Grand Japan – Hakodate

Hakodate is the southern most port of Hokkaido and faces Aomori (tomorrow’s port) across the Tsugaru Straits. Another beautiful city famous for its history, amazingly fresh seafood, unique shopping and unusually scenic cityscape.  

More famous fish markets! I’d love to live in walking distance to somewhere like this. Fresh fish and seafood right at your doorstep would be amazing and so many sushi restaurants you are the totally spoiled for choice.   

After wandering the morning markets which spans four city blocks has over 400 vendors, we went looking for the Red Brick Warehouses. This is Hakodate’s historic waterfront district which marks the site where the shipyards and original foreign settlements were located. Now, they are transformed into atmospheric shopping centres and the enormous Hakodate Beer Hall. We wandered around shopping for a bit… we seem to be accumulating more and more fragile items, more is the pity – it’s going to make for a packing challenge and a half!


From there we went to the Goryokaku Historic Corridor, which contains, the very cool Goryokaku Tower which has some observation decks that we went up to have a look over the Goryokaku Fort.

In 1854, the Tokugawa shogunate ended its period of isolation that had lasted for over 200 years, and concluded the Treaty of Peace and Amity between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Commodore Perry, who came with his fleet to inspect Hakodate following its designation as an open international port was instrumental in negotiation the American integration into the area. 

The Hakodate Magistrate, who was appointed by the Tokugawa shogunate to govern Hakodate and Ezo promoted land reclamation and industrial development while fortifying the defensive capabilities of the area. The Goroyokaku Fort was modelled on European citadel towns.

Construction of the Fort began in 1857 and professional tradesmen and labourers came from all over Japan for the construction of the moat, the stone walls , government offices and housing for government officials. Fort Goryokaku was completed in 1864.

The Fort was overtaken by deserters of the shogunate army, despite the new Hakodate Government sending garrison troops to attacked the deserts on their approach. The deserters were more battle experienced and they routed the garrison troops. Takeaki Enomoto, the leader of the deserters, entered Fort Goryokaku followed by his men flying the Rising Sun flag. The armies of the new Meiji government eventually fought back after many other skirmishes, and regained control of the Fort (lots of people and historical events deleted here, but that’s the Readers Digest version).

The beginning of the Meiji Era saw the end of the turbulent Restoration period, and the Fort evolved into an area of industry. One of the things the Fort was used for was ice. “Goryokaku Ice” was collected and sold from the fresh water in the moat in areas as remote as Honshu… apparently the ice trade from the moat’s fort became quite the thriving industy.

This is the Magistrates house.  Built in the late 1800s, it has recently been complete renovated/restored and now looks completely new inside.  We have seen plenty of buildings (mostly temples) from this era, but nothing like this.  This building has been restored in accordance with the original plans and using the original materials… this is what one of these gorgeous buildings would have looked like when they were brand new and built for purpose. I love the tatami mats everywhere – it has me wondering why our floors at home have hard tiles anywhere in our houses, I also love the multipurpose layout of most buildings – a room can have many purposes depending on the time of day and the day of the week.  It’s very versatile with all the sliding screens making for private and open spaces.                      

So, after checking out the Magistrates House, and a rather big day of running around Hakodate we head back to the ship for a bit of late lunch and potter about before tonight’s outing. 

The ship was having a traditional folkloric dance group on board and we tried to catch some of it before we had to head out. It was some dancers dressed as maiko and geiko.  I’ve never seen any kind of dance quite like it… The movements of the dance seemed in no way connected to the beat or rhythm of the music. Just bizarre. 


(sorry about poor image quality but it was all I could do under the theater conditions). 

After this, a little ten year old boy came out and did a traditional samurai dance culminating in a hari-kari ritual suicide enactment we decided to call it quits and joined our tour group… weird. 

Off to the Mt Hakodate Ropeway which is a cable car to a famous observatory/lookout with Japan’s third best view (and before anyone asks – No.  I have no idea what the number one and two best views are, but they very proudly boast this as the third). 

Crammed into bus. Walked up loads of steps. Crammed into gondola and up we went.  



  Better photos in the real camera. 



Then funneled into the gift shop like all good attractions and back on bus and back to ship! I’m really quite tired now. 🙂 

Grand Japan – Otaru

Otaru port today… Renown for fresh seafood, boutique breweries and hand made glass wares.  So we wanted to check it all out. 

First stop the award winning Kikkogura Sake Brewery and Musuem, where we followed The Sake Story (below), as best I can make it out!

