Japan current location11:23 AM, Hakodate Eki. I’m here this morning trying to find some way to get Internet access.

Yesterday morning I woke up late; I had planned on getting up when I usually awoke, at 7:30. Didn’t happen since I went to bed so late, though. My eyes opened at 8:15am, so I quickly got up and started moving. Almost immediately my cell phone rang; it was Yuriko. She asked how I was doing, and I apologized as I woke up really late. She said it was okay, and would 10 be all right? Or 11? I said 10 was fine. It was a little long, actually, but I wanted to get in some log-finishing time as I didn’t get to yesterday.

I quickly showered and dressed, then worked on getting images and posting locally to get ready to upload. I thought maybe if we’d find somewhere with wireless during the day, I could quickly send it all off. I didn’t actually finish by the time she showed up, which was 9:45. She apologized for being early, but I said it was fine, and that I’d be right down. I stuffed my laptop back into my backpack and headed for her car downstairs.

She said the first place she was going to take me was Goryokaku Fort, which is a popular sightseeing site in Hakodate. She told me that today was in fact a holiday, and kids didn’t have school today. I then asked her about Monday, and she confirmed that it was in fact Respect for the Aged Day. Naru hodo. She drove south a little and quickly located what appeared to be a park with a moat around it. In the normal parking lot, we realized almost immediately that it was full. It’s not well designed either, and everyone has to make a three-point U turn in order to get back out! She asked if I minded if we had to walk a little, and I said of course not! We drove back the way we came, and searched through a few neighborhoods for parallel parking, but none was available. She said it was a holiday, so it was probably packed. We headed back down a major street, and she pointed out a building, which she said was the biggest police station in Hakodate. As we passed, there were all these kids and adults there in fluorescent yellow hats; Yuriko said it was probably a field trip to visit.

We finally used a pay parking lot near the Goryokaku Tower and found a spot. She backed in, as all Japanese do, and I left my bag in the car. She said it was really busy right now, so it was okay to leave things in the car, as nobody would try and steal anything with this many people around. That never makes a difference in the US, I told her. As we approached, she pointed out some men in samurai costumes that were on the other side of the street. We walked past the tower, and noticed a tako yaki booth. She asked if I wanted to try some, and I said I did. She said that this place wasn’t good, though, and she knew of a place which had the best in Hakodate. Ah, we’ll do that later then, I told her. She had me take a picture of an outfit worn by “shizen gumi”, which I’ll mention again in a sec.

We entered the park and walked over a bridge, under which lots of koi had gathered. There were also ducks, which we exchanged words for in both languages. I mentioned to her how I always explained to people how “koi” in Japanese has two meanings – carp, and love. So in movies, there’s always a guy staring at the fish and sighing, “Koi…” and he’s not talking about the fish. Yuriko and I took some stairs up to the top of a wall, and walked along the path. The view was extraordinary, and the perfect weather added to it. Yuriko kept pointing out all the sakura (cherry) trees, and said that during hanami (flower viewing) season, this place is incredible. I saw how many sakura there were, although for some reason I kept saying “sakana” which means “fish”. She laughed, and said she had the same problem with English, too. At a point in the wall, she said there wasn’t really anything past here, so we turned back. I noticed an earthworm trying to make its way across the path, and since there were so many people walking, I picked it up and moved it into the grass. “Abunai kara.” I said. (“because it’s dangerous.”)

We walked back down into the fort and headed back out to the tower. Inside, Yuriko asked me if I wanted to go up. It was 550 yen each, and in my experience, going into towers wasn’t all that great. Still, I thought it might be worth it. “If it’s okay,” I said. She said it was, so we bought tickets to take the elevator up. When we got them, they also had a little ticket with a scratch off spot. She scratched hers off, then I did mine. “Ah, you are lucky!” she exclaimed, in English. Apparently if you get certain symbols you get a free gift. I surmised I was getting a postcard picture of a “shizen gumi”, which the meaning of escapes me at the moment. I know it has to do with the Meiji Restoration, I know I’m a sucky Japanese history student, and I’m also sure the Bianca and Kelly are at this moment bouncing up and down going “I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW!”

