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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

MY JOURNEY TO WAKKANAI

I decided to skip Utashinai (#741 largest city in Japan with a population of 5,400, home of Kenjiro when he left for America) because I had been there once and I could not think of any reason for returning.  So, I went to Wakkanai (42,000), mostly because it is the northernmost city in Japan and I had never been there.  Neither has virtually everyone in Japan.  It was a 13-hour roundtrip journey by Japan Railway.

Speaking of populations, I found it interesting to note that in 1870 Japan had a population of 33 million, but that of Sapporo, 13.  Yes, thirteen.   Thus, when Kenjiro's parents left Akita for Otaru, then Sapporo, Hokkaido was a brand new frontier.  Today, Sapporo has almost 2 million residents.

Two hours out of Sapporo, there were almost continuous homes alongside the track.  Most were almost new, and now and then there were buildings 10 to 15 stories high.  Three hours from Wakkanai, finally, I saw my first fall colors.  This did not improve much, as the peak remains a few weeks away even as far North as Wakkanai.  But here and there were transitional sights, not only red, orange and yellow, but also shades of lavender and spots of fuschia and chartreuse.  Every so often there was a "wow" moment.  There were fogged hills, an ostrich farm, arrows on poles pointing down (to show where the road ended when 50 feet of annual snow falls) and a lot of cows.

If you take my trip, note that the Wakkanai Station rest rooms have no toilet paper.  However, there are vending machines for such things.

I was listening to some Japanese music on my iPod on the return trip back to Sapporo, and just about the point closest to Utashinai, Wakare No Isochidori (parting song) came on, and for no explainable reason, tears came to my eyes.  This is the only song written by someone from Hawaii that became popular in Japan.  The songwriter, Francis Zanami, was born around the time of the birth of Kenjiro's son--my father.  Zanami died at the age of 44 in 1949.  Hear the Misora Hibari version by clicking on her name.  Another version by Nakamura Mitsuko.  And a male rendition followed by his really old Columbia 78.  And an instrumental.  This can go on an on, for it was a very popular song.

Maybe I should have gone to Utashinai, for maybe the tears had to do with my sense of guilt.  Perhaps a missed opportunity?



For dinner last night I dined at Mikuni, one of the finest French restaurants in Japan.  With a Kir Royale came an amusement, which I think was a cheese stuffed pastry.  Their kir is made from Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut, which sells for $150/bottle.  I had a Touraine Sauvignon with the soup of chestnuts infused with foie gras flan and truffles.  This was the most exquisite soup I've ever tasted.  The meal became an overdose on foie gras and truffles.  I drank a Torii Mor Pinot Noir from Oregon with their Beef Rossini.  The FG sat on top of and was larger than the steak, topped with eight slices of truffles.  You will note there is a second setting because I had hopes of being joined for dinner.

 I had to cancel the Hokkaido cheese plate with port wine because I was stuffed.  The only negative is that they charged me $5 for a French roll about the size of a billiard ball, which was way below standard, the roll, that is.

My dinner tonight was a Big Mac with fries and Ebisu beer.  At a total cost of less than $10, this was a lot more satisfying than that roll.  Yes, a McDonald's in the basement of my hotel, the JR Nikko.

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Look to the right for Dow Jones Industrial Average and price of crude oil.  I should add that gold hit another  all-time high, up $13/toz to $1327.

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There are two 35 MPH storms, one in the Atlantic and second one bringing a lot of rain to Viet Nam.

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