Yamatour 2014: Return From Down Under
Part 3

Saturday, November 29: Kita E!

The phrase “Kita E” means “Go North”, and going north I was. An hour and a quarter out of Haneda Airport, I was landing at Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport.

I was feeling quite downtrodden due to the head cold that I was developing, and had foregone the first-class lunch in favor of trying to get a quick nap on the flight up. Even looking out the window, it looked cold. Colder than I have experienced in more than thirty years, living in an Australian city that has never had a recorded temperature at or below freezing. Unlike Kyoto, whose leaves were still on the trees, all the deciduous trees in sight in Hokkaido were, understandably, stripped bare, as autumn ends in Hokkaido much earlier than it does on the other islands.

Just off the plane at New Chitose Airport! The ad on the neighboring
aerobridge caught my eye and was used to have fun with a work colleague.

As I walked off the aircraft and into the terminal, I noticed an ad on the aerobridge of one of the adjacent gates: “Royce”. No idea at the time what it was, but since a work colleague has that name, I sent him a photo of it (in retrospect, had I had the time and the presence of mind to read the katakana at the bottom of the sign – Royce Chocolate – I’d have figured it out). A quick check of Hyperdia revealed I had to hightail it for the train. Fortunately I had no check-in baggage to collect this time around (thankyou Kuroneko Yamato shipping!). So I quickly rushed to get a reserved seat aboard the next train to Sapporo.

On the train to Sapporo.

Along the 45-minute trip to Sapporo (like Narita, New Chitose is a long way out of the city center), I saw a countryside that was well past autumn but not quite into winter; plenty of trees bereft of leaves, but still no sign of snow.

Upon arrival at Sapporo Station, I tried to get my bearings, which wasn’t as straightforward as it should be with a combination of fatigue and illness. I ventured outside and immediately wished I hadn’t. It was blowing a gale, well below freezing and the sun had already set over half an hour earlier (at that time of year, the sun sets just after 4pm in Sapporo). I quickly realized there was no taxi rank on this side of the building and crossed to the other side where I found it. A very friendly lady driver drove me to my hotel, which turned out to be only three blocks away… but in the context of the weather and my health, I wasn’t going to walk it.

The rest of the evening was spent warming up in my hotel room, watching bits and pieces of Saturday night television and catching up with friends on Facebook. Snow was forecast over the next few days. Would it actually appear?

Sunday, November 30

On Sunday morning, my head cold was really starting to take hold, so I was feeling rather lethargic. I spent a good part of the morning lazing in bed and feeding from the supplies I got the previous evening from the nearby 7-Eleven (not my first choice of Konbini when in Japan, but good when it’s freezing and the closest to your hotel).

It was almost noon when I found the energy to step outside. I started by taking a look in Sapporo’s Bic Camera store building, since it had bus stations underneath and numerous tourist buses operated from there.

After a walk-around of the nearby Sapporo Station and its integral shopping center, unable to find an appealing food venue that was not too busy, I decided to head off to where I had originally planned to go on the day – Otaru. I had completely lost track of time in my wanderings and it was after 2pm by the time I got on a train.

Main Street, Otaru.

Otaru is about 40 minutes’ train ride northwest of Sapporo. After a trip offering some rather nice views of the seaside, I arrived. Two things here were of interest to me from my early trip planning – the rail museum and the German Bierhaus. Unfortunately, I would only venture to the former on this trip. I resorted to the station’s Burger King for lunch (my body had decided it was hungry and this was fast and right there). I saw the notorious squid-ink-colored Kuro [black] Burger, but I wasn’t game to try it.

After taking a long time to eat my meal (which included chatting with Terry, Luis, and Tim on Facebook), I stood outside and tried to figure out the best way to reach the rail museum. While looking for tourist buses that went there, I found out they stopped operating in the early Autumn. This left me with the option of a short taxi ride. By this time it was already 3:30pm, so I made my way inside after snapping some of the surrounds.

Entrance to the Otaru Rail Museum.

JGR Class 7100 Steam Locomotive, perplexingly called Shizuka (quiet). Quieter than a diesel, I guess.

