Hirosaki is singularly the most Japanese city I know. Will Ferguson
We stayed in Hirosaki not because I can’t read Japanese train timetables at all well but because sometimes Hyperdia is wrong (said the JR ticket office assistant). However, it proved to be a most serendipitous visit.
The heavy snow that had descended on us at Hakodate and continued throughout our train journey ended and the sun shone. It is a miracle we made it all as some of the train connections were impossibly tight. We had literally minutes in one case but made it against the odds.
One consistent experience in Japan is that everything just works. I do not mean it just works but that the level of organisation and attention to detail is exceptional. One can feel confident that any issue of living has been thought through thoroughly by minds trained in ensuring the group* benefits and functions effectively.
The amount of snow that fell in the last few days was phenomenal. Watching a single worker ‘clearing’ the tracks of snow seemed a futile gesture in the face of the blizzard but it must have some impact along the platform’s length of track. Often in Japan there seems more employees or workers than needed for a task or position. Maybe I have just become, after years of efficiency reviews and public sector sackings in NSW, used to no employees visible at, for example, train stations. Really, there should have been one hundred guys with orange snow shovels.
*I will look at early years education in Japan in a later post.
We like train travel. One can look at the window or read a book. Our plan is to travel the length of Japan, from Sapporo to perhaps as far south as the coast below Kagoshima. We have the third week of our trip completely unbooked and with the freedom a JR Pass brings, can go anywhere. We are pleased to have started the journey in the far north of the country, it has provided a good contrast with our previous experiences of landscape, food and people.
I never knew this until commencing travel planning but there is a tunnel under the ocean floor between Hokkaido and the mainland. Miss 9 was nervous about “tsunamis” when we boarded the train and worried about being under the ocean but soon was lost in her book and hardly noted going undersea (and in indeed there was nothing really to note but the facts and figures guide on the train seat which detailed the engineering feat that is this tunnel).
The journey was exceptionally snowy but the trains are overly warm. One really needs to dress in layers.
On arrival, the snow suddenly ceased and the skies cleared. We had blue skies to walk to the castle, hidden away in the most extraordinarily beautiful park. We caught the 100 yen bus from the station and enjoyed a stroll past frozen lakes and cherry blossoms trees with impossible amounts of snow in their branches. It was a fairytale walk and the kids did more snowballing on the way.
Hirosaki Castle is not looming over the city and one wonders if that it is the reason it survived and is one of the few remaining, authentic buildings of this type in Japan. There is little else like it all this far north. You can see from the photos below how stunning the castle is in winter.
We departed Hirosaki station in heavy snow the next day but watched, as we headed south, the scenery green as the snows melted to memory.
Arriving at Tokyo station revealed how busy the pre-New Year travel time could be in Japan. We have been at this station quite a few times three years ago but never have experienced such large numbers of commuters with luggage in one place anywhere in the world.
We had a three hour wait but found a superb restaurant in Kitchen Street before catching our train to Osaka.
Featured image: flickr photo by Darcy Moore http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/23913087292 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license