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SOLO JAPAN II 14.-28.3.2004.
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conclusion of my trip | photo gallery II
Friday, 19th of March 2004
Hakodate -> Tokyo

Day Six:
Heading back South

Familiar morning view

When I looked out of the window this morning, I couldn't help noticing some kind of resemblance between the frosted streets of Hakodate and many towns in back in Finland during winter. It felt homey for a moment.

After the routine morning drill of taking a shower and watching the morning programs while packing, I was set to head back all the way back to Tokyo to spend the weekend with a good friend of mine, Shiho.

Shiho visited Finland six months earlier and I was her personal guide and host during that time, so now she will be returning the favour while I'm in Tokyo, which I'm very excited about, since this way I would hopefully see more of the real Japan, mainly how people live.

The weather was clear and there was no wind, so I decided to walk to the station since I had plenty of time before the train to Hachinohe would leave the station.

The streets of Hakodate

While walking in the streets, I was stunned to notice that although Hakodate was otherwise a rather quiet city, there were loudspeakers in every corner ruining the quiet morning with advertisement announces! Can't they give people even a single minute of pause from commercials?!

At the station I bought the seat tickets all the way to Tokyo. Before getting on board the train, I also bought a station lunch box (or ekiben) and a souvenir (some local cookies for Shiho back in Tokyo). The train left the station 8:48am and would take about three hours to arrive in Hachinohe.

Smooth, problem free ride back to Tokyo

The train ride went fine as expected. The only moment of action occurred at Aomori when the seats had to be turned around to face the new direction of the train (it seemed like a routine thing to do).

Once at Hachinohe, I switched to the shinkansen that left 12:04pm. Nothing interesting happened on that ride either. I did buy a phone card on board and tried to call Shiho on the shinkansen, but I couldn't get her on the other end of the phone.

The shinkansen was hayate-type, so I was able to see a whole lot more of the scenery than on the MAX double-decker last monday. The shinkansen arrived at Tokyo 15:08pm, so the whole trip from Hakodate to Tokyo took six hours and 20 minutes covering 888 kilometres, an average of 140km/h.

Fear of terrorists in Tokyo

At Tokyo station I noticed there were more policemen present than usual, standing on small stands and watching the human streams passing by. I then remembered the morning news report of Al-Qaida urging to strike against the Iraq occupier countries, including Japan. Obviously this safety precaution stunt wasn't because they were expecting a terrorist strike right away, but to calm down the Tokyoites just in case, who seem to get nervous of such threats since they have the nerve gas attack ten years ago still fresh in their memories.

Finally I got Shiho on the phone (she has occupied by work earlier) and we agreed to meet a few hours later at another local train station. So I wandered around a bit, had some tonkatsu (fried pork) and visited various shops before heading to Mejiro station via Yamamote line.

Meeting Shiho

I met Shiho at the Mejiro station exit and we headed right away to her apartment. One surprising thing for me at least was that despite the excellent public transportation network in the metropolis, the distance to walk from the station to her apartment still takes almost 20 minutes, which she thinks is quite normal and acceptable in Tokyo!

However, most of the route was walking in quiet (almost dead quiet) small apartment streets, which was certainly a healthy counterbalance to the major streets of Tokyo with its noise and lights. Very nice indeed.

Japanese sized apartment

We reached her apartment after zigzagging through the silent streets. If she had shaken me off at some point, I wouldn't have had any idea how I would have found my way back to the station. She lived in a flat and her single room apartment was small, maybe 20 square meters max, but it did have an unusually big balcony (it was actually as big as the apartment!). The rent was about 80,000 yen per month (about 590 euros).

Basically the entrance corridor was the kitchen at the same time and the living room was the bedroom too, depending were the futons or dining table placed on the floor. The bathroom and toilet weren't wasted with a single extra inch either. Extremely compact, and probably a rather typical single room layout in Japan.

We quickly returned back to the streets to get some food from the local small supermarket. One thing I noticed at the supermarket was the almost total absence of sweets and candy. In Finland there is at least one full shelve of them, but here there was maybe a few chocolate bars, but that was about it (candy addicts beware!).

One other difference was a huge shelve dedicated to different soy sauces, where in Finland it is usually limited to maybe four brands max. Obviously soy sauce is a rather essential ingredient in Japanese cooking.

The rest of the evening went by eating and talking about different things not really worth writing down here (and I don't even remember anymore what the topics were for that matter). Later somewhere around midnight Shiho needed to get some sleep after a busy week at work she had herself.

Summing up northern Japan

So this day ended my short adventure in the northern parts of Japan. Although the north doesn't seem as attractive as the south to some, it does have its fair share of places to see. I'm sure the Tohoku region wasn't at its full glory around March since the scenery was rather leafless, but at least the tourist and high school student group count wasn't that high either.

Hokkaido felt very interesting indeed, even though I only visited Hakodate for two nights. Getting there and back however proved that although shinkansens are fast, it doesn't make the regular express trains any faster themselves. I was thinking of using a ferry between Honshu and Hokkaido, but since the train ride didn't cost me anything thanks to the JR Rail Pass and it was more convenient, I decided to play it cheap.

So, maybe next time Tohoku and Hokkaido again during the summer season? Not ruled out.

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Photo copyright Ude
Hakodate in the morning sun.

Photo copyright Ude
From the bedside table: the new testament and the teaching of buddha.

Photo copyright Ude
Local tram in Hakodate.

Photo copyright Ude
The JR station of Hakodate.

Photo copyright Ude
Viewing Mt. Hakodate while heading back south by train.

Photo copyright Ude
Getting off the train at Hachinohe.

Hyperdia - A very useful site to see what train lines are available in Japan!
Copyright 2003-2019 © , second edition. Latest minor update 4th of May 2010 (fixed and deleted broken links)