Greetings from Japan!
Location: Hokodate - Hokkaido, Japan
by Wayne Brown
Odyssey is now in Japan! We left Kurilisk about 35 hours ago and have traveled over 430 miles (688 kilometers) to the south. We past by the most southerly Kuril Island, Kunashir, yesterday. Kunashir is less than 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Japan's most northern island, Hokkaido (hoe-KI-doe).
Odyssey enters the harbor of Hokkaido's largest city, Hokadate (hoe-ka-DA-tay). About 300,000 people live here. We are surprised by a special welcome for our ship. A fire boat is waiting for us. It follows us to the dock as it shoots red, blue, green and orange water into the air from its fire hose!
Odyssey ties up to a dock and we get another welcome! The mayor of Hokadate and Miss Hokadate come onboard to welcome us . The mayor presents gifts to the captain and the captain presents gifts to the mayor. After our official welcome we are free to explore the city. Expedition leader, Susan, has arranged a bus tour of the city for our expedition team.
As our bus takes us through the city I notice that it is very clean and neat. The cars are all small Japanese cars, but I am surprised when I see a Dodge Caravan and Jeep Cherokee go by. I am surprised by all the Japanese people I see. Of course this is Japan, but I don't see any people from other countries. In the US we have people from all over the world. (You probably have kids from different countries in your class at school. Count how many different countries are represented in your class.) Even in Petropavlosk, Russia (DAY 2), I saw people from other countries. Here in Japan I only see Japanese people.
Our first stop is at an aerial tram station. The tram is like a big ski lift. We are going to the top of Mt. Hokadate. Mt. Hokadate is only about 1,100 feet (3,300 meters) tall. It doesn't snow on this mountain, so the tram is only for sight-seeing. On top of the Mt. Hokadate it is windy and cool. Looking down on Hokadate I see the streets are all very narrow. I can see Odyssey at the dock way down below us. In the distance I can see a large star-shaped fort. Our expedition historian, Lea Williams, says this is an old fort. This is where we are going next.
We ride the tram down and our bus takes us to the star-shaped fort. This is Fort Goryokaku (gore-yo-KA-ku). Lea says that this fort was built in 1864 by the Shogun of Hokkaido. It was built in this pentagon shape and was the first Western-style fort built in all of Japan. All that remains of this fortress are the pentagon-shaped walls. This fort is now a pretty park covered with trees and flowers. In the moat around the fort, Japanese students row boats they have rented.
Our next stop is the city fish market. The fish market is an area near the waterfront where people have stalls for selling fish. The street is blocked off so people can safely walk along this narrow street without cars zooming by. I discover that there are more kinds of seafood than fish being sold here. People are selling crabs, squid, octopus, caviar (salmon eggs), clams, mussels, scallops, shrimps, sea urchins, and sea weed! Japanese people eat all kinds of things that live in the sea. I'm sure most of you would be grossed-out by many of the things people eat here. I take a chance and try some seaweed. Its not too gross. It looks like green paper and tastes salty.
Nearby we visit a park. A bunch of kindergarten kids are here with their teachers. They are all wearing school uniforms of white shirts and blue or red pants or dresses. They are also wearing brightly colored caps of red, yellow and green. Lea says that the students wear the bright caps for safety. The bright caps allows the students to be easily seen by drivers when the kids cross the street.
The kids are friendly and curious about us. They probably don't often see a group of Americans walking around their city. We don't speak any Japanese so we smile and wave. The kids smile and wave back.
On the way back to the ship we pass a big sign written in both Japanese and English. It says that the Kuril Islands must be returned to Japan. The Kuril Islands we explored are all owned by Russia. At one time Japan owned all the Kuril Islands. At the end of World War II Russia took over all the Kuril Islands. The Japanese want the Russians to give them Kunashir and Iturup Islands. The Russians have said no. Japan and Russia are still arguing over the Kuril Islands.
Unfortunately our expedition is over. I hope you enjoyed exploring the strange and mysterious Kuril Islands with me. Tomorrow check back for a special report about what I learned from this expedition.
Sea U later to all our Internet explorers,
PS - Join me and Mrs. Brown in December and January on an underwater and above water expedition as we explore the coral reefs, rainforests, rivers, caves and Maya temples of Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, in the "From the Jungle to the Sea Expedition".
Hokodate - Japan
Position: 41º 46' N / 140º 42' E
Midday Air Temp: 72ºF
Weather: sunny, partly cloudy and gentle swell.
Water Temp: 50ºF
Hokadate, Japan. Enlarge the map to find where Odyssey is docked.
From the top of Mt. Hokadate I can see the whole city of Hokadate. The left side is the harbor. The right side is the beach. Notice the tram coming up the cable. (Odyssey is docked just out of the picture on the far left side.)
Fort Goryokaku is was built in the shape of a pentagon. It is now a park.
At the fish market I found these sea creatures - scallops, crabs, sea urchins, and salmon eggs (caviar).
These Japanese kindergarten students are visiting the park with their teachers. Notice all their brightly colored caps.