We took the crowded elevator up, and I realized at that point the money was well spent. I had heard Yuriko mention “hoshi” – star – back down on the ground, but I didn’t understand what she meant. The entire fort, as it turns out is shaped like a gigantic star, which you really can’t tell from the ground. It’s really cool looking, and one wonders why they did this in a pre-flight age. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation somewhere. I took a bunch of pictures of the fort, and even one of Yuriko’s car, which she said was so small you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway, jokingly. Out the window I saw a “Moo Moo Taxi” which is painted like a big cow van. She said that in Japanese, the cow sound is “moh moh” which I had forgotten. We rode the elevator back down, picked up my shizen gumi postcard, and walked out. I said to her I thought it was very interesting how elevator ladies, announcers and the like all speak in a very “sing-song” type voice. It’s very high-pitched, starts lower, then goes really high, and comes back down before every spoken comma break. If that makes sense. She said it was true, and that even she did it some in her job when directing people at the wedding parlor. As we walked back to the parking lot, I saw the funniest thing I have ever seen. Okay maybe not the funniest, but I swear my sides were going to explode. Approaching us was a girl, maybe fifteen, who had on a shirt that, and I swear I am not making this up, “Fuckin’” on it in big letters. It had some other text underneath it which I can’t remember now that said like she was a member of a club. A Fuckin’ Club. I think she was with her parents, too, which made it all the more funny. I tried really quickly to take a discreet picture, but alas, it didn’t come out. I had to explain to Yuriko afterwards why I was laughing so hard.

We got back into her car, and drove out, although I she didn’t really say where we were going. She turned a few corners, and I made sure the GPS was getting a good map. It gets great signal in her car, so that wasn’t really a problem. Suddenly, on a small road, she slowed and stopped. “That’s my house!” she exclaimed and pointed across the street. “It’s kind of old and small,” she said. Outside, a small Japanese-breed dog stood up from the porch and looked at us. “That’s my dog, too,” she told me. It looked very confused, and I’m sure it recognized her car. It was probably wondering why she wasn’t pulling in. He’s very old though, and has a hard time getting around. We drove on, and turned left on the next major street. It led us to the New Hakodate Expressway, which we turned right and began to drive down. It quickly became ‘inaka’ (country), and after a while, I noticed my ears begin to pop. It was very pretty out here, very spacious and dotted with wonderful scenery. A mountain up ahead had what looked like a shaved area, and I asked her if it was a ski slope, which she acknowledged was correct. She said she goes skiing, but it’s very, very cold! Along one small road, we saw some middle-school age kids that were doing sprints with their coach, but they were doing it in the road! “That’s dangerous…” Yuriko said. Right around the same area, she pointed out an onsen, a hot spring resort. One of these days I’ll get to go. We went through a long tunnel, and when we emerged, I saw where we were headed; Ofuna Quasi-National Park. I saw the name and cracked up; I just couldn’t get Dr. Evil out of my head: “How do you like my Quasi-National Park, Mr. Powers?” I had a brief conversation with Yuriko about why that was funny.

We found parking, bought some drinks because I was dying of thirst, then walked into the park It was beyond gorgeous, the dormant volcano overlooking the park somehow made me think of Mt. St. Helens, pre-1980, so for a brief moment, I was somehow briefly unnerved, but then was overtaken with the beauty of the place. Despite all the people milling about, it was also very quiet. The volcano stands above a gigantic blue lake, and a park with hiking trails and walking path sits on the lake’s edge. The temperature was fantastic to boot, and I just felt wonderful. We walked along one of the paths for a while, and I snapped pictures left and right. I stopped and took a picture of Yuriko in front of the volcano too, as I realized I didn’t have any pictures of her yet. We wandered around more, and discussed the differences between Japanese and American mosquitoes. Along a track we ended up at a road, and she apologized because she got us lost, somewhat. It wasn’t a problem, I told her; I have a map in my head, and I rarely, if ever, get lost. Once I’ve been somewhere, I can always find it again.

