After seven days crossing the North Pacific from Glacier Bay we arrived at the island of Hokkaido and the city of Kushiro to start our visit to Japan and experience its culture.
Hokkaido is the second largest of the four main islands of Japan which is in fact an archipelago of many thousands of islands. Today Hokkaido’s main industries are agriculture and fishing. Historically it is the ancestral home of the Ainu people who inhabited the island for hundreds of years before being taken over by the Japanese. This is not dissimilar to the situation with other indigenous peoples around the world, with the Japanese recognising the importance and benefits of ensuring the survival of Ainu culture.
The excursion during our one day in Kushiro took us to the “blue” Musho Lake which, because of the all-to-common fog, was not blue and barely visible. Next at the hot springs demonstrated the volcanic nature of this part of the world. The sulphur plumes and odour from the hot springs were all pervading and is something we don’t experience in Oz. The real highlight of the day for me was just driving through the countryside with its forests of yellow and orange and red autumn leaves – quite spectacular. Every now and then we would come across the a few graceful Japanese cranes with the red crowns, grazing next to the road.
Early next morning we cruised into our second port in Hokkaido, which was the fifth largest city in Japan, Hakodate. It was our first real taste of rainy weather but it didn’t deter us from enjoying the sights of this pleasant city. We called at some of the main attractions in including the Goryokaku Fort with its exquisite Magistrate’s Office building and the nearby Gorokaku Tower, Hakodate Mountain and the Museum of Northern Peoples.
The fort was the first of its kind in Japan and modelled on a European citadel town. In the centre of the Fort was the Magistrate’s Office which was completed in 1864. This was in response to the opening up of isolationist Japan, and particularly the port of Hakodate, to the rest of the world after the American Commodore Perry’s visit and ultimatum in 1853. This building was dismantled in 1871 following war in the city and became a park. The building was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010 to the original design and using traditional construction techniques. The building provides an excellent example of Japanese precision in workmanship.
The Gorokaku Tower overlooking the Fort was also completed in 2006. The Tower enables us the truly appreciate the Fort area from the observatory level 90 metres above. It is now manicured parkland (still) surrounded by its moat with the Magistrate’s Office at its centre.
During our two days on Hokkaido we also sampled some of the delights of Japanese cuisine
with an emphasis on seafood, and were introduced to the friendly polite Japanese people. We look forward to expanding on these experiences with a couple of days in Tokyo.