The rice used to make Sake is larger than the regular rice used for eating – the best sake is made from only the white centre of the rice grains.  80% of Sake is just water – the water is essential for making Sake, and Otaru Sake breweries use the all natural cold, pure ground water that is plentiful in Hokkaido.  So steps to make exception Sake:

First Polishing stage – 30-60% of the rice is polished to brewing quality standard, this takes the husked rice through to a fine powder state.

Washing stake – the rice is then washed and steamed. 

Koji stage – Koji bacteria is added to turn the rice starch into sugars, which takes two days in a hot humid room.  

Cultivation stage – the Syubo ‘Mother of Sake’ ferments the alcohol for ten days.

Mixing stage – the Koji is added into the Syubo with steam rice and water in three layers. At 10C it takes 30 days to slowly ferment in a large vat.

Squeezing stage – The sake is then squeezed to separate the sake from the Lees (dregs).

Next it is Stored… Bottled… Shipped… and ready to drink! 

(*at the bottom of this post I have listed all the differnt types of sake for anyone who is interested – it is quite extensive


This brewery has been in operation since the 1890s and has a step by step guide to how sake is made. The lovely fresh spring water in the region has made it Hokkaido’s most famous sake region.           This pic shows the rice being laid out for two days in a hot humid room to turn the rice starch into sugar.                   

Next stop the canal area where there is a plethora of traditional Japanese sushi restaurants in ‘Sushi Town’ where the abundant and unusual seafood can be sampled at over 130 restaurants with freshly caught delicacies at lower prices than many larger cities.  






 Have I mentioned how much I love all the bright colored plastic food signs outside the restaurants!  Very cute and they’re everywhere. 


After that we wandered the glass shopping district –  all of it so beautiful and so hard to get home! 


Different Kinds of Sake

All the sake listed in between Ginjyo-shu an Taru-zake are required by law to met the indicated standards.

Ginjyo-shu – sake brewed with white rice polished less than 60%, rice malt, water and alcohol for brewing. It has an excellent aroma and a beautiful colour. Ginjyo-shu Ginjyo jyunmai-shu, Dai ginjyo-shu are all produced by experienced brewers with their superb techniques, such as fermenting sake at low temperatures for a long time and removing most of the rice grains from the sake. These are called “masterpieces of sake” and are displayed at sake exhibitions. (Best: cold, or on the rocks – never add water).

Ginjyo jyunnmai-shu – Ginjyo-shu brewed only with white rice, rice malt and water. (Best: cold or on the rocks).

Dai ginjyo-shu – Ginjyo-shu brewed with white rice polished less than 50%. (Best: cold or on the rocks).

Tokubetsu jyunmai-shu – Jyunmai-shu is made with white rice polished less than 60%. To be called Tokubetsu jyunmai-shu, the rice used in brewing, production methods etc, have to be different to other Jyunmai-shu produce in the same factory. Those distintions are explained an indicated on the product. (Best: cold or hot, or on the rocks).

Hon jyozo-shu – sake brewed with white rice polished less then 70% rice malt, water and brewing alcohol (while only the amount less than 10% of the total rice weight can be added). It has a nice aroma and a beautiful colour. (Best: cold or hot, or on the rocks).

Tokubetsu hon jyozo-shu – Made with rice polished less than 60%. The rice used in the brewing production methods have to be different from the other Hon jyozo-shu produced in the same brewery. Those distinctions are to be explained and indicated on the product. (Best: cold or hot, or on the rocks).

Gen-shu – Undiluted sake. (Best: One the rocks, with warm or cold water added, never hot).

Nama-shu – Non-pasturised sake (Best: Cold, or on the rocks, never hot or with warm water added)

Nama chozo-shu – Sake which is not pasteurised prior to the preservation but only before being marketed. (Best: cold, or on the rocks, never hot or with warm water added).

Ki ippon – Jyunmani-shu brewed only at a company’s single brewery. (Best: On the rocks or with warm or cold water added).

Taru-zake – traditional sake preserved in a wooden barrel, with a distinctive aroma. (Best: cold or hot or on the rocks).

Ko-shu – Sake preserved for more than a year. The year of preservation is indicated on the product. Sake stored over 10 years has sheer golden colour. It takes mellower but has an aroma specific to matured sake (Best: cold or hot).

Tezukuri-shu – Jyunmai-shu or Hon jyozo-shu which is brewed with the brewery’s handmade steamed rice, malt and yeast. (Best: cold or hot).

Funakuchi-shu – Sake bottled immediately after being pressed. It is strong and fresh tasting due to the carbon dioxide contained in the product. It is not pasteurized therefore cannot be kept for a long time. (Best: cold, on the rocks or with cold water added, never hot).

Kassei sei-shu – The colour of sake is white and cloudy as rice and rice malt are crushed and filtered with a cellular cloth. It is not pasteurized therefore cannot be kept for a long time. (Best: cold, on the rocks or with cold water added, never hot).

