Sunday, 2 August 2015

'Busy', is the new 'relaxing'

Date: Sunday 2nd August 2015

Weather: The day started with intermittent rain showers however, buy 1pm (or to put it another way; just after I'd bought an umbrella), the rain subsided to allow the sun to shine periodically through the dense sheet of cloud, which was in the sky all day, creating quite a bit of humidity.

MP3 track of the day: Busy doing nothing -Ace Wilder

I woke up a little earlier than I had anticipated and decided that, instead of trying to get back to sleep again, I'd just start my day earlier than planned. As I left my room to take a shower and brush my teeth (communal bathroom … it's Japanese!) I peered out of one of the hotel's many windows and gazed upon Hakodate's main street. Alarmingly cars had their windscreen wipers moving back and forth and pedestrians had their umbrella's up. Flashbacks to the start of my summer holiday last year (where it rained continually for the first week due to a typhoon coming … therefore you have to listen to the 'Donovan') came rolling back. I therefore took my time and, before leaving for the day, I checked the BBC's weather forecast which stated heavy rain. With a sigh I left my hotel in the direction of McDonald’s; I had mentally prepared myself for being bombarded with rain drops however, for the moment at least, the clouds were only threatening.

I made it to McDonald's dry and proceeded to eat breakfast. Once consumed I read my guidebook in regards to this city and formed a 'plan of action'. Looking out of the window the rain was still light, if it was raining at all. Thankful that yesterday I had spent a couple of hours or so looking around Hakodate's main attractions, I decided to walk half an hour to the only main attraction I had missed; Goryokaku fort. Once this had been visited, I would return to town and, if it was still gloomy, I would look around some shops housed within a few old European style red-brick storehouses before moving onto a museum about 'the people of the north'. I had intended to climb Mount Hakodate today however, as I couldn't actually see the summit due to the rain clouds, there seemed very little point.

The walk towards Goryokaku fort was partaken at a time when the weather couldn't make up it's mind. It would 'spit with rain' from time-to-time however, after about ten minutes or so it would get bored and stop …. only to start up again ten minutes later.

Before arriving at the fort itself, I had to walk past a ninety meter high viewing tower which, though my guidebook said that it was the best way of seeing the fort, I declined to pay the hefty entrance fee due to the weather. I went into the shop though as, by now, the rain was falling quite heavily therefore I bought the cheapest umbrella possible. This turned out to be a mistake; though it cost less than two pounds, it was only big enough to protect my head and shoulders. My arms continued to get wet and because of the small size, it was quite difficult to hold. This is one of the things I love about going away for my holidays; though at this point it looked as though a giant was trying to sort protection, from the rain, from a child's umbrella, it mattered not if anyone saw me. When travelling you can look like a 'chump' and it really doesn't matter.

Of course, after one final downpour the rains receded and rendered my umbrella useless. Due to the 'child-like' size I was able to hang the umbrella off my satchel allowing both hands to be free to take photos of the star-shaped fort in front of me. This late nineteenth Century fort was built because of fears of Russian aggression towards Japan's northern territory. In fact, the only action this fort saw was when it was captured by Tokugawa's naval forces in a last-ditch effort to uphold the Shogun's power against the Emperor. With no real support, this rebellion was short-lived and was crushed less than a year after it had started.

As I mentioned before. The fortress was a 'star-shaped design' with five points ('Go' in Goryokaku means five) projecting over a moat which encircled the whole fort. There were therefore three possible paths I could take around this fort; one was around the outside of the fort. The second was along it's walls and the shortest was in the compound itself. I of course did all three starting with the longest and, as it turned out, the most disappointing. The walk along the walls was pretty boring too, apart from the last third which gave great views of the city of Hakodate and, after you had turned around, a commanding view of the inner courtyard. The inner courtyard was covered in trees; there were many signs placed next to marked areas on the ground. These signs told you what type of building stood within the marked displays. Finally the 'centre of administration' building had been rebuild in accordance to the original design. It cost money to enter so I declined, favouring taking photos of the building from the outside.

After removing the sand from my shoes I decided that it was time to leave this area and, as the sun had come out, I decided to walk back into the main part of town. As you will have noticed, I didn't really say much about the walk from McDonald's to the fort because, there really isn't much to say. Just like in Los Angeles, it would appear that, in-between the towns main tourist attractions lies urban wasteland which holds little interest.

I found myself within McDonald's again, four hours after I had left it. This time I ordered an ice cream and milkshake which I consumed quickly. After brining my body temperature back to its usual level, I decided to keep with the plan for today even though the weather had improved. As I looked out of the window I noticed that I could now see the top of Mount Hakodate, putting that attraction back on the table.

Once back within the centre of town I headed towards the red-bricked store houses which first saw life as warehouses for traders. They now have been renovated into small shopping arcades with the most adorable shops inside. Now, I am not one for shopping however, there wasn't a clothe shop insight. All of these shops had a connection with craft. One shop sold traditional Japanese things, all of which were made in Japan (I really want a Samurai sword). Another half of these warehouses were made up of hundreds of music boxes with an area where you could buy individual parts to make your own. Within one of these shopping arcades I spotted a bakery called Snaffles. Victor – my friend from Miyako – used to live here in Hakodate and he had recommend that I enjoy at least one of their cakes. My fate was sealed when a woman from the bakery handed me a free 'taster' of their cheesecake. The cheesecake on sale, was the size of two jaffa cakes on top of each other therefore, I ordered two (what; never ate four jaffa cakes in quick succession before) with a coke. The cheesecake was delightful though difficult to explain; it didn't really have a particular strong taste and yet, it tasted just right.

