Bicycles are pretty ubiquitous in Japan and a part of the everyday fabric. Kids, salarymen, sales ladies, and seniors all seem to ride bikes everywhere in Japan. Bikes are on sidewalks and on the street and nobody thinks anything of them. There isn’t the hyped up car versus bicycle antagonism that exists here in Vancouver. So I really wanted to experience what riding a bike was like in Japan.
Disclaimer: I hate cooking and I’m really bad at cooking. Perhaps I was emotionally scarred as a child against cooking or maybe I’m lazy or maybe I’m incompetent. I don’t know. Cooking is one of the most stressful things in my life. It makes me extremely anxious and grumpy whenever I cook.
Given my disclaimer, it’s amazing that I actually enjoyed our afternoon workshop on making Japanese sweets, or wagashi. This was yet another cultural experience workshop put on by the Hokkaido Japanese Language School, or JaLS. A whole gaggle of us students walked over to the Susukino area and to the Chuo Ward Office all the way at one end of Tanukikoji.
Here’s a break from my currently scheduled travel blogging. I just wanted to put my two cents out there regarding tomorrow’s civic elections for the City of Vancouver. The whole province is undergoing civic elections in each city, township, district, and village, but I’m going to talk about Vancouver since that’s where I live.
Civic elections are the most personal election because it affects my daily life in the city from parking to parks and from public spaces to property taxes. Most people unwisely skip out on civic elections because they don’t think they are as important as provincial or federal elections. Simply not true. Civic elections have the biggest effect on how your city/town feels.
When I watch these elections, my big issue is always transportation. Those who’ve read my non-travel posts know that I’m a total transit nut. So naturally, my vote goes to where I feel transportation policies are best. I’m only going to talk about the 3 main parties in the running for mayor and city council.
Here’s more food from around Hokkaido. I just put all of my smartphone food photos from our month in Hokkaido into one single folder. It came out to 141 photos and 1.4 GB worth of foodiness. Here’s a smattering in this second installment of Eating my way around Hokkaido.
Lunch at Matsuya
Apart from the buses and subway system in Sapporo. There is also the Sapporo Streetcar. The Sapporo Streetcar runs in what almost looks like an L-shaped loop, but the loop is incomplete at one end. So the two termini of the line are literally two blocks apart from each other.
These two end stops both start in the busy Susukino district of Sapporo. Susukino is Sapporo’s entertainment district. It’s home to a whole whack of restaurants, host/hostess clubs, and other businesses of the night. Susukino is where you will also find the largest collection of neon billboards and adverts in town. This area really shines through at night.
What a way to start my third week at Hokkaido Japanese Language School, or JaLS. We had done taiko drumming the week before. Now on this Monday in July, we were heading off to our next cultural activity of the summer program – the kimono experience.
We headed out as a group to Tanukikoji, a busy covered shopping arcade in Sapporo. It was only a 15 minute walk from our school to a little kimono business, Mitsuki Sakura (美月桜), on the 5th floor of an office building just along the shopping arcade.
The next morning, we hit up the Morning Market near Hakodate Station. This is basically a seafood market that lies directly south of the Hakodate Station. During most of the day, this market is quiet. However, in the morning, the stalls are open for business for you to try out the freshest in seafood that Hakodate has to offer.
The freshest seafood also comes at a bit of price. The fresh cuttlefish that you can fish out on your own can cost about ¥1300 depending on what the market price is that day. It’s not the cheapest, but I guess it’s a fun experience. However, it is a fun experience we ended up passing on.
Hakodate is a city on the southernmost tip of the island of Hokkaido. It’s a port city that figures large in modern Japanese history. It’s the first city in Japan that the American Navy under Commodore Perry opened up to the world at the end of a period of isolation. An important battle at the end of Tokugawa Period and the beginning of the Meiji Era took place here as well. Hakodate is also known for its physical beauty because the city is situated on a tiny isthmus surround by the ocean on both sides and a mountain conveniently located at the southern end of the city to take in this scrumptious city and ocean view.
For our travels to Hakodate from Sapporo, we considered two different modes of travel. The train would have been faster and more comfortable ride, but the price was roughly ¥8,300 one-way/¥16,600 round trip. Looking at a train ride that costs about CAD$170 per person was not what we wanted to spend. Especially when I think of the time to get there as almost the same as a Vancouver to Seattle road trip.
Thankfully, one of our shared-house mates had done the trip to Hakodate previously and took a Chuo Bus. The round-trip ticket worked out to just about ¥8,000 round-trip per person. That was half the price of what it would have cost us by train. Being a transit traveller and passenger train geek, I would have loved to take the Super Hokuto train to Hakodate. However, our budget for staying a month in Hokkaido did not allow for such a luxury. The bus was way more economical.
By toll highway without any stops, the drive from Sapporo to Hakodate is just under 4 hours. However, we had a pit stop at a toll highway rest stop for a half hour and we deviated from the expressway a few townships before Hakodate. So our bus ride was more like 6 hours from station to station.
I am so happy that I signed up for the Summer Program at Japanese Language School Hokkaido, or JaLS. All the cultural activities included in the fee are really worthwhile. One afternoon, we were taken out of Sapporo’s centre to an area called Shin Kotoni (新琴似), which is accessible on one of the JR lines out of Sapporo Station.
We ended up in a very residential area of town. There were not many stores around and the station was relatively quiet. It certainly wasn’t a busy transport hub. We walked for about 15-20 minutes from the JR station to a tiny little building on a tiny little residential street.
Just to the north and east of Sapporo Station is the large campus of Hokkaido University. The university is known locally by it’s abbreviated name of Hokudai. Hokudai was founded in 1876 as Sapporo Agricultural College by an American, Dr. William S. Clark. Agriculture is still a big part of Hokkaido University.
The university is full of trees, shrubs, and all sorts of greenery. There are a few ponds and a tiny creek that also flow through the campus. It reminds me a lot of how North American universities are set up with large open spaces. Many of the buildings dated back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I keep finding North American influences in Sapporo and Hokudai has plenty of those influences. A couple of the campus buildings look like they came out of the Old West.