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Hit-And-Miss in Hakodate, Hokkaido


snow -3 °C

BGM: Youthful Days by Mr. Children

The blizzard had hit Minamikayabe! We awoke from our cozy futons to find snow piled up on the windowsills and the car. But this was nothing for northern folk like us. Shiori and Masaru had plenty of winter driving experience in both Alaska and Hokkaido, so they wouldn't let a little snow keep us from working off the ever-accumulating holiday fat. Our plans for today: authentic Hakodate shio ramen (Chinese egg noodles in salt-flavored soup) and a walk around the city's famous monuments followed by a spectacular night time view of the bay. Sounded great!

A hug and a "we'll be careful" to Masaru's mom and we were off on an hour-long journey to "the big city." Masaru drove cautiously as the winds threatened to push us off and down the side of that narrow mountain road. He told me he was glad to have my extra weight in the car at that moment (I was quite glad, too!). The snow flew in thick flakes, covering the landscape in fluffy whipped cream as we rolled slowly into Hakodate city with growling stomachs.

But there was a problem: New Year's Eve in small-town Japan meant that most businesses were closed for the holidays, except for a few chain stores. Shiori informed Masaru that we'd just driven past the always-open Bikkuri Donkey hamburger chain restaurant. It's easy to tell one of these from the roadside -all Bikkuri Donkey shops have the same "concept" of misplaced two-by-fours and other odd cuts of plywood tacked in a haphazardly fashion all around the exterior (got a match?). Masaru stayed focused, though. He really wanted his shio ramen.

A quick look at the map and with a few minutes of uncertainty, we pulled up to the tiny white Seiryuken (Star Dragon) ramen shop, one of Hakodate's oldest and most revered. But there was a sign on the door: Closed for the Holidays. Doh! We could almost hear Masaru's heart fracture and splinter off into a thousand shards.


So we found a different place that was open- same sounding name but the kanji was different: Seiryu, the Blue Dragon ramen shop. Since my palate had only known thick, rich Sapporo miso ramen up to that point, any difference in flavor was a welcome treat to me. The soup was light and salty, but it allowed the full flavor of the vegetables to shine through. I could savor every carrot and piece of cabbage that contacted my tongue. The noodles were chewy and satisfying and I ended up drinking the entire bowl clean to the bottom. Accompanied with a plate of crispy-bottomed gyoza (meat-filled dumplings), I was in a state of bliss -so much that I completely ignored Masaru's reaction to it.

The blizzard had let up a bit so we were able to do some walking around Motomachi, with its century-old Western-style town halls, museums, embassies and churches. The blaring bluish-gray and yellow-painted Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward pulled us in with its gaudy coloring. Once inside, Masaru told us it was time to get our exercise in. So in stocking feet, we took turns running and skidding across the highly-polished floor of the main hall while Shiori practiced her elegant arabesques. When I slipped and fell flat on my butt, it was time to move on.


I particularly took a liking to the old Russian Orthodox Church (Haristo), the oldest of its kind in Japan. Its graceful onion-domed spires reminded me of similar churches in my homeland. (You know how it is when you travel -your brain tends to search for traces of the familiar). But this time, I didn't feel homesick. I felt connected. It was incredible.


We explored a few museums until the sun began to dip behind the mountains, but Masaru said we couldn't leave without a cable car ride to the top of Mt. Hakodate to see the fantastic nighttime view of the city. By this time, the winds had picked up so hard that the lifts had stopped their services. Shiori and I were content to just drive around the city and check out all the Christmas lights, but Masaru wouldn't have it. We waited with him there for an hour -and finally talked him out of it.

We made a final night-time pass around the city, viewing the city lights from the top of the hill near Motomachi (which was beautiful enough without going up Mt. Hakodate!), and circled the striking red-brick warehouses near the harbor, all decked out in pretty little twinkling LEDs. Even though most of our plans fell through, it was still a beautiful day out.


We returned home to laugh with mom and dad about everything we didn't get to do. Mom had prepared for us a decadent hand-cut sushi dinner, better than anything we might have had in town.


After dinner, the whole family climbed into the big car and enjoyed a piping-hot bath at Nikori-no-Yu in Mori City, where the wind blew icicles off the roof into our rotenburo (open-air bath), making Shiori and I scream for our lives. So glad they missed us!

Posted by GenkiLee 03:41 Archived in Japan Tagged hakodate motomachi the_old_public_hall_of_hakodate akarenga_soukogun harisuto_russian_orthodox_churc seiryu_ramen

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