Once consumed I made my way back around Hakodate's harbour to the only museum my guidebook recommended. The 'Hakodate Museum of Northern Peoples' was it's name and, at £1.50 entrance fee, it was a steal just to be able to be indoors for a little while. Though the 'seal skinned canoe' and clothes from extinct tribes - which occupied an area consisting of Horkkaido, north-eastern China, eastern-Russia and a chain of islands almost reaching to Alaska - was interesting, the museum held little else of interest. I wasn't mad though. When I had chosen the museum this morning, it was more due to the weather conditions than my desire to look around a museum. It took me half an hour to see all of the exhibits and read the few English signs there were. I learnt quite a lot in that half an hour too, as the rooms were split into the different aspects which make up the 'northern tribes' daily lives. Like I said, I enjoyed the clothes and reading about what the patterns meant but, the 'room about gods' was quite funny. To me it would appear that all of the exhibits in this room could have been placed in other rooms within the museum ... if it wasn't for the fact that all of the descriptions had the word 'ceremonial' before what the item was. It felt as though the curator had way too many pots and pans for the 'home life room' and decided to randomly select some to have the word 'ceremonial' put in front of them, which then allowed them to have a higher status within the museum.

After thirty minutes I left the museum satisfied, but starving. The time was 3pm and I was going to head for lunch ... if I hadn't seen a bridge which led to a small island located in the middle of Hakodate's harbour first. This island consisted of a park and was 'out of bounds' yesterday as the fireworks – I guess – were lit from this island. I walked around it – getting in a few fishermen's way – quickly before finally heading for lunch. The time was now 3:30pm and the rain was falling once more.

Yesterday I had visited Hakodate's famous hamburger chain. Today I would visit another famous fast-food restaurant. This one served 'yakitori bento's' … one of the only places in Japan to do so. 'Yakirtori' is barbecued meat and vegetables on a stick. 'Bento' means boxed lunch therefore, a 'yakitori bento' consisted of a bed of rice with sheets of seaweed separating the rice from the sticks of meat which had been drizzled in a sauce (I went for a spicy sauce). The bento was lovely though, due to the nature of 'yakitori', I found myself eating all of the sticks of meat leaving me with a box full of rice.

Once I had consumed my 4pm lunch I realised that I had been on 'the go' for seven hours. Realising that a break was needed, I headed back to my hotel where I met the lovely receptionist. I once again told her that my intention was to head up the mountain tonight to which she frowned. Apparently tonight there will be a parade (Fireworks last night and a parade tonight … this really is too much) and, guess what, I wouldn't be able to see it from the mountain top. Once again I postponed my trip to Hakodate-yama in favour of this parade. As today is Sunday, this is the last day of Hakodate's festival. I have therefore been assured that there will not be any special events tomorrow night and I will therefore be free to wander up the mountain whenever I feel like it. I thanked the lady for her help before going to my room. I had an hour and a half before the parade started.

Like most Japanese parades, I heard it before I even saw a glimpse of it. Following the noise (and the huge amount of people) I found a street barricaded off to traffic by the police. I found a spot (which, unbeknown to me, was right at the end of the parade) and waited to see what was in store.

The parade turned out to be like any other 'local city' summer parade in Japan. For those of you who don't know, a typical Japanese summer parade consists of many different groups. Each 'group' consists of a float (usually pouring out music) and a large group of dancers whose chosen dance routine keeps them moving forwards at a leisurely pace. Due to being almost at the end of the parade, some acts finished dancing before they passed me. I did think of moving however, these 'early finishers' were few and far between.

Most groups were aligned to a local company. Members of the post office were out in full swing, and so too were the railway station staff. At one point a large proportion of the crowd – all young women – came hurling towards me, camera in hand, and smiling. I have been proclaiming that I attract women for many years but now, I thought that I had proof. My smile lowered as I noticed that the next float coming was the local fire brigade. This dance routine was made all the more 'manly' with half of the fire fights being shirtless. As soon as the group of fire fighters went past me the women followed suit.

The parade kept going and I occasionally took the odd photo. A float from Aomori's Nebuta festival (see my Aomori blog for more detail) seemed to have been loaned and that did draw in the crowds.

A large portion of the groups were all doing the same dance to the same music. I thought that this was just laziness however, after reading my guidebook, I discovered that a large portion of the festival was dedicate to squids (a very important food source here).

After two hours the flashing lights of a police car could be seen, which is the tell-tale sign of a festivals end. Due to being stood towards the end of the parade, crowds were light as I walked back to my hotel. It was only 9pm and so after surfing the web for a short while I had an early night.

Tomorrow I am off to my first national park within Horkkaido. Though my guidebook states that train are 'frequent', I'd disagree. I went to the train station to find out the times and discovered that only one train ran every two hours. I shall therefore try to get up at 6am and head to the local fish market (an attraction if you are up early). I shall stay for an hour or so before grabbing breakfast to eat on the train to the national park.

The last train back is at 5:30pm so it looks as though I'll be back in time for tea and possibly, a hike up Hakodate's mountain …. but that has been said before.

Toodle Pip!

P.S. Even though it has been a cloudy day, I appear to have got a little sunburnt.

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