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SOLO JAPAN II 14.-28.3.2004.
introduction | departure day
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conclusion of my trip | photo gallery II
Wednesday, 17th of March 2004
Sendai -> Hiraizumi -> Hakodate

Day Four :
Going further north

Popping by Hiraizumi

The morning started like the previous one by having a free breakfast downstairs and checking my e-mail on the public computer. Today I'll continue my journey to the northern island of Hokkaido, as I have a hotel room reserved there for the next two nights in a city named Hakodate.

Thanks to the many tourist brochures I picked up during my stay in Sendai, I decided to pay a visit to Hiraizumi on the way to Hakodate. I wonder how I managed to miss this important town while planning my trip back in Finland, as it was almost as big as Kyoto during the Heian period, thus being a major centre of politics and culture in northern Japan for a century before it was destroyed by rival factions.

I left the hotel and headed for the train station around 10 o'clock (yes, quite late). I reserved a seat for the next shinkansen for Ichinoseki, from where I could continue to Hiraizumi by local train.

Disaster strikes!

Once I made it to Ichinoseki station (it took about 40 minutes), I made a dumb move by thinking what kind of sweets the hotel clerk gave me when I checked out while walking down the stairs. Thinking while walking is a very complicated multitask guaranteed to fail, so what happens?

Zoinks! I had just misfooted a stair step and sprained my right ankle. It hurt badly, but even more it hurt to know that this was not the kind of thing I wanted to happen during a vacation which is so heavily orientated on walking.

I was able to continue walking like nothing serious had happened, but I knew it will get worse by the hour. I could only hope nothing major snapped down there ...

Trying to ignore the pain, I checked the timetable for the next local train to Hiraizumi and tossed my backpack into a coinlocker before getting on the train. The train ride took only about ten minutes.

The small town of Hiraizumi

Hiraizumi was a quiet small Japanese town in a valley. Actually the population today is only a tenth what is was during the glory days, which was around 100,000.

I visited the tourist information centre next to the train station and picked up some brochures of the place. Then I took a look at the bus timetable and despite having an aching ankle, I decided to walk(!) instead of waiting for the bus for over ten minutes, as I wanted to see the common streets of Hiraizumi on the way.

Going by foot was actually well encouraged by frequent tourist signposts indicating where was what in which direction and how far away - both in Japanese and English. Kudos Hiraizumi for that! So I proceeded first to a plain where the ruins of the old metropolis .... were. Well, it was exactly that. A few ruins in a plain landscape, absolutely nothing else. Wow (in a laconic way).

Heading further north and passing many dry rice fields on the way, I reached the Chusonji Temple area, founded by the Fujiwara family back in 850. There weren't many tourists around and the weather was perfect, maybe even a bit hot considering the time of year.

While there were plenty of buildings along the path, it didn't take more than a hour to see them all and I wasn't willing to pay a separate 800 yen admission fee in order to see the Konjikido (Golden hall) either. Still, I was happy to visit the area which I would have otherwise missed if it wasn't for the tourist brochures.

Leaving Hiraizumi

There were many other sites in Hiraizumi I would have wanted to see, but I didn't want to torment myself with my sprained ankle and returned to train station (by foot again! What is wrong with me?!).

While waiting for the local train, I knew I had to buy a bandage from a pharmacy once I get back to Ichinoseki to avoid the swelling and to minimize the risk I'd sprain it even further.

So once I returned to Ichinoseki, I visited a pharmacy that was thankfully near the station and asked for some bandage. I actually used my electronic dictionary which even gave an appropriate sentence to use ("Ashikubi o kujiita rashii", "I think I sprained my ankle"), although I have no idea did I spell it right. Nonetheless I got the bandage and used it right away.

The not-so-fast train transfers

Then I picked up my backpack from the coinlocker, went to the ticket office and asked for a seat ticket for the next shinkansen to Hachinohe (from where I would continue to Hakodate by normal express train).

I was concerned does the shinkansen that stops by at Ichinoseki continue as north as Hachinohe and as I feared, it doesn't. I would first have to go to Morioka by shinkansen, then change to another shinkansen bound for Hachinohe.

The annoying thing about this is that the shinkansen from Ichinoseki wouldn't leave in 50 minutes and once I reach Morioka after a 45 minute ride, I would have to wait for the next shinkansen for almost another extra hour!

I decided to kill some time in a restaurant, so I looked at a restaurant's window display of different dishes, stepped inside, showed the waiter what I wanted from the display window since the menu was in Japanese and squeezed my feet to fit under the Japanese sized table.

I thought I ordered hot noodles in a nice looking bamboo tray, but it turned out to be cold soba (noodles). It was eatable, but it was a bit of a let down when I was fully orientated in eating a warm dinner.

Running crippled

After finishing the noodles, I thought I had about 15 minutes of time to walk to the shinkansen platform, but when I happened to check the ticket, I was shocked to notice it would be leaving ten minutes earlier than I remembered!

So one might guess I had to run in order to catch it, and you can bet it was no fun with my sprained ankle! I ran like Quasimodo with a painful grin on my face and made it just in time making the sprint worth it, but damn it hurt badly!

