Rainy, gray backdrop/Delicacies from the sea/Hakodate day
(Manhole covers are different in each city of Japan and represent local flavor, this is the only one I have seen painted)
We had no plans for Hakodate aside from eating seafood and catching a ferry to Aomori. We wake to drizzle but it peters out as the hours pass. I don’t mind anyway. When I think of the sea, or more specifically of sailing with my dad, I think of gray skies. There is a mood, a sense of anticipation but also foreboding, that the sea sets and for which gray skies are the perfect backdrop. The stormiest days carry the most wind and certainly the most adventure which is what a sailor seeks. Each morning of every weekend during the summers when I raced Starboats with my father, I would immediately look out my bedroom window feeling conflicted about what I hoped to see. While the suggestion of strong winds scared me, simply a breath bored me. The very first race I sailed with my dad was beneath dark skies in 20 nauts of wind gusting to 40 – what we call “survival weather”, in consideration of the people but mostly of the boat. This race epitomized what sailing meant to my father and to my deepest understanding of who he was. This in addition to watching his favorite movie with him, Moby Dick with Gregory Peck. No doubt my father thought himself an Ahab which is why my arm bears a tattoo of the Pequod. I wouldn’t have the chance to ask the things I wanted to know about him once I was no longer a self-involved child. These weekends, mostly silent on the boat, were my father’s chance to communicate his soul to me. We won that race, or maybe we came in second, but more importantly “old man and his daughter” sailed through the storm and crossed the finish line as 200-pound men turned back to shore or broke masts trying. Nothing is more vivid than the way the mainsail towered out in front of me, 45 degrees to the surface of the water, I sitting on the boat’s hull hitched in with a hiking strap and thanking the keel for keeping us upright. My job was to “think heavy” and hang over the side of the boat to level it as much as possible. At 135 pounds I might have been at a disadvantage in contrast to the giant-sized crew most skippers sought but this day all that mattered was that I was out there, teeth chattering in the spray of the bow wave, fear overshadowed by my father’s unabashed outburst of glee as he absolutely slammed the side of the hull with his fist and yelled through crazy smile, “go Awesome go!” (that was what he named his boat). Though Jason and I visited Hakodate last week, I write this post on what would have been my dad’s 75th birthday. He would have thought this trip was so cool.
But, back to Hakodate. We check out of the hotel and load our bikes for the one-block ride to the Hakodate Morning Market for breakfast. We lock our bikes to a street pole and walk away from all that we have with us, carefree and trusting. We peruse the vendors’ offerings of live crab, sea urchin, scallops and more.
(He is preparing the uni to be eaten straight from the urchin)
We try fresh scallop and snails served in the shells, a King crab, and a crab and rice stew. The scallop is everything the snail pales in comparison being mostly texture, chewy and bland. The King crab leg is tops and $20 for the one.
We return to our bikes intact. Now we’re off to the ferry to purchase tickets for later in the afternoon. We ride along the shipyards. I am enamored.
(Yamato or “Black Cat” shipping on the right-perhaps our bike boxes are in there)
When we arrive we find that we misread the timetable and will have much more time to kill than we thought. I don’t mind. I am enjoying exploring from my bicycle. Jason finds a surprise destination to give some direction to our meanderings. We use googlemaps’ walking directions which takes us along back alleys and unexpectedly we come to a Shinto shrine, Kameda Hachimangu which is dedicated to the spirit of Hachiman Okami (The Emperor Ojin). It is one of the oldest wooden structures in Hakodate dating back to 1390, with a newer shrine built alongside in 1960. While there we see a woman with her dog going through the ritual bowing and clapping and ringing of the bells. Then later a man. It seems as though this is routine for them.
We continue on to our destination, a battle fort in the shape of a 5-pointed star, now a large park.
(on our way back to the ferry)
Back to the ferry for our 6pm traverse to Aomori on the main island. What fun to roll our bikes directly up the loading dock and into the mouth of the ship. It is a $30 trip for one person and their bike and takes just under 4 hours. There are outdoor viewing decks and inside tables and seating along with carpeted relaxation rooms where you can remove your shoes and take a nap. And, of course, vending machines. If I haven’t mentioned it already, Japan loves their vending machines. You will find them on the side of the road with nothing else around them and virtually everywhere else in between.
(My new guilty pleasure is fruit milks which taste very much like flavored sweetened condensed milk. Yum.)
(off to Aomori)
The ride has a lulling sway. I write and Jason sleeps. When we arrive in Aomori we ride our bikes right off the ship and over a bridge into the city. We find our hotel which, again, finds a dry and secure space beneath an interior staircase to store our bikes. We settle into our room and then head out for a late night dinner. The front desk directs us to a place that seems a bit fancy for our taste but it will be open and serving food and drink. On our way there via bicycle down darkened streets, however, I look to my left and see what looks to be a small pedestrian street through food stalls. It is completely unassuming next to the convenience store parking lot and darkened buildings. We stop and enter. Indeed, food stalls each enclosed and each with seating for at most six people nestled around the cooking station. A man is making yakatori on an open grill, counterside. It is empty and we duck in. We remain here for the next 3 hours, aside from a short break to try some ramen made by the chef’s friend a few stalls down. This ramen ruins me for all future ramen, not just an effect of the cupfuls of sake I have consumed. We follow this with more yakatori and our hosts at the stall, Sato and Erika, share a dessert sake with us as well as laughs and google translate conversation (what did people do before the Internet?). We speed through wet streets to the hotel to retrieve whiskey and return to gift it to them before they close at 3am. We finally fall into bed after this warm welcome to Aomori.
(scene of the crime in the light of the next day)