May 16th through the 18th: From Sapporo to Hakodate to Tokyo

On the 16th I worked on getting caught up, getting my initial train and Sapporo posts up.

I met Michael who in theory has been waiting weeks for me to mention him, and is likely already back home after spending time with is father in Tokyo. He did something quite cool, he rode a bike from the Southern tip to the Northern most tip of Japan. When we met he had about 2 days of riding left from Sapporo. Made me wish I had spent at least a little time outside the cities… but alas.

For my last night in Sapporo I once again splurged and had a second bowl of soup curry, this time at a 19 out of 40 on the spicy scale. Much better than a 9. (Soup Curry photo set.)

The 15 vegetable one the night before was prettier.

The next morning, I got up and started my hike to the subway, and through the maze like Sapporo Tower Station. Along the way I saw an ad for a museum with a Hello Kitty Exhibit, I apologize for the camera phone quality. My desperation for fruit made it stand out all the more.

On my way out of Sapporo I got a little better look (though out of focus) of what I had previously imagined to be the tower of Isengard. Turns out it wasn’t a broken smoke stack retained for some historical value, nope. It’s an actual building. As such it puts it closer to Isengard than I had ever imagined. Now I wonder where the second one is.

After I had read my two Amazon Prime “Lending Library” books for April and May, I had started listening to the Snow Crash audio book during the long trip to Sapporo, and was now about half way though. I had read the book a few years back but was told by friends the audio book was particularly good. It was. Totally worth converting from cassette. Because that’s the only way to get it. Yep. *ahem*

Anyway, that spawned the paragraph requiring an apology in the last post.

This train was a normal train, not an overnight one, so it only took about three hours to go from Sapporo to Hakodate instead of five. The other major advantage was that it was during the day, so I could actually see things.

Like thousands of concrete water… slowing… things.

Arriving back in small Hakodate Station, which I felt I knew a little too well after spending five hours there the other night, I made my way out to the street car station, and rode to the last stop on this route. The hostel I stayed at, Hakodateyama Guest House, is about as far from the city of Hakodate as one can get while still being in the city. The upshot to this, is that it is nestled right up against Hakodateyama, or Mount Hakodate.

Incidentally, near as I can tell, when attached with something else, yama tends to equivocate to mountain, and looks kind of like this: | | |, except the middle one is taller than the outer two (山). I’m probably totally wrong (and I’m on the internet, where I could prove myself wrong, looking the fool is more fun) but I figure it’s a really simplified pictogram of peaks rising from the ground.

More fun facts about Hakodate. Being a major port with Russia, it is the only place I’ve seen Cryilic on signs in Japan. It was the first port opened after Japan’s isolationism ended, which is why there are such major Western influences in the area, from housing design to the whole to suburbia thing. It was also temporally the capital of Ezo when Hokkaido attempted to separate from Japan in the late 1800s.

After the streetcar stopped I still had to wonder around for quite a bit. The worst part was going pretty exclusively uphill for the 700 meters of suburban streets.

Eventually I arrived only to discover that as I was a bit later than I had planned, the man running the hostel, Ronin, had gone to the airport to pick up his friend who flew up from somewhere I forget in Kushu, which is the southern most major island of Japan (where I am right now). He left a note as well as the key to my room, so I wondered up stairs found my room set my things down, made my bed and just kind of relaxed for a bit — in my own room. That was unexpected, and quite nice.

Also unexpected: The view from my room.

A little after 5PM my host arrived back with his guest, I introduced myself, and he gave me the official tour. After this I changed into clothing a bit more appropriate for hiking, and went on my way around 6:20PM.

Amazingly when I’m not loaded down with something like 25kg of luggage, it’s much easier to go uphill. At least for a while. The peak I would go up was only about 280 meters, but at the pace I was keeping to get there before the sun finished setting, it was still a bit tiring. At least there were interesting things to take pictures of giving me a moments rest here and there.

Nearly to the peak there was a small outcropping, I couldn’t help but investigate. This was the one time I really, really, wished I had a wide angle lens. Standing upon a large rock at the corner of an outcropping, no trees occluding the view, suddenly, it was just me and filling my entire vision was the Tsugaru Straits. Faintly across the water, Honshu could be seen. It was… amazing. I wanted to stay there for longer, but the sun was coming down and I didn’t have too long to doddle before it was below the mountains.

Hokkaido on the left, Honshu on the right.

Tearing myself away from the view, I continued my way up. I soon ran into a radio broadcast tower, which this range has a few of, though mostly on the peak with the cable car. Not too far beyond the broadcast tower is the open area which makes for an amazing view of the city. Thankfully I arrived just in time to see the last of the sunset’s infrayellow to be cast upon on the city below.

Totally worth the hike.

Shortly after I arrived the sun dropped too far down, and the city was now only lit by ambiance. I moved on from the open area knowing there were bunkers, outlooks, and other installations left over from the war not too far from there.

They’ve not been reinforced or maintained in the slightest, all I could do was look, all of them having some sort of warnings, a few even fenced off. Besides, I was here to see the sunset and early evening, not get crushed while exploring in a bunker.

It was one of those funny times when there’s enough atmosphere in the way of the sun that during the setting, you can actually slightly squint at it as though it were a bright light. A little uncomfortable, but not blinding.