I tried to forget the pulsating pain in my ankle by watching the naked rice fields and the distant mountains passing by. Soon I arrived at the shinkansen's destination, Morioka. If it wasn't for the sprained ankle, I would have used the waiting hour by taking a look at the city, but now my primary objective was only to rest my ankle as much as possible.

After the waiting period, I continued deeper north on the next shinkansen. The sun had disappeared behind the horizon and I hoped I wouldn't have to wait too long for the next train for Hakodate, since my sightseeing in train stations for today had reached its limit ages ago.

At the end of the Shinkansen line

Hachinohe was this shinkansen's terminal station and also the most northern shinkansen station for that matter anyway. Once I arrived, I searched for the ticket office right away and reserved a ticket for Hakodate. To my big disappointment the train would leave exactly 58 minutes after I had arrived here. More waiting at a train station! This isn't really my day, now is it?

The mild highlight of that one hour wait came when I walked passed some children who immediately stopped playing together and stared at me like they had just seen a white gaijin for the first time in their lives. It seemed hard to believe that was the case in a country that should be getting used to foreign tourists, but maybe there still are parts in Japan where we are a still rarity (they might have been from a smaller town somewhere here north of Japan).

The seat ticket indicated I will have to sit inside the final train for three long hours before reaching my final destination. I started to wonder when I'm supposed to check in the hotel I reserved, as the train would arrive at Hakodate 21:54pm. I tried to call the hotel just to check, but I could only get a Japanese female error voice message I couldn't understand. Well, hopefully the check-in time was later than 22:oo pm.

Last train for Hakodate

The train was ready to be boarded after the cleaners did their job. Now this train trip would be different from the previous ones as this would go through the Seikan tunnel, which is the longest railway tunnel constructed beneath a seabed.

Despite the funny thought that I was under sea with all kinds of fish and ships above me, the train trip was not that exciting, but at least my ankle was aching less. Seems like the bandage wrapped around it is paying off.

After coming out of the tunnel, the darkness, rain and surprisingly empty train car made me feel I was on a different, more lonesome island than Honshu.

Finally (and I like to stress the word finally) the train arrived at Hakodate station. I decided to grab a taxi instead of wandering around the rainy city with a sore ankle with no idea where the hotel was. I spotted a taxi, hopped inside and told the driver the hotel name and just in case showed a map I printed out before the trip. The hotel was far enough from the station to make the ride justifiable (the ride cost me around 600 yen).

A classic style hotel

I entered the main lobby which was huge compared to the Toyoku hotel in Sendai. As I limped towards the main counter in the other end of the shiny lobby, I was glad I made it to my destination and could end the tiresome day in a classy hotel.

Why Hotel JAL City? I picked this hotel from the Mytrip website as the single room had a staggering discount price of 4,800 per night, when it normally would have been 10,000 yen! So I thought this would be a good opportunity to see what is a "normal" priced hotel room without paying the normal price.

"I'm sorry sir, but the room you asked for ... "

The clerks greeted me warmly and politely went through the routine questions and card filling requests. When I confirmed I reserved a single room, they were sorry to inform me that they didn't have any single rooms available and arranged me a double bed room instead. Oooh, what a pity!

Although not a VIP room, it was still top notch from champagne glasses to an electronic toilet (yes, with all those strange functions you have heard of). Yeah, this definitely is worth 4800 yen per night. :-)

Summing the day

So it was a mixed day of good and bad moments. Spraining my ankle was an unfortunate accident which I hope won't turn out to be anything serious. Hiraizumi had more to offer than I was able to see during my quick, crippled visit, so can't give a final verdict on that place. It certainly is a place worth checking out in the Tohoku region, though.

Although all the train trips were comfortable, they were quite boring in the long run and made me wonder was I willing to explore the southern island of Kyushu as widely as I first planned, because that would involve a lot of sitting in trains too.

Well, I won't have to decide on that just yet. Let's handle Hakodate first. To calm down the busy day of traveling, I watched some television before it was time to go to sleep in my double sized bed. Nice.

back to top | proceed to day five!

Photo copyright Ude
The Toyoko Inn where I stayed at while in Sendai (the widespread hotel chain has three hotels around Sendai).

Photo copyright Ude
Ichinoseki station (the exchange station between Sendai and Hiraizumi).

Photo copyright Ude
Hiraizumi had good tourist signposts where each attraction was.

Photo copyright Ude
Landscape around the Hiraizumi Mansion ruins, not exactly the highlight of the visit.

Photo copyright Ude
The Chusonji temple area had plenty of small temples and shrines to look at.

Photo copyright Ude
A bright red torii-gate.

Photo copyright Ude
Hiraizumi scenery.

Photo copyright Ude
Approaching Morioka ... would that then be Mt. Doom?

Photo copyright Ude
This express train will take me from the main island of Honshu to the northern island Hokkaido.

Photo copyright Ude
The led display shows that the train is currently below the Tsugaru Strait (240 meters below the sea surface).

Photo copyright Ude
At Hotel JAL City, where I've been given a double bed room for the price of a single room. :-)

Hiraizumi's Cultural Heritage - Excellent website full of information about Hiraizumi!
Seikai tunnel - Here you can read some fun facts and history of the world's longest tunnel.
Mytrip - Good accommodation site that even gives discounts!




Copyright 2003-2019 © , second edition. Latest minor update 4th of May 2010 (fixed and deleted broken links)