with a tower.

(Side Note- As a testament to how bad my Japanese was during my time in Hakodate, I did not recognize the kanji [except the first, of course] for Goryoukaku when typing it in to this blog--I had to run a google search to make sure I had the right word. Maybe that placement test wasn't so far off after all...)

2) The Squid

They have a squid dance for a reason, guys. If you like squid at all, or heck, even if you don't, try some while you're there. It's tasty stuff, and probably a lot cheaper than you're used to. 

And while we're on that note...

3) The Seafood (in general)

Cheap sushi. What more does the American tourist of Japan want from their guide books, eh? I ate quite a bit of sushi while in Hakodate, all of which was quite tasty, and most of which was rather cheaper than one would usually find. This is not to say that it's the cheap 100円 stuff; no, my friends, this is quality seafood.

... at least, you know, as far as I can remember it.

This was three years ago, you understand.


4) The Night-view

Hakodate is touted as having one of the most famous night-views in Japan; also for a reason. They're not just pulling this out of their bums, guys. Pick up a postcard, any postcard, and you'll see for yourself. Climb up Mt. Hakodate and gaze down upon the wonderment that is Hakodate's unique, sea-encircled shape.

Admittedly, I myself have only seen the night-view through pictures--it was broad daylight when we climbed the mountain to gaze down upon the city below:

I would presume that it is much more dangerous to climb up the mountain at nighttime, at any rate... not to mention the fact that you might miss that ridiculously early last train. But it is some indication of the fame of this view that dozens of images pop up simply from typing 函館 into the search box.

5) The Weather

Remember, people, this is far north. Go during the summer, and it's beautiful. Go during the winter, and you're likely to freeze your tookus off. If you're heading up to the 雪祭り (yuki matsuri, snow festival) in Sapporo, though, it does seem like a logical side-trip... just don't blame me when you can't feel your extremities and thus are barred from properly appreciating the food, scenery and nightlife.

Well, since I'd rather not turn this into another lengthy rant recounting my adventures through the land of north (especially since a two month stay would take a heck of a lot longer than a 24-hour stay), I think that I'll leave it there for today, dear readers. Remember, I do have that nifty little comment doo-hickey down there, so if you have any questions about Hakodate that you think I could answer, please, feel free to ask away. You know how I love having my ego stroked sharing information with the world.

PS- Glay comes from Hakodate. As a certain someone would say, "isn't that just too nutty?" I'm not a big fan myself (they're a bit too poppy for my tastes, generally), but it's always interesting to know where people come from. And I always find local pride to be fascinating--there are pictures of these guys up in a bunch of different places, including all over the various stores of the local burger chain, Lucky Pierrot (...who happen to have a whale burger on their menu. Nutty indeed.)

This is Edo, signing off wondering if she shouldn't have recounted every little detail just to see if she could remember....

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