Amakuchi-shu – Sweet sake with a strong taste. (Best: Best hot or cold or on the rocks).

Karakuchi-shu – Dry and fresh sake. (Best: Best hot or cold or on the rocks).

Grand Japan – Korsakov Port Guide

“Korsakov is the port entry of the Yazhno-Sakhalinsk area and all the beauty and ancient culture of Sakhalin Island. Having been the centre of a tug-of-war between Russian and Japan it is filled with the history of many people and is become a major world oil boomtown while preserving its natural heritage”… according to the brochure.

The actuality, however, was somewhat different. Have you ever seen Eurotrip? You know the bit where Scotty and his friends, end up in Bratislava? Well that was us in Korsokov. Everything here looks like it is falling apart and holding steadfastly together at the same time – that is, buildings, vehicles, and ships all have that run down, dilapidated look about them and you can’t really tell if it is time, (the city is about 160 years old), or if it was war, (the city was fairly flattened in WWII), or if it is just the wear that extreme weather leaves behind, (with usual summer highs of 8C, it sounds like their winters are pretty brutal).

Firstly, getting there was quite the trial, the Russian immigration procedures are pretty strict, and we were only allowed ashore on organised tours – escorted by members of the ships’ company. Which meant a USD$29 per person walking tour was the only way to go to Korsakov… that was USD$120 for the four of us, and it gained us a ten minute bus ride and a partially English speaking crew member from the Philippines with no local knowledge and then access to a local Russian tour guide for about 25 minutes. 

Our tour guide was interesting, she spoken well enough English to impart information about the town and its highlights, but not well enough to answer any questions, so I think she must have learned her script well.

    Our first stop was a monument of some sort… it looked like a giant pair of tweezers high on a lookout over the port. No one knew what the monument was supposed to be marking, no one could read the Russian inscription beside it, and not event he local Russian tour guide could tell us what it was for, but every man and their dog from our ship seemed to want to have their photo taken with the strange thing??? Go figure. Had to wait about five minutes for a ‘shutter chance’ (Japanese for ‘photo op’) with no one in the way.




 So anyway, our walking tour started at one end of a pedestrian street which led to Victory Square and the Square of Glory. On the way our guide told us that Korsakov is a ‘very typical looking Russian city’ – it has very high unemployment, nearly all the people in Korsakov work in the port, or live in Korsakov and travel to Yazhno for work and there is little to do. People choose to live in Korsakov because the cost of housing is about 1/3 that of Yazhno – 6,000,000 roubles compared to 2,000,000 for a similar type flat in Korsakov. Much to be desired are apparently second floor flats, which become first floor flats in the winter time. Apparently if you live on the first floor you will spend a great deal of your winter digging your way out through the snow, whereas the people on the second floor can walk straight outside.


 Our guide also told us that people like to hang out in Victory Square because there is ‘nothing to do here – no entertainment, no restaurant, no theatre, no cinema’. Wow, great way to talk the place up! And we did see what appeared to be a lot of townsfolk out and about and seemingly doing very little, just hanging around the Square talking to one another and pushing prams. Primary pastimes apparently include fishing, though mostly for the old people, and snow sports, for all ages.

We were shown the WWII memorial, commemorating all the people who died in WWII, and then Lenin Square, where there is a towering symbol of Soviet Russia still looking down on the Square… and THAT is all our guide had to tell us about that. No details, no information, no history, no nothing. We were then led over to a handicrafts centre where a lot of stuff made by local children was on display and available for purchase – bless their cotton socks but their work showed a great deal of enthusiasm and very little talent, as such the price tags they were sporting were completely unwarranted. Here we were also filed past some souvenir stalls selling matryoshka dolls, souvenir t-shirts with Putin on them, shawls, and other typically Russian type ‘stuff’.  





 In the next room was a large theatre where we were able to go sit and watch what appeared to be either a Russian musical or Russian opera (not sure which) with some lovely people in traditional costume singing. They appeared to be enacting a scene where people were buying shoes and scarves?! Looked lovely, but couldn’t understand any of it and had no idea what it was all about.

  And then we were looking at our watches and we had barely 20 minutes before we had to be back on our bus or risk the ire of Russian immigration! No time to look around at all – even though according to the aforementioned brochure, the Sakhalin Regional Museum is a ‘must see’, and has an impressive collection of historical exhibits of the decorative arts, history and archaeological persuasion. Oh and the Church of St Nicholas is supposed to be one of the oldest types of wooden churches in the world, but no time. Back on the bus. Bugger.