After paying my admission, I went in and examined the centerpiece of the exhibits, a late-19th century JGR Class 7100 steam locomotive, which had a sample passenger carriage attached to it that you could walk through. After admiring the train from multiple angles, I took a walk around the various exhibits in the indoor gallery, ranging from uniforms and signals to historic working-model dioramas of the various rail eras in Hokkaido, to the nameplates of huge numbers of locomotives, all the while looking for the elusive exit to the huge number of trains in the outside yard. However, a combination of illness, tiredness, and fast-fading daylight (as well as a sneaking suspicion that the outdoor exhibit was closed) led me to call it a day and seek a bus back to town and a train back to Sapporo.

Two of the working rail dioramas in the museum, showing some of the history of the rail in Otaru and Hokkaido.

After a 20-plus-minute wait, wondering if there were even buses still running to that stop, I was on a bus back to Otaru city center, by which time it was well and truly dark, despite it only being 4:30pm. The town did look rather nice in the evening, and had I been in better health I probably would have delayed my departure back to Sapporo to explore a little bit – and still grab a feed and a beer at the German Bierhaus. As it was, I barely had enough energy to get to the train station, jump on a train, grab a seat, and ride back to Sapporo for an early night.

Otaru lit up. I’d like to say it’s the evening, but it was only 4:30 in the afternoon when I took these!

Monday, December 1

Feeding a cold: Ghengis Khan, gyoza, and fries.

The next day was pretty much a write-off. Cold, raining, and miserable outside, feeling terrible inside. Originally I had planned to take a day trip to Asahikawa, a city famous for its zoo and nearby ramen village. If I’m turning down an opportunity for ramen, you know I’m sick.

Had I not been called by the front desk and asked when I was heading out (so the cleaners could tidy the room), I probably would have spent the day in bed. Instead, I went in search of the bus to the Sapporo Brewery. I spent some time looking through various bus tour pamphlets, had a look at what Yamato merchandise they had in Bic Camera, and then popped in at the big tourist information center at Sapporo Station (which includes a small cafeteria where I tried the local apple juice, which was quite nice).

I found at least some information on the Sapporo Brewery Museum and the adjoining beer garden, even if I could not for the life of me figure out where the bus left from. After wandering around for an hour or more, I finally settled on somewhere to have lunch, a cafe that did a decent spaghetti with meat sauce, before heading back to the hotel.

Despite how bad I was feeling, I didn’t want to stay in the hotel room the rest of the day, so I checked the movie schedules and decided to see Interstellar, which had opened in Australia while I was in Japan. This would result in a most amusing situation in that I was watching the original English Language version with Japanese subtitles, as opposed to my anime watching, which is the reverse. I enjoyed the film on its own merits, though for me it seemed a little too much like Inception, and some of the ideas in the movie were bordering on the ridiculous. (Go look at a planet on the cusp of hitting the event horizon of a black hole. Sure, that’s a great long-term solution for human survival.)

Hungry again, I happened upon a Lion Bar (similar to the one I found in Hiroshima earlier in the trip), where I tried the local favorite, Ghengis Khan (mutton, capsicum peppers and spring onions) along with pork gyoza (dumplings), fries, and a Kohaku Yebisu to wash it all down. After eating that much, I was energized to walk back to the hotel and call it a night.

Tuesday, December 2

The view from the Kinokunia Starbucks in Sapporo.

After sleeping until 8am, I decided to open the window to see if the local weather report was true, and sure enough, there were tiny specks of snow floating briefly in the air. Feeling a little better and with a few things to get done, I dropped my suitcase at reception to be sent onto the next hotel, and headed out in search of a bookstore.

Tim had asked me to pick up an issue of Children’s Science magazine with a Yamato 2199 story in it if I spotted it during my travels. I’d looked at a number of bookstores, convenience stores, and news agencies in various train stations during the last week or so (Tim had only asked while I was in Kyoto), so I set off in search of the Sapporo branch of Kinokunia Bookstore on the opposite side of Sapporo Station to my hotel.

I went inside, avoiding the blistering cold: 0 degrees Celsius with a wind-chill factor of minus 14, a temperature that the locals and people living in Canada, Alaska, or New England would be used to. But for an Aussie living in a city that has never dropped below 4 Celsius, it was bone-jarring.

After considerable searching, I found the magazine Tim was looking for (see the article here), I also found the new Yamato 2199 Pia book. Since I had plenty of time and didn’t want to venture back outside, I headed upstairs to the Starbucks inside the store to relax my aching bones. While I was sipping my hot chocolate (which tasted better than at the Starbucks back home), the snow flurries I’d seen earlier that morning started dancing around outside again.