We took another path, which brought us back out to the entrance. We tried the opposite side of the entrance park, walking a different direction to see anything. I had mulled over the possibility of taking a boat, but before I really decided on it, Yuriko said that she didn’t like taking boats out because it was so tiring. Easy decision then. Yuriko snapped a picture of us on her cell phone, which has a little flippy, rotating screen. We walked past a small area where you can rent fishing poles, and right at that moment a little girl had caught a small carp. She took a picture, unhooked it, and threw it back in the lake. CPR – Catch, Photograph, and Release. :) We ran out of track, so we went off the main path and took a smaller one into the woods. It was a short hike through, we ended up out in a big field near the road. As we walked, I told her about Texas fire ants, and how a field like this was dangerous in Texas!

We took a right on the road and headed back to the park. Discussing movies and food, we leisurely strolled toward the main entrance, noting how clean everything around us was. We did take a slightly incorrect route, but that was easily corrected by cutting across a parking lot. As we followed a tour bus in, she noticed that a little stand sold tako yaki, and she asked if I wanted some. “Of course,” I replied, and we bought two sets of six of the round morsels. She told me that it was really hard to make them; she and her friends had tried once, but they didn’t end up being round at all. We scarfed our octopus, which was just so-so, then trotted back to the car, got back in, and drove back to town. I realized I didn’t take my GPS with me on the hike, so all I have is a waypoint to the park, which I guess is fine.

Way the heck back in Hakodate, I asked her where we were going next. She said something I didn’t catch, but mentioned about a “sister” which she said in English, and I assumed she meant we were going to meet her sister. Ah, she has an older brother and a sister, okay. A long drive through town later, I realized where we were really going – there’s a *convent* in Hakodate called Trappestine. Ah, that’s what she meant by “sister” – a nun. How funny. It’s another popular tourist destination, and tour buses were dumping people by the truckload near the entrance. We took a quick 200 yen paid parking lot, and walked up to the convent, behind a Chinese (we think) tour group. The grounds are very pretty – they really seem like Europe, not Japan. This makes sense, since it’s a French convent. It was a little odd to me that it was such a big tourist spot, like what a rarity it is to see Christianity in Japan or something, but then I realized that the Vatican is a working place of worship, and people go there all the time. Okay, maybe it’s not that weird then. We walked around a little, but quickly realized it’s a pretty small place, and there’s not all that much to see. Yuriko said that inside the main building the nuns were in prayer, currently. I asked if normally we can go inside the building, and she said she didn’t think so. We walked back out, as there wasn’t that much more to see, got back in the car and drove back into the city.

I asked where we were going next, and she gave me a choice. A “shiro” or antiques. Shiro… I couldn’t remember what a ‘shiro’ was off the top of my head, but antiques aren’t really my bag, so shiro it was. I really didn’t know where were going though! She drove through town again, past her street, and then past where we turned to go to the Quasi-National Park. She stopped for gas, and I offered to pay, but she said, “hanbun de, we split.” I gave her a 1000 yen bill, and the cheery and helpful gas attendants cleaned her windows, filled her tank, and tipped their hat as we left. She had said that gas was probably three times more expensive here, and she was right.

We drove out onto the road that traces the big, circular bay, and headed back in the same direction as the train that goes to Misawa. I could tell via the GPS that we were basically following the train tracks, in fact. We drove. Then drove some more. And a little more. I really didn’t know where we were going, and I had no idea how long it would take to get there. After about 40 minutes, I said “wow, it’s far, isn’t it?” to which she replied, “It’s super far…” We just kept on drivin’, then finally stopped following the tracks, turned right, and headed across land. The scenery was beautiful, but I really wasn’t prepared for a long car ride at all. The track led us west, and for a brief moment, I wondered if she was relying on me to tell her where to go or something, and was just too polite to ask. My ears were going crazy, as we went up and down over mountains, her little Suzuki car struggling to get over the hills. She only had one CD on her, which contained a short mix of almost entirely Queen songs. When I say short, we listened completely through it SIX TIMES in a row on the way there. You can only listen to Radio Ga Ga and Bohemian Rhapsody so long before you start to go a little stir crazy. I would have broken out my MP3 player, but I didn’t want to be rude. After about an hour and a half, I said I didn’t know it was so far, and that I was sorry for asking her to take me. She told me “no, no, it’s really okay!” Fortunately, about that moment I saw where we were headed, which confirmed my suspicions from an earlier conversation in the day – a castle’s spire poked itself over the local buildings in Fukushima. Ah HAH. And THANK GOD.