Allowing for pictures like this.

And this.

After the sun went down, I went back to the open area to get some night shots of the city. While I was setting up my tripod, it occured to me… I forgot my flashlight. No, I forgot both flashlights. Hell, I left my cellphone because what would I need that for, it would only be a liability! Oh, except the flashlight application. I suppose I could use the light on the Kindle’s case? Ugh.

I’m 280 meters up, something like 700 meters to hike back through, it’s dark, and I don’t have a flashlight.


Well, no fixing it now, I’ll just have to be really careful. I dig out the remote for the camera so I can take longer exposures without touching it when… what?



A faint blue blinking?

My USB battery has a “find me in the dark” faint (or rather very fast) flash of one of the blue LEDs that normally would show the charge level. I never take this out of my camera bag because I always want it available in case I need to charge something.

It also has a single, bright, white LED flashlight on it. Not as nice as the 3 AAA flashlight, but good enough.

Well, that’s good.

Night photography achieved.

I head back down the mountain, quickly try to look up the location for a supermarket or even a convenience store, fail to find anything actually close, but at least the walk will be lit, and on pavement. Deciding not to walk the extra 4km back and forth, I decide as I reached it to that I would go to the “DailyHot” convenience store instead of the supermarket, being only 20 minutes away.

When I arrived back at the hostel with my newly acquired food, I was invited to join the owner and his friend as he had made far too much food for just the two of them. We were even later joined by a fourth person… and it was still too much. It was quite delicious, and the only home meal I experienced in Japan, so quite awesome. Also it turns out Ronin is quite the fan of Back to the Future.

His guest also takes pictures as a hobby and so we shared pictures during dinner. The next day I would feel small pangs of jealousy, as her camera has a bit faster action, probably capable of five or six frames per second, to my three. Oh well. I know at some point I want a body fully sealed against rain, so at some point I’ll have a faster action.

Things got even better as he was going to drive his friend up to the higher peak (the one with the cable car) the next morning, and invited me along, even offering to drop me off at the train station afterwards. How could I say no?

(Picture set for the 17th)

The next morning I caught dawn, but sadly looked away just a little too long and missed the sun actually peak out. Still I was close.

Just about two minutes too late.

Since this was about 4:30 AM, I went back to sleep. Sadly for many of my shots on the mountain I failed to control the aperture, so they’re a little too bright, not that I could tell with the screen being washed out by the same light washing out the pictures. Alas, I can only endeavor to remember I do need to change the f-stop even when I’m not in manual.

After coffee made with freshly ground beans, and letting the cat go outside, his guest and I put our things into the back of the car and we set off for the peak. We spent about an hour there, which was a little longer than we should have. It was my fault, but it worked out fine, no one missed anything and we got some good pictures. Even managed to locate about where the hostel was (middle left, brown roof with chimney).

Not perfect, but an unobstructed view.

After the mountain, we drove around a bit, seeing an old Roman Catholic church, an Episcopal church, the old public hall (600 yen entry fee), and the old Hakkaido government branch office.

We were kind of in a hurry at this point, my train leaving at just after noon, we left with about 30 minutes to go, though I misread the instructions and thought it was leaving at 11:54, so was feeling quite on edge. With what I thought to be 4 minutes to spare, I said my goodbyes and thank yous, and quite literally ran to the train until I saw I actually had 12 minutes to spare.

Getting on the train, I started listening to Snow Crash again, soon to get deluge of information about the Sumerian god Enki while I was were passing farms. He uh, he irrigated with, well, I’ll let you look it up.

Soon I passed under the straits, returning to Honshu. (View entire photoset.)

I arrived in Tokyo at something like 8PM, though as I was invited to dinner the previous night, I didn’t need to worry about finding food. Just the hostel.

This was complicated. I was in a North Western part of Tokyo that is only just Tokyo, about 25 minutes by train from of the main parts, suffice it to say, I hadn’t been there before. For the first time since arriving, Google maps failed me, but luckily it is one of the only hostels in the area, and is quite packed. Why is that lucky? Because I ran into someone during my futile search three blocks away who was staying there, who kindly showed me the way.

I finally arrived, chatted with some people, and then the owner arrived at the desk to apologize. They overbooked, and I would have to be in a 5 person room, and the bunk that has headroom was already taken. At least I didn’t have to find another place to go, especially since I didn’t want to deal with the whole refund and complaining blah.

On the bright side, it made the hostel even cheaper as I was given a discount. I think I ended up paying a total of about $45 for the three nights. Sadly, the internet was almost unusable so I didn’t get much of anything done. It was conveniently located about three blocks from The Price (a 7&I Holdings related chain), with a supermarket on the ground floor, so that was nice.

I did end up going out to (ugh) Roppongi on Saturday night though… but that’s another post.

2 thoughts on “May 16th through the 18th: From Sapporo to Hakodate to Tokyo

    • It is quite possible, hell, it’s probably the case, still I saw really interesting tricks in Japan to alter the flow/rate of flow of water or change how violent the tides are.

      I think my favorite though is also the first tool I noticed. On hills and grades where there aren’t currently and/or can’t be large drainage systems they engrave little circular grooves into the concrete. They provide extra area for the water to go delaying the point at which it simply cascades down like a low friction sheet of hydrotrouble. Brilliant.

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