Sunday, November 28, 2010

Old Hokkaido Government Building... Made in USA (almost)

13th May, 2008 - Following on from our walk around the Botanic Gardens, we took L-kun for a walk around the Old Hokkaido Government Building near the Grand Hotel (actually the Grand is where we had our pre-wedding party back in 2003). Last time we were walking here it was February 2003... and there was quite a different look and feel to the place this time around (something to do with being able to feel your extremities I suspect). At that time, it was snowmen rather than flowers that dominated the scenery. On this occasion, cherry blossoms, not snow, formed a blanket on the lakes surface.

It's often easy to get the view of Japan as an ancient and homogeneous country, and in many ways this is true. However, Hokkaidō is a relatively new addition to what is traditionally considered Japan. It was initially populated by the Ainu people, a culturally, linguistically and racially different people from mainstream Japanese.  As is often the case with aboriginal peoples, they had a somewhat difficult time coming to terms with maintaining their own way of life, whilst trying to cope with the external Japanese expansion from the south. In fact, it was not until the Muromachi Period (from the mid 1300's) that a form of permanent Japanese presence came to the island, though this was always a somewhat loose form of feudal Japanese control.

It was not until the Meiji Restoration that the Northern Island of Hokkaidō was fully opened up... both as a response to the pro-shogunate forces that had established a break-away province which was finally crushed in Hakodate in 1868 (during the Boshin War) - but also as a response to the growing threat of Russian expansion. As a result, the Japanese population of the island increased five-fold in the space of 10 years. The newly developed city, established officially in 1868 also became the capital of the island; the original government building can now be seen in the Historical Village in Sapporo. With the reformation of the political structure of the island, a new Government building was constructed based on a very American inspired design. Actually, whilst the look was very much American - the actual design was Japanese. 

The Hokkaidō Government Building (Hokkaidōchō kyūhonchōsha) was actually destroyed by fire in 1909... though apparently the tough old red-brick exterior suffered little damage. Now those red-bricks provide a somewhat jarring counterpoint to the modern Japanese buildings; in addition to the octagonal dome which was all the rage back in the States at the time.

These days the building is known not only for it's distinctive architecture, but also it's beautiful gardens. And tulips form a dramatic focal point come spring-time.

But the grounds contain a nice assortment of trees and water features, and you can have a good stroll through the extensive gardens. It's only about a 5-10 min walk from Sapporo Station, and is well worth the time. Admission to the grounds and building is free.

There were a couple of Americans who were central figures in the agricultural development of Hokkaido during the early days of the islands re-development - one was Horace Capron, and the other was William S. Clark who started the first agricultural college in Japan, and who is famously recorded as saying (in parting the city and country), "Boys, Be Ambitious!".  These words can still be seen remembered in the city of Sapporo. And as I look into the eyes of our son (through the stroller cover), I could only hope that this spirit of adventure and the shaping the unknown could be captured by him. L-kun, be ambitious - but above all, be a good boy! Onegaishimasu.

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