We tried to find some parking, and she ended up driving up the World’s Most Dangerous Hill for Tiny Cars to park in a little field that I don’t think had seen a mechanical form of transportation in over 40 years. A parking spot is a parking spot though. We got out of the car, and realized we weren’t anywhere near the entrance, and there wasn’t a way in that we could see. We wandered around the right side and located the entrance, just in time to see the entire staff of the castle leave for the day. It was CLOSED. Which confirmed my other suspicion I’d had in the car. “I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed. “I’ve only been here once, and it was three years ago. I didn’t know it was so far.” Although honestly it was fine. The grounds were tiny anyway, and there wasn’t a high wall or anything. You could pretty much see everything but inside the castle from the outside anyway. I took a few pictures, and then we really wondered what to do at that point. It took us so long to get there, leaving right away would have really been lunacy. We looked briefly at a map, used the restroom, then wandered into Maruyama Park, which is behind the castle. It’s got gigantic grounds, which is a good thing, since we really should be seeing something after that drive. She pointed out the large number of sakura trees around, and said that in May (Hakodate hanami is in May, which Tokyo’s is in March due to climate differences) this place is totally in bloom. By the sheer number of trees, I told her, this place must be absolutely amazing in spring. And it should be; the entire massive path is completely lined with sakura, roses, and other flowering plants, which sadly at this point were just plants. We took a long road up, and I took a few pictures whenever something struck my fancy. I felt kinda bad though, as she was just following the weird American guy who would stop and take pictures of random rocks ten times in a row, plus I wasn’t the best conversationalist in the world. There’s so much I’d like to talk about, but I always end up having trouble, so I just clam up, I think. She does the same thing, I gather, so we both end up silent for chunks at a time. The car was like that most of the ride up; we’d have short bursts of conversation, then silence for a while. Along the way, we talked about doing something tomorrow, so I figured I needed to tell the hotel so I could stay another day. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do tomorrow, but it would be fine.

We found our way back to the car, and my hands clutched my seat as she went back down the steep broken asphalt/gravel Death Road to the highway. I was fine with the road back, but was more afraid of the Queen more than anything else. I like Queen, but the same 7 songs in a row… I thought it would have been cool if I’d brought my tape adapter with me, which I have in Japan even, but then realized she had a minidisc player, not a tape! Those are still really popular here. I set the GPS to go to the ropeway, as we had decided to go to the restaurant at her work, and it’s right down the street. It estimated we had about an hour and a half, as we were about 40 miles from it. I realized at that point that most of the drive was done at around 45 miles an hour, since the roads were so small and windy.

This time it went faster, as I kept making up topics of conversation to stave off the repetitive music as much as possible. I really didn’t want to say anything about the music though, because I know she likes it. This must be like what Molly thought about me when she first met me – she said she liked JPop, but “that’s all you listened to! That was so weird!” she used to tell me. Of course then she really started to like it. But in this case, it was just that she didn’t have any other CDs to listen to, not that she doesn’t listen to anything else. Most of the way back, a big rat ran across the road and she swerved. “Nezuumi! Bikkuri shita!” she exclaimed. (a rat! that really surprised me!) The GPS was wrong, and expectedly so; to get to the ropeway, you can’t go straight, you have to take the long road around the bay, and it didn’t know that. It takes a lot of stuff into account, your distance, direction, speed, etc, but this one doesn’t understand roads, really. It was right to within those last 5 miles though, and it did adjust as we drove around it.