I reluctantly headed outside and made my way to the bus stop where the bus to the Sapporo Beer Museum left from (I finally found it on the side of the station I first emerged from on Saturday). It was easily the most bone-cracking cold I had experienced. I was incredibly grateful I’d bought a windproof jacket, but that didn’t stop my face from bearing the brunt of it. Fortunately, I only had to wait ten minutes or so before a bus arrived, and I hurriedly jumped on even though it wouldn’t leave for another ten minutes.

Arriving at the Sapporo Beer Museum!

The bus made its way to the Beer Museum. I had a quick look around to gather my bearings for the location of both the museum and the beer garden (fortunately the wind decided to drop off), and proceeded into the museum. While the most impressive part of the museum is undoubtedly the giant metallic brewing keg, the overall display was impressive, even though English-language content was limited.

After half an hour or so wandering through the museum’s exhibits, I found myself in the bar where they offered discounted sample sets. I settled for a single serve of the Sapporo Classic brew, which isn’t sold outside of Hokkaido; a distinctly different beer to the Sapporo Premium lager I normally drink back home. Having finished my beer, I ventured over to the beer garden for a late lunch. I went with a decent-sized serving of Ghengis Khan, which filled me up alongside their own locally-made sausages, and I washed it all down with a tankard of Sapporo Classic.

Sights inside the Sapporo Beer Museum and Beer Garden. Clockwise from top left: the giant brewing keg,
a timeline of Sapporo Brewing Company history, a diorama of the Brewery site, and a collection of beer steins.

I jumped on a bus back to the city, seeing parts of it that I’d only glimpsed from a distance. Eventually I got back to the hotel and began packing for the trip to Hakodate the next day.

Wednesday, December 3: Off to Hakodate!

I woke up at 7am, knowing I had a fair bit to do before checking out and getting to the station. I checked out and made my way to the station, getting there with time to spare before departure. After walking around and buying a couple drinks for the trip, I went into a familiar bakery: Little Mermaid, which I had frequented in Hiroshima Station on both this trip and the previous one. Alas, this one did not have those tasty Camembert rolls, so I had to settle for other options. Since the trip was over three hours and we wouldn’t be arriving in Hakodate until well after lunch, I took enough to make a meal for the trip.

En route to Hakodate. Snow and cold weather aplenty!

Less than fifteen minutes after departing Sapporo Station, I finally encountered it – snow! It had really started to snow in earnest, covering buildings, trees, roads, and fields. It wasn’t long after we first came across this snowy landscape that we encountered snowstorms with plenty of it falling for much of the journey. I was a big kid as far as never having seen snow, and seeing it up close was a big motivator in going to Hokkaido. I spent the majority of the three-hour-plus trip just admiring the white landscape outside my window and watching the snowflakes fall along the way.

My train after arriving at Hakodate Station

About 45 minutes out from Hakodate, the train passed through a station that I would visit the next day, as it offered one heck of a photo opportunity. All too soon after that, we’d arrived at Hakodate station and I was again exposed to an unfamiliar cold. Fortunately, my hotel was right across the road, so I wouldn’t be out for too long. Even though it was only a short trip, to me it was insanely cold with snowflakes hitting my face and me almost slipping on the icy street on more than one occasion.

After checking in, I got out of my cold weather gear, took a shower to warm up, and then decided to get my energy back by lazing around in bed for a couple of hours. I looked at what I could visit the next day, my only day in Hakodate, and watched The Caine Mutiny on TV.

I dined at the buffet restaurant in the hotel, decent but overpriced. After this, I ventured down to the omiyage (gift) store, interested in seeing what I could buy as souvenirs. There, I finally learned of the company behind the Royce advertising at New Chitose Airport: Royce turned out to be a Hokkaido chocolate company. Many of its wares were on display, ranging from various liqueur chocolates to regular chocolate bars to chocolate-coated potato chips, which I didn’t think to be all that weird when I remembered popcorn that had also been covered in chocolate.

Royce Chocolate products of numerous shapes and sizes.

In the end I grabbed some bars to take home to friends and family as souvenirs (including the workmate who shared the company’s name), as well as a box of chocolate medallions and a box of potato-based chocolate crunches for myself (which reminded me of a Rice Krispies-based chocolate treat I had as a kid, though a lot saltier).