    What else can I say about Korsakov… I learned that one shouldn’t buy the caviar at this time of year, as the caviar season is autumn, and quite literally anything you buy at the moment is from last year’s harvest. And that’s it really. Korsakov in a nutshell. Port. Monuments. Square. Handicrafts. GTFO.

Helpful things our onboard shore expert should have told us – 1) the few retailers we were able to get to in the short time we were there, were happy to accept Russian Roubles, Japanese Yen or USD and that we needn’t have exchanged already exchanged Yen for Roubles, 2) that we wouldn’t have time to actually go and see any of the cool stuff listed in the Port Guide brochure so we should just ignore all that and 3) our tour guides were not really going to guide us at all or offer any substantial information and that we would dumped unceremoniously at the end of the pedestrian mall at the handicrafts centre and that she would just bugger off without a word! Considering how carefully we were being head counted at every step, so carefully, it was weird that we were just dumped at the end. 

Overall, a rather weird and interesting day. Glad to have a look around, but I definitely wouldn’t waste the time, energy and money to go back again.   Anyway, tally ho!  Back to the Diamond Princess!

Grand Japan – Shiretoko Peninsula

A beautiful day of scenic cruising around the Shiretoko Peninsula on the Diamond Princess.  We had a lovely relaxing day today rounding the northern most tip of Japan on our way to Russia.  On the way around the eastern side of the peninsula, there was not much to be seen as the land mass was heavily covered by mist and fog.  But as we rounded onto the west side of the peninsula, you could see the cliffs and volcanic mountains that form the north island. 

This area is well known for it’s hot springs, onsens and even hot water waterfalls.  We had to stay 3 natutical miles off the coast the whole time so as not to disturb the fishing industry that put their nets and pots out and operate along the coast catching king crab and various other seafoods.

The ship traversed through the four ‘contested islands’ between Japan and Russia that saw neither country sign any peace treaties after WWII… which in effect means Japan and Russia are still officially at war.  Japan maintains the islands belong to Japan, of course Russia maintains the islands belong to Russia, and in 60 years since the war ended, the impasse has not been resolved.  It’s not much of a war though – there are daily ferry services that run back and forth between this part of Japan and Russia and other than what seems farily strict customs procedures, it mostly seems to be fairly amiable… well as amiable as Russia is with any of its neighbours!   😀 

We saw large pods of dolphins swimming alongside the ship, and had a lovely calm day as we sailed towards Russia, and an absolutely beautiful sunset today from the Skywalkers Nighclub this evening. 

Grand Japan – Kushiro

Kushiro is a large down in Hakkaido province known for it’s amazing fish markets and wildlife santuary to protect the red-crested cranes.  In 1958 the red-crested crane population was down to near extinction at a mere 18 known red-crested cranes due to extensive overhunting for eating… now, as a protected species, and designation as a Special Natural Living Treasure, they number over 1000, so I guess the whole conservation thing is working for them.  The city is now devoted to the cranes, which are revered as a symbol of longevity, luck and fidelity. The marshlands were quite extensive in the area, but apparently the township of Kushiro has been built largely on reclaimed marshalands before a mere 23 x 18 square kilometers was claimed for National Park to conserve the wildlife.

It is also well known for the beautiful crater lake, Lake Akan, which has a particularly weird and rare algae specific to this area, that grows in large perfectly spherical green balls.  We had planned to go to the fish markets… only to find, they are closed on Sundays.  ðŸ™  Bother.  Instead, we ended up going to a marketplace called MOO.  O.o





 At the Moo markets, we saw a guy selling crabs at about Y1500 who then took to them with a pair of scissors to expertly pull them apart.  I thought Qld’ers were good at getting into their seafood, but this guy made all of us look amateurs.  Gotta buy myself some fancy crabbin’ scissors and learn how to do this – I love crab, but it’s always such a pain in the butt to get to the good meat.

The other thing we noticed in all the souvenir shops at the markets (and had quite a bit of a laugh over) was the mascot of Hokkaido… he’s a strangely reminiscent of a little green ninja turtle looking thing – but he’s ALWAYS depicted with an enormous bulge in his pants!  Oh Japan, you so funny!  Naturally we had to buy a couple of fridge magnets to bring home.  ðŸ˜› 



 Other fun stuff was the plethora of vending machines selling utter crap to anyone who wanted to throw their Yen into them, and this very cool game of skill machine… you know the ones where you operate the claw to go in and grab a prize?  Well, this one had LIVE crabs in it, and you had to operate the claw to try and catch a live crab.  A flimsy plastic was provided for you to put your catch in… and I’m not sure what you do with him after that?  Take him home and boil him in a pot I assume?   Fun for the whole family.

Tomorrow onto scenic cruising around the Shiretoko Peninsula, part way between Japan and Russsia.