Hakodate | Hokkaido

Venturing to the island of Hokkaido via a train underground from Aomori to Hakodate. Once in Hakodate, we are on a day adventure to see the area which is highlighted by the sunny day, pops of color, and onsens. (the original post of this was in three parts)

Day 7.1: I heart trains. Why do I love trains so much? This leg takes us from Aomori on northern tip of Japan to Hokkaido and the city of Hakodate. The weather really has been our friend so far - even the rain, snow, wind, or wintry mix has been a-okay. Today the sun shone bright. (original post 2015)


When planning this sabbatical journey, I was really interested in getting to Sapporo in Hokkaido which is a different in a variety of ways from the main Honshu including the presence of indigenous peoples called the Ainu. In my journey of identity with place, the indigenous is one component to examine. I've heard about the Ainu and even have a wooden doll set of the Ainu in my collection of objects so this inquiry although surface level is a start. In planning, I was also aware that Hokkaido is a popular destination for outdoor adventure enthusiasts in the winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking in the lovely landscape found in the nature preserves.

Hokkaido is the northern most island in the Japan archipelago accounting for 22% of the country's land. The indigenous people are the Ainu; hunter gatherers who are possibly descendants of the prehistoric Jōmon culture (see yesterday's post on the art museum in Hakodate) are distinctly different in genetic features which led to racism. "Before 1869 Hokkaido was known to Wajin (ethnic Japanese) as Ezo. While the Japanese considered Ezo to be within their sphere of influence and there was a Japanese zone (Wajinchi) in the southern tip of Ezo from the 16th century, Ezo was a foreign land inhabited by the Ainu people. Hokkaido was only fully incorporated into the Japanese state in 1869 following the Meiji Restoration (1868), after which Japanese settlers colonized the island beyond Wajinchi. The indigenous Ainu people were dispossessed of their land and forced to assimilate. Rather than Taiwan, therefore, the story of the Japanese Empire begins with the colonization of the peripheries of the modern state: Hokkaido, and also Okinawa." (Seaton, Philip, "Japanese Empire in Hokkaido")

The train station features lovely public art while there is a vibrant market nearby that we were able to walk around before catching a bus to get to our hotel for the evening. Seafood is ideal in this area as one meanders through this market area. The vibrant colors are also notable on a sunny day I can imagine it helps keep up the spirits in the height of winter.

You'll notice the drawing of the Ainu people shows a style of dress and facial features with more hair that is likely from the hunter gatherer lineage. The cute culture found in Tokyo is definitely more present here than some of the smaller places on our route since leaving the megalopolis.

Day 7.2: Onsens... There is a botanical garden next to today's hotel in the Onsen district of Hakodate. Before we could check in, we wandered to a ramen spot and back to check out the garden. Once inside we see that they have a monkey enclosure where the monkeys hang out in the hot water of their onsen. At first, it was super cute. But then with further awareness, it's a difficult thing to see, beyond the poor condition of the enclosure. The alpha dominant monkeys performed for the tourists that got off a bus after we had been there a few minutes. The fattest monkey had been working the auto feeder contraption - hence his heft - while the least dominant hoped for food sitting below...... decided to partake of the foot hot bath nearby and then the hotel's onsen - including the rooftop at sunset (no pictures use your imagination ) for a very relaxing day, soreness washing away like the waves crashing feet away. but still profoundly touched by the site of those monkeys in cement instead of natural habitat. (original blog post 2015)

For this leg of the trip, I found a nice hotel on the water. The goal in this booking of rest and relaxation at this leg of the trip as well as experiencing different types of accommodations. This hotel has traditional tatami rooms with futons and a rooftop onsen which was another goal to enjoy.

In the spirit of accidental adventure, we decided to explore a bit while we waited for the hotel room and discovered the Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden next to the hotel. Upon further research, this garden houses Japan’s largest collection of tropical plants with over 300 species and 3,000 plants. The array is lovely. I can see that in this winter paradise, that a greenhouse is a gigantic attraction. The pops of color continue with us here! Here's a link to the Garden's English language literature.

We noticed the monkeys so we went to observe. Apparently, seeing the monkeys in their large onsen and concrete habitat is only possible between December 1 and Golden Week in May. These are Japanese Macaques or "snow monkeys" which live farther north than any other macaque species. The bathing habit is passed on to generations known as "cultural transmission." According to the New England Primate Conservancy, they can live to between 22 and 27 years.

It was emotionally difficult to see the little skinny ones being ousted by the fatter alphas. This is what tribes do. Because the monkeys are being fed, there is less need for them to be in a more normal state as a species. They lounge and perform for visitors that rush off tour buses to get photos. The sweet creatures have social bonds evident in their hugging and facial expressions. I can definitely admire their love of a good hot soak after my own experiences in Japanese hot bath onsens.

Night 7. Continuing the theme of onsens tonight on a walking tour of the public bath signs and foot-bath hunt in the onsen district of Hakodate. After partaking of the beautiful rooftop onsen at the hotel overlooking the pacific as the sun set (I opted for the outside after a quick dip in the cedar interior space). No pics allowed.... So cold outside it's hard to talk, but taking a dip with the feet is supposed to be therapeutic and warm up the whole body.. We found a fancy sushi meal near hotel as likely the only nearby option (also because we already ate at the Ramen shop next door for lunch).

We retired relatively early to the sounds of the ocean waves. Oyasumi おやすみ

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