We finally arrived at her work, which is right on that big long hill I’d walked up. Sure enough it’s catty corner from where I was yesterday! I told her that I’d been just 100 feet away yesterday, and had no idea where she worked. We stopped into the restaurant next to her office, and I thought at first it was an expensive French restaurant. As it turns out, it’s really a curry place, although in the guise of an expensive restaurant, sort of. It’s a nice place, though. We both ordered beef curry sets(medium) and she kept having conversations with all the people that work there, as she knows them very well. They brought out our food, which came as plates of rice, beef curry in sauce in a silver pitcher for each of us, and a small salad. A moment later they brought us Japanese pickles (tsukemono), pickled ginger, raisins, and peanuts to put on our curry. We both dug in, pouring the curry over the rice and mixing in the goodies. Yuriko said she really didn’t like raisins though, which I loved with the curry. It was so delicious, and perfect timing, as I hadn’t eaten anything but the tako yaki all day. When we finished, she said, “next is coffee.” That was part of the set. She kept making stern faces at this guy that worked there that she knew, hoping to get his attention. It was really funny. Finally he came over, and she asked for our coffee. He cleared the plates, then brought us two cups of coffee and cream. She asked if I liked coffee, and I was like, “well DUH.” I explained about lattes, and how I make one every morning. I also told her I had two espresso machines, one at work and one here. She didn’t know about espresso really, but said she wanted to try one. Espresso machines here are very expensive though, she’d seen them at the store. I also explained, while I was putting cream and sugar into my coffee, the concept of Disneyland coffee – very white, and very sweet. That took some work, actually! She showed me all the pictures she has of her dog in her cell phone, and I got the picture that she’s a dog geek like me too. Oh, and by the way, her phone kicks ass. It even has an SD Card slot for more photo room. Yuriko asked if I still had any room after dinner, and then offered to take me to get tako yaki at that good place right after dinner. Okay, sure, I said.

We finished our coffee, and then went to the front to pay. The man rung it up, and she said we were going to pay separately. I got out a 1000 yen bill, as it was going to be about 2074 yen total, and she said that was fine. She put down two 1000 bills and a 100 yen coin. Somehow this confused the hell out of the guy, and he was punching buttons on the cash register, typing numbers into a calculator and writing something on a piece of paper. The whole project took about 5 minutes, during which Yuriko was giving advice about what he should press on the cash register. It seemed simple to me, we’d already done the hard part, all he had to do was give cash. He was busy calculating how much change he needed to give each one of us, so this had flipped a super-confused switch in his brain. Finally he gave Yuriko her change, we thanked him and walked out the door. “Gochisoo sama deshita!” said Yuriko as we left (“that was quite a feast!”)

As we got in the car, Yuriko told me that she really didn’t have any room, and if it would be okay to just get tako yaki tomorrow. That was fine, I said. I asked her if she had any time still, or did she need to go home. “No, I’m fine, I have time. Where would you like to go?” I’d discussed watching Tokyo Godfathers with her earlier in the day, and she wanted to see it. She said that was fine, and at first we were going to go to my room to watch, but she said that if the hotel saw two people going into my room, they might kick me out, as they would think she was staying there too on a single room charge. She then asked if the Victoria Steak House we ate at last night was okay, as they were open late. Sure, I said, and we headed over to it, which is only like two blocks from the hotel. We took the same booth we sat at last night, and conveniently enough, there was a plug right next to the booth. We sat down, ordered two chocolate soufflés and an all-you-can-drink drink bar, then walked over and got coffee. They had an automatic latte maker, which she was quick to point out. We both got lattes and returned to the table, where I started unpacking things for the mo- oh crap.

“The movie is in the hotel,” I informed her. It was in my disc case, which I don’t normally carry around. I examined the situation – we already had food, she couldn’t get my room key to drive and get it and wouldn’t know where it was anyway. “I’ll just go walk over and get it,” I said. “I’ll be waiting,” she replied. I booked out the door and sprinted two blocks over to the hotel. Panting, I walked to the front desk and got my key. They handed it to me, then I asked if I could stay another night. They said it was fine, and that I could pay them tomorrow morning. Cool. I raced up the stairs, went in my room, got the case, ran back down, and returned my key. 1 minute later, I popped back into Victoria with the CD case. We sat down and put on the movie, sipping our lattes and munching on our desserts, which were both really tasty. The music in the restaurant was really loud, so I finally broke out headphones, and we each shared a bud. She really enjoyed the movie, but afterwards she looked really sleepy. She drove me the short distance home, and I told her about Satoshi Kon, and his other two movies. She said she would look for Millennium Actress on video, as she really wanted to see it. She said she’d call me tomorrow after she got off work, and then we both said good night. I went up to the room, watched some more of The Last Samurai, then went to sleep around 12:30.

-- Hik