Oshamanbe – Hakodate
When I slept, I dreamed of Pokémon, most notably an unofficial Pokémon that goes by the name of ‘Anusmouthmon,’ and the less said about his party trick the better! His ethereal-realm antics however wouldn’t put me off my breakfast of chocolate croissants from the ever trusting Seicomart; a supermarket that once away from Hokkaidō I would come to miss dearly. Of the roughly 6.7 billion different convenience stores spanning across the Japanese archipelago, Seicomart will always be held in high regard, its prices are inviting and its food delectable. Now if that free plug doesn’t get me free croissants I don’t know what will!
Being a Monday, the sloppy Sunday drivers were now back in the office dreaming up a world of clerical miseries. My weekday competition was again the omnipresent trucker, who would offer up a fine catalogue of near death experiences as I journeyed along a decisively slapdash and wanky Route 5 to Hakodate. To grin and bear it was my only viable option.
To the east of me sat Uchiura Bay, which I would cycle alongside, until the western foothills of Mt. Komagatake; a fine figure of a volcano that towers up into the clouds upon the fringes of the bay. Cutting inland on a more direct and southerly trajectory toward Hakodate, I escaped the torment of Route 5 for the briefest of moments as I passed through Ōnuma National Park. The 35-square mile National Park being a by-product of an ancient eruption of Mt. Komagatake; essentially forming the two picturesque lakes of Ōnuma and Konuma. Both lakes are dotted with a series of minuscule birch and maple covered islands and the promiscuously dormant Komagatake sits leering on the horizon. It was a tranquil and more than welcome interval before falling back onto the dastardly Route 5 for the remainder of the journey to Hakodate.
For many, the prefecture’s third largest city, Hakodate, is seen as the gateway to Hokkaidō. It is also one of the main hubs for entry to the Seikan Railway Tunnel, a 33.46 mile stretch of tunnel that runs under the sea bed, essentially connecting Hokkaidō with neighbouring island Honshū. I, however, considering Hakodate’s place in history, opted for the more conventional method. Since the opening of its borders to foreign trade back in 1854 – after years of isolation from the rest of the world – the Tsugaru Strait has seen a wealth of ships from across the globe ply its waters. So, for this reason, and the other reason of really wanting to visit the remote Shimokita Peninsula in Aomori’s rugged north, I felt it only apt to follow suit and take the ferry.
As it is a port town, I feared the worst for Hakodate, feeling the necessity to stereotype the place before barely arriving. My first impression as I cycled through the city’s outlying suburbs, witnessing a contingent of rundown buildings, battered sidewalks, abandoned bicycles and, most of all, weeds, was that I’d had the place sussed. Yet in this instance I was wrong, sincerely wrong. In reality, my only certainty for being able to confidently judge a city by its cover lay a lifetime away in Hokkaidō’s far north, for the city of Monbetsu truly was a horrible shithole. Sure, the suburbs of Hakodate had a hard edge to them with an element of rot, but it lacked any sinister undertones. There was no denying however that the city didn’t quite share the wealth of Hokkaidō’s number one city, Sapporo.
Cycling further into the core of the city, I witnessed a mishmash of architecture; offering up a mixture of days gone by with a dousing of the modern age. The city provoked an element of mystery, but it wasn’t until I made it to the harbour at the base of Mt. Hakodate that I was able to begin to appreciate its draw as a tourist focal point; its rich history becoming absorbingly evident.
From ‘The Bay’ area, with its cobbled streets and dockside restaurants, an assembly of red brick trading warehouses still stand. The rogue cosmopolitan traders of the past long since gone, they have been replaced with an array of souvenir shops, local delicacies, a beer hall and an all grimacing Starbucks.
For the most part, the charm saunters on towards Motomachi and into the foothills of Mt. Hakodate; a former settlement for the city’s foreign residents. Today a number of well-preserved buildings still stand such as: the British Consulate, a Russian Orthodox church and a Chinese memorial hall. Hakodate was once one of the most important trading posts in Northern Japan; making the city more than just a harbour.
As Motomachi began to peter out, I found the ropeway lift that would take me up 334 metre’s to the summit of Mt. Hakodate. I leisurely tied up my steed and joined the brigade of tourists flooding into the ticket office. It is here at this small mountain’s summit that the city’s artillery of attractions comes to its ultimate climax. The viewing platforms at the summit were packed tight; the city’s main earner immediately obvious. Some say that the view from the mountain’s peak is one of the three best night views of Japan. A statement which I agree with – and if you wanted to take a picture of the back of a Chinese tourist’s head, it was absolutely perfect!
As the sun gradually tucked itself beyond the horizon, allowing day to graciously fall into night, a euphoria of ‘ooooo’s’ and ‘ahhhh’s’ rang out. The lights of the city below twinkled radiantly, showing the scale of the city all the way up towards the darkness of the distant mountain ranges, that I had journeyed earlier.
For the past two months I’d been tackling the bulk of what now lay to the north of me; it had been a fair test, an engaging test, but the real tests were still to come.
Dates: 24/04/2014 – 24/06/2014
Total miles traversed: 2,405 miles
Total time in the saddle: 242 hours and 48 minutes
PS: Watch this space: Tokyo to Tokyo – The Book