There is some evidence that Japanese settlers reached Hokkaido as early as the 7th century, but while it is likely that the emerging and powerful feudal society did extend across the Tsugaru-kaikyo Strait, the archaeological record isn’t all that clear. By the 16th century trade arrangements were well established between Honshu-based
merchants and many Ainu communities. By 1812, the Tokugawa Shogun established a trading post on the Ishikari River near what is now Sapporo.
Hokkaido’s largest city Sapporo is home to one of the nation’s largest universities. The Ishikari Plain city is also the traditional favoured homeland for the indigenous Ainu people – the name Sapporo derives from the Ainu phrase sari-poro (“river of life that traverses the fertile plain”). Speaking with our guide she tells us that the Ainu people, similar to the American and or Canadian Indians were and have been dealt hard blows, but the government now recognizes that and much of their land is being returned to them and people are being educated in their languages and way of live. We heard this with a very open mind with no animosity at all – it was very refreshing.
In the late 19th century Japanese builders and engineers came together to build a harbour. In 1869 Otaru Port opened. A decade later, tracks were laid for Japan’s third railroad and the busy wharf was linked to Sapporo. Otaru became one of the Meiji Era’s “special trade harbours” and Hokkaido’s most important commercial port. It now remains as an nostalgic remnant of that special Meiji Era, when Japan was beginning to embrace the “new” Western styles.
The most interesting part of the old city is the harbour area, where antique warehouses have been restored as shops, micro-breweries and restaurants. This particular port was not obliterated during WWII and it was lovely to examine the old stone buildings, many of them dating from the 1890’s and are rather rare in
Japan. One old Chinese style storehouse has been restored as the Otaru Museum. Among the most impressive buildings, the Otaru branch of Nihon Yusen was local headquarters for one of Japan’s largest shipping companies. The interior has been carefully restored.
The old Otaru Canal is no longer the vital transportation hub it once was, but is now one of the port’s most picturesque area. Before its completion in 1920 ships had to anchor inside the protective seawall and transport goods to and from shore using small tug boats (hanshike). The canal allowed ships to dock and the loading process was remarkable shortened. Some of the buildings are just breathtaking. I’m hoping some of our photos can show you that.
Again cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the weather is awesome we stop and have an ice cream under one of the many cafes with umbrella’s. We’re sitting there licking away and we hear the sound of running water, a wonderful drinking fountain is just to our left. The town is clean with as usual no graffiti. Still puzzled as to why we have so much of it in North America while in Asia it is seldom seen. It’s a real pleasure to walk up the streets.
We visited many of the awesome glass works factories here and we’ve purchased some little things for our bathroom (fishes), but one could go insane here, the works are magnificent and really not too expensive. We’ve found Japan more expensive than China, but how often are we in these cities. We’ve also purchased more of the little “kitty” cell charms as souvenirs – there’s a whole cult with this stuff over here.
Lunch of course was local and wonderful. We found this lovely little place in a covered mall. It was full of locals so we knew we were onto a good thing. We looked at pictures on the menu and picked one each. This huge array of food arrived with noodles, rice, seafood, miso soup and I couldn’t believe it but we ate the whole thing :-). No time for photos, we preferred to just munch away, sorry 🙂
One of the minor irritations of being in Japan was the hassle of getting cash. Bank ATM’s do not accept foreign cards so you have to find a post office whose ATM’s are more open. And to exchange currency you need your passport, which of course we seldom had with us. Since leaving Auckland we have seen our passports only twice, the ship holds onto them to make customs clearance simpler to handle.
After heading back to the ship we had another great send off.