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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

MY WONDERFUL DAY ON HOKKAIDO


Hokkaido (population of 5.5 million) is the name of the north island, where the capitol is Sapporo (2 million).  While the Ainu and other tribes have been here for 20,000 years, the Japanese government around 1870 decided to populate the island as a defensive measure against Russia.  In 1873, Sapporo had fewer than 2,000 people.

Kenjiro's (my father's father) parents sometime in this period left Akita for Otaru, then Sapporo, and ultimately to Utashinai.  He was sent to America in the 1890's for an unknown reason, and on his way back to Japan, stopped off in Hawaii, helping build a hydroelectric facility on Kauai, fell at the site, and died in 1906, three years after my father was born.  I have spent the past few years tracking his roots.  What a fascinating and adventurous life he must have lived.

Today, I took the advice of Professor Takeo Kondo and went to his home town, Asahikawa, to see their zoo, which he said, was the best in Japan.  It's about an hour and half by JR and the Asahiyama Zoo is the first snow zoological garden I've ever visited.  Some photos:

I guess even giraffes don't mind the cold:

I should underscore that those ladies at the train station information booths are incredibly helpful.  Here is Yumiko, who gave all the directions I needed, including not catching a cab (the round trip would have been $70) and gave me a bus schedule:

I didn't realize that that it was so far away, so I had to adjust my return time to Sapporo.  She even called the Sugino Me, to change my dinner reservation from 6 to 7:30.  These staffers have a kind of enthusiasm, competence and dedication not found in any other country, especially Waikiki, which is still better than most states and countries in the world.

Dinner tonight was at a traditional Hokkaido restaurant, Suginome.  They feature crab, which, unfortunately, is something I am very careful about, for my crustacean allergy worries me.  The drinks today were cold Sapporo beer, Kamuisake hot sake and room temperature Hokkaido Tokachi red wine, a bit sour, but better than the Furano of yesterday:

Here is the appetizer:

which was followed by a green tea soba with the specialty of the house, salmon roe with soy sauce (it was salmon roe with soy sauce...why this was their world famous dish is beyond me), corn soup with a gigantic dumpling, an egg custard of sea urchin, and salmon egg on rice.  Maria had their set assortment, here shown with a strange fish:
Who is Maria?  You might never know, for this could well be our last supper.  Then again, there is something special about life that sometimes surprises you.

A few interesting facts about the Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Cataclysm.  Tokyo Electric Power Company is screwed (their stock dropped a bunch today, again, and from a year high of 2495, it is today down to 337) and has lost 86.5% of its value.  More so, everyone is worried about what will happen in August and September when people expect to use air-conditioning.  It turns out that Western Japan cannot send electricity to help out because they are at a different frequency.  Also, there is minimal wheeling between Hokkaido and Honshu because the cables limit transfer.  Thus, all the escalators at Hokkaido train stations work and there is a vitality to this economy.

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