Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 11 - Train Travel (Hakodate)

10th February, 2003 - One of the great presents that T-chan gave me on this trip was a side holiday to Hakodate (which is in the southern end of Hokkaido) about 4 hours (and about 8,500 yen) by train away from Sapporo. Every one ot T-chans family said that Hakodate would be much more mild, being by the sea... so we took their advice and packed for lightness rather than for the cold. We left early in the morning - a hard task, first catching a train into the city then the line to Hakodate. Looking at the schedule now, it appears to leave around 10:21am arriving just before  2pm. Not all trains in Japan are shinkansen - the train we caught was a stock standard train... hence the long travel time.

Travelling past Tomakomai... this is a fairly industrialised port city - with a large dependence on oil transport. During my stay in Japan, I didn't experience any earthquakes - but just before my second trip to Japan, later in the year, Tomakomai was made famous due to a huge oil storage fire caused by a very large earthquake (8.0 on the Richter scale - which is a VERY BIG quake).

Arriving in Noboribetsu you might be forgiven if you thought you'd suddenly stepped through a tear in the space-time continuum... and found yourself in Europe. Actually - you might find this hard to believe but this replica Dutch castle (Castle Nixe) is also a famous marine park and contains one of the largest acquariums in northern Japan. It's perhaps most famous for it's penguin parade where penguins are marched (perhaps a little unceremoniously) through the crowds. Japan has a number of these tourist attractions that seem to be from a different age...

Noboribetsu Station. Noboribetsu is a Japan-wide famous Onsen-town... and as such the stream of tourists through the small town has lead to the inevitable tourist-cringing moments. Nothing like being welcomed by a cardboard cut-out, and a moth-eaten bear. Maybe this is like some form of totem - warning off all tourists with good taste. We visit Noboribetsu in a later trip - but for now it's full steam ahead... we're half way there.

You see some strange sights on the train - for example, I had not thought to see ice-fishing in Japan (don't ask why not... it just seemed... foreign to Japan to me). Not being a fisher-person, I think this is taking the past-time to new extreme (obsesive) lengths.

The scenery on the way to Hakodate is fairly bleak - the mountains bereft of most of their cover feel like ancient bones uncovered from ground. A hard place to live.

It's an interesting way to see Hokkaido - but if you don't have a JR pass, it's pretty expensive and slow... but much quicker than driving!
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