Sunday, November 05, 2006

Northernmost posting in Japan

And I'll bet you thought I was already in Northern Japan. Well, this weekend I went as far north as you can go without falling off. I found out a couple of friends from Muroran were going to be heading to Wakkanai, so I enticed them to stop here in Ramen town so I could join them on their way to *way* north.

Friday morning -- it was a holiday here --we set out north. We were lucky to have beautiful weather the whole way up. We stopped at a few interesting places along the way -- places I never would have stopped at if not for my lovely travelling companions. Note to self: travelling with someone who not only speaks, but reads Japanese is really frikking awesome. I miss literacy.

One of the places we stopped was where the name "Hokkaido" was first set down. Hokkaido was only recently settled by the Japanese. This guy -- Matsuura Takeshiro, came up to the island to chart it. Sadly, my grasp of Japanese history is pretty shaky. So read this paragraph from Wikipedia:

"Hokkaidō was known as Ezochi until the Meiji Restoration. Shortly after the Boshin War in 1868, a group of Tokugawa loyalists led by Enomoto Takeaki proclaimed the island's independence as the Republic of Ezo, but the rebellion was crushed in May 1869. Ezochi was subsequently put under control of the Colonization Office. When establishing the Colonization Office, the Meiji Government decided to change the name of Ezochi. Matsuura Takeshirō submitted 6 ideas, including names such as Kaihokudo (海北道) and Hokkaidō (北加伊道) to the government. The government eventually decided to use the name Hokkaidō, but decided to write it as 北海道, as a compromise between 海北道 and because of the similarity with names such as Tōkaidō (東海道). According to Matsuura, the name was thought up because the Ainu called the region "Kai." Historically, many peoples who had interactions with the ancestors of the Ainu called them and their islands Kuyi, Kuye, Qoy, or some similar name, which may have some connection to the early modern form Kai. The Kai element also strongly resembles the Sino-Japanese reading of the characters 蝦夷 (Sino-Japanese /ka-i/, Japanese kun /emisi/), which have been used for over a thousand years in China and Japan as the standard orthographic form to be used when referring to Ainu and related peoples; it is possible that Matsuura's Kai was actually an alteration, influenced by the Sino-Japanese reading of 蝦夷 Ka-i, of the Nivkh exonym for the Ainu, namely Qoy. In 1882, the Colonization Office was abolished, and Hokkaidō was separated into three prefectures, Hakodate, Sapporo, and Nemuro. In 1886, the three prefectures were abolished, and Hokkaidō was put under the Hokkaidō Agency. Hokkaidō became equal with other prefectures in 1947, when the revised Local Autonomy Law became effective."

Yup -- I'm too lazy to paraphrase all that. And it's about what the marker at the site said too.


Note: I'm working on this post at school, and it has aroused quite a bit of interest around the office. Just like everywhere else in the world, people don't usually know a lot about things "in their own backyard" and nobody had any idea this spot existed. However, this interest has also produced a stack of history books on my desk in Japanese that will take me days to figure out.

I still miss literacy. Grade 2 just isn't cutting it.


After somewhere in the vicinity of 5 hours in the car, we arrived in Wakkanai. The northernmost city in Japan. Our first stop was lunch/dinner. There's a little Italian diner near the station that serves massive cheeseburgers. Maybe because the last time I had a cheeseburger that wasn't McDonalds was a really long time ago, it was amazingly good. Mmmmm.... cheeseburgers...

Japan's northernmost train station

We also stopped at the northernmost train station in Japan. The guys at the gate were nice enough to let us go out on the platform to take some pictures.

We were all pretty wiped out from driving all day, so the evening was pretty quiet. We crashed with a friend living up there -- hooray for tatami surfing!

The next day it was out to Soya Misaki (Cape Soya), the northernmost point of Hokkaido. We had incredibly clear weather, and we could even see Russia! It was pretty cool. The weather isn't usually clear enough to be able to see it.
northern pose
With our goals accomplished (see Russia), we started making our way back. But not before stopping at the Northernmost Post office in Japan to send postcards.

That night I took my Muroran friends out to experience some Ramen town action. We hit up my favorite ramen shop, and of course my favorite bar. A nice way to end a trip up north, but I have to say I'm a little disappointed I didn't get to eat any of the seafood, particularly uni/sea urchin that the area is famous for.

Well, you never know. I may be back up in the way up north. There's still a couple of islands up there that are supposed to be amazing, and I'd really like to check them out.

Until then, from Wakkanai with love.

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