Thursday, December 4

I woke early the next morning, knowing I only had that day to see what Hakodate had to offer. While it had snowed the previous night, it was only a light fall. Keeping in mind that nearby towns had been hit heavier, I headed over to the train station, activated my second Japan Rail Pass, and got on board a Sapporo-bound train. 45 minutes later, one corny Yamato pun was achieved, as per the photo below.

The station sign at Mori, near Hakodate. Who gets the Yamato pun in this photo?

That’s one small step for Dan…

After taking the photo, I picked up a handful of snow in my gloved hand. One ambition achieved. I was hungry, and it would be a while before a return train came through, so I left the station to explore. From what I could see, Mori was not much bigger than a one-street town.

After nearly slipping over on the thinner snow several times, I deliberately pushed through the thicker snow and managed to keep my footing. Along the way down the street, I found a post office with a JP Bank ATM, which I used to withdraw cash for Tokyo (more or less what I expected to need at the Shinjuku Piccadilly for the opening day of Ark) before carefully crossing the road.

The town of Mori

After buying breakfast, I went back to the station and saw that the next train back to Hakodate wasn’t far off. I got myself a ticket and again carefully negotiated the station platforms.

Tourist walk signage

Upon arrival back in Hakodate, I headed toward the warehouse district, as was recommended by more than one friend who’d been there. I didn’t venture inside any of them, but markets and stores sold various products such as seafood which is extremely cheap, at least by Australian standards.

I came across engraved metal tourist signs indicating points of interest. Between the weather, and my health still being far from great, the fact that I was only a few hundred feet from my destination was very welcome news.

The buildings are nowadays used as commercial markets and stores, some of them converted into restaurants and others for retail. But when first built, they were used to store whatever goods came into port.

Hakodate’s famous Red Brick Warehouses

After getting pictures of the distinctly western buildings, I headed back toward a tram station in hopes of reaching the docks area, but at arrival at the last stop, I found another site of interest nearby – the gravesite of Yamato character namesake Hijikata Toshizou of the Shinsengumi. Before I arrived here, I didn’t know this was where Hijikata died, in the Battle of Hakodate in 1869. According to a nearby map board, there was a temple a short walk away that had a memorial to Hijikata. Soince I was in the area, I decided to try for it. After half an hour of walking uphill and not finding anything to identify its location (there was a Christian cemetery in sight, but nothing Buddhist or Shinto), I surrendered and went back to the station.


Mount Hakodate

A Hakodate streetcar

After a wait and then a 20-minute streetcar ride, I found myself within walking distance of Goryokaku Tower, a structure reminiscent of an airport control tower on steroids, and decided this would be the best place to get a view of Fort Goryokaku.

A sign advertising the Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Shinkansen Station due to open in 2015.
The sign explains the travel times between Hakodate Station and Tokyo.

Along the way, I came across a sign of interest: Shin-Hakodate, the first Shinkansen station in Hokkaido, planned to begin service by the end of 2015. It will travel between Hakodate and Shin-Aomori Station in northern Honshu, currently the northernmost Shinkansen station in Japan. Shin-Hakodate is actually the site of the former Oshima-Ono Station. Presumably, a faster service will be offered to get passengers from Hakodate.

After paying my admission, I went to the top of the Goryokaku Tower. Despite my vertigo, I walked around for a magnificent 360-degree view of the city, most notably of Fort Goryokaku. This was the site of one of the last stands between the rebel Ezo (former name for Hokkaido) Republic, made up of Shogunate-loyal ex-Shinsengumi, and the forces of the Meiji Government. The Battle of Hakodate was explained in a series of dioramas. The star-shaped fort was quite a site to behold from above, much of it still covered in snow from the overnight falls.


Fort Goryƍkaku from Goryokaku Tower

Some of the view from Goryokaku Tower.

Having had my fill of the sights, I grabbed some food and took a taxi back to the hotel. By this time it was already approaching 3pm and there would only be an hour of daylight left, so I finished some packing before heading out to find dinner. Eventually, I settled on the Hakodate burger chain, Pierrot’s. This chain is exclusively in Hakodate with several restaurants across the city, each having a particular theme pertaining to the entertainment industry. After satisfying my appetite, I walked back to the hotel and called it a night. On the morn I would head back to Tokyo for a long-awaited meeting with my fellow Yamatourists.

Next time: the Yamato portion of the Yamatour begins with Ark of the Stars in Tokyo!

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