Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hokkaido Prefecture – Sapporo, Japan

Japan is a country that consists of ~6500 islands (like Indonesia) stretching from Okinawa in the South to (If Russia ever gave them back) the Kurile Islands in the North. Hokkaido is a large island; for comparison sake its larger than Austria, and 5.5 million Japanese – representing only about 4% of the population. The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo a modern city of 1.9 million people – where we went on our tour today.

Hokkaido is volcanic in nature and is geologically very active. The crater valley of Jigokudani is called the “valley of hell”. Its famous for geothermal springs and much was made of the love folks have here of bathing in public and private hot springs; the multitude of types of spring – sulphur, salt etc etc; how hotels pipe the hot spring water into each room so you can have your private hot spring bath; and the cultural significance of bathing and its etiquette.
Needless to say I passed on the opportunities……..

Just as it is volcanic and has all this pent up heat within; the climate is pretty extreme. 5-6 months of winter during which there is pretty substantial snowfall, a short spring with the cherry blossoms blooming only in May; a mild summer then a short fall. Snow fell for the first time on the mountains in late September and they expect snow on the ground within the month. The geography and weather made this a good venue for the 1972 Winter Olympics.

Regardless, as the drive to Sapporo from the ship clearly showed, Hokkaido is very rural, very green and lush and very pretty. It is cattle country and so dairy cows and dairy products are important here. It is also home for many of the cattle that, after much pampering and massaging, become prime beef for the rest of Japan. The highway was signposted with warning signs to watch for deer and foxes which are plentiful. The surrounding ocean is rich in sealife and hence seafood (in fact last night the ship was completely enveloped by seagulls eating hearty). Whales are also much in evidence in spring / early summer and whale watching is a big attraction. Actually if I was a whale I might avoid Japan. Just a thought.

We sailed into Muroran the port city of Hokkaido this morning at about 8am. Its an industrial city with large power plant, oil refinery and Japan Steel facility. Windmills – those big new fancy ones – provide some of the power. I was amused that the Japan Steel plant still (at Imperial request) had a foundry and three experts whose job it was to make samurai swords. Very expensive samurai swords!!!!!!!

Japan Immigration were due on board early and had to process 2500 passengers prior to our departure on tour. It was all very organized. The ship holds our passports. We have a copy. The ship gave us a provisional landing permit. We filled out and handed in our customs form. We got a time slot to present ourselves to the officials. This was the result ………. Total unmitigated chaos. We lined up for one and a half hours around and around the deck to be seen, have our papers glanced at’ then have our index fingers scanned and a photo (?retinal scan) taken. Big ships / small ships mmmmmmm.

Finally the 2 hour drive to Sapporo. Our tour guide gave us great insights into the history and geography; walked us to the landmark Sapporo TV Tower (where we would be picked up at 4.30pm); and set us off on our own into the city.

Sapporo was founded in 1869 and has strong western influences – the city design is based on blocks at the suggestion of their American Consultant – Odori Park where we were dropped off is the North / South divider the river is the East / west divider. So here we are at block North2 West2. Easy peasy.

The government office building is a copy of that in Massachusetts. The beer industry – Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin beer all come from here – it’s the water – was based on German – trained braumeisters. The Agricultural College building – precursor to Hokkaido University – has a clock atop (and is called the clock tower) – made in Boston.

The tourist vehicle that can bring you to the Clock tower is copied from….???? Maybe central park????

Some things we could learn. Look at the indicator for pedestrians next to the traffic signal – tells you how long you have to wait before it turns green or then red.

Spent our time looking about. Three things stand out.
The food; not just the crab restaurant which we were told is excellent;

but also the boulangerie where we grabbed coffee, a bun, and caught up on e-mail and football scores.

Especially though the food markets in department stores – beautiful displays, great quality and high prices.

The people; Japan is an aging population – in fact they pay people to have babies and to educate them – but the young people out and about. Young kids cute and beautiful; young women the height of fashion; also handing out samples (which one of us got a few of);

some young women beyond the edge of fashion but look at the contrast!!

The interesting things you see in malls – a fabric store for do it yourself kimonos;

an art show by young people showing off their talents – in action;

a bird house to enthrall everyone who comes across it.

You have all, I am sure, heard of the miracle toilets in Japan. Electronic and engineering masterpieces. This was what awaited in the ladies at a major department store. Center city. Merle had to take the pic. Just thought I’d share.

Returned to the ship after meeting at 4.30pm; in the cabin received a card. It reads:
This is to certify that you have visited Muroran, Hokkaido. Japan
Oct 2nd 2011
Yes we have!!! And we loved it

1 comment:

  1. If these pictures are taken by Merle, they are terrific!! Very impressive as is the blog as always. Very detailed and informative. You could be a tour guide. You should print out the blog and pictures and turn it into a memory book. Love the toilet....Will you have one installed at home eventually?