Hakodate Exploration Day


We were called down for breakfast this morning at 7:45am by the friendly owner of Hakodate Henmi Ryokan.  She had prepared a typical Japanese breakfast of rice, a small piece of grilled fish, pickles, and tea, but also featuring the local specialty of squid, following the traditional system of meal preparation at ryokans all over Japan, to feature local dishes – so there was squid cooked in the miso soup, and squid tentacles, which looked like rice noodles, just chewier in texture.  

After we finished, she asked us if we would be coming back during the day (so she would know to leave the front door to the ryokan, where she also lived, open), and what time we would want to use the shower tonight, so she could make sure there was enough hot water for us.  

This is a small guesthouse we are staying at, with two small guestrooms at either end of the second floor, and one double room, which we are using, in between them.  There is a communal bathroom and sink on this floor.  Downstairs, on the ground floor, there is the breakfast room and kitchen, two additional toilets, and the shower/bathtub room, in addition to the owner’s rooms.  While we ate our breakfast, she intently watched soap operas on the television across from us.  The actors are serious and intent in their daily morning melodramas, unlike Tali and I, who are happily chatting about our upcoming day.  

We’re going to start out by walking through the morning seafood market, almost always a good source of photographs, and then stop off at the Starbucks that is in the renovated warehouse district by the waterfront.  I’m going to spend some time writing here, while Tali strolls around the district, and then we’ll both head out to explore the Motomachi District by the base of Mt. Hakodate.  

This Starbucks, a large two story building in the brick warehouse district at the waterside, features bluesy music from the sixties by Joni Mitchell, Traci Chapman, and more, just loud enough to hear, but not to be intrusive.  As I sit writing, tourists come in sit for a while, most often fiddling with their full size 35 mm cameras and giant telephoto lenses – they look like they work for Sports Illustrated, but more than likely, they’re just looking for close-ups of the ships or birds nearby…

The harbor of Hakodate was one of the first to be opened to foreign trade in 1854 after Japan’s era of relative isolation was forcibly ended by a visit by Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy, accompanied by a fleet of seven naval warships.  As a result, many traders from Russia, China and Western countries moved to Hakodate. Motomachi, at the foot of Mount Hakodate, became a district favored among these new foreign residents.

Many foreign looking buildings remain in the area today. Among the most famous are the Russian Orthodox Church, the Old British Consulate, the Chinese Memorial Hall, the prefectural government’s former branch office building and the old Hakodate Public Hall.  As Tali and I walked through Motomachi this afternoon, we found it surprisingly photogenic, especially in its smaller details, the renovated wooden buildings of traditional design that remain on the smaller, less commercial streets, the beautiful Shinto Shrine next to a large secondary music school, where the sounds of the students practicing pianos and singing excerpts of classical choral pieces floated out of the open windows of the large concrete school building, like the wings of hummingbirds…

After we had strolled through Motomachi for several hours, we returned to the Starbucks we had started from, for me to continue writing, and for Tali to unobtrusively doze a little in one of their large comfortable living room chairs, upholstered in warm browns…

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About juleslandsman

I live, when not traveling, in Sweetwater, Colorado, located in between Vail and Aspen, and in Kohukohu, a small town on the Hokianga Harbour in New Zealand. I write travelogues, memoirs, and reflections when I'm not skiing, biking, or otherwise outdoors. I retired recently from a career in the financial services industry that spanned more than twenty-five years.
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