Day 11: Mt Usu & Hakodate

Our Plan for the day

Our original plan was to leave for Hakodate first thing in the morning. The distance was estimated to be about 165 km and the driving duration between 2 to 3 hours depending on whether we drove on tolled express way on untolled highway.
We would be in Hakodate for two days and for day 1 we planned to

  • attend the Hakodate Pageant at the Open Air Theatre
  • view Hakodate City from Mount Hakodate under the fireworks of Marine day
Route for the day

Route for the day

We managed to achieve both 1) and 2) unforturnately 1) was a huge disappointment!!! As for 2) the fireworks was missing.

Breakfast at Pension Ohno

We had a delightful breakfast at the pension. It was not the usual buffet style breakfast we had at the other hotels. Breakfast was a sit-down and served affair. The evening before, the hotel owner asked me for the time we would like to have our breakfast the next morning. She was so kind to accommodate our early breakfast request, to have it at 7.30am instead of her usual 8am.

When we arrived at the dining hall at 7.30am there was a table of five Japanese old men already halfway through their breakfast. Our host guided us to another table set for two persons. The food was already laid out on the table with a cloth covering the food. When we sat down to eat we found the rice and the salmon nicely warm. I believed our host must have timed our arrival and cooked the dishes just prior to that.

We enjoyed our breakfast very much, we enjoyed the ambient of the cosy dining room, we appreciated the effort our host put in presenting the breakfast in such a pretty fashion.

Pretty breakfast

Pretty breakfast

Sunflower

Lake Toya was not known for its sunflower so we were very surprised to come upon a huge field of nicely bloomed sunflowers. We saw the field the day before on the way to our Pension, but forgot all about it until we passed it again as we drove toward Mount Usu. We could not resist the lure of the sunny sunflower so we parked our car by a side-road and came down to take many beautiful photo shots. So far this was the best sunflower field that we had seen in the trip. The field was huge and the the flowers were uniformly opened. In the early morning light they looked especially beautiful.

Sunflower field at Lake Toya (co-ordinates 42.557948, 140.854931)

Sunflower field at Lake Toya (co-ordinates 42.557948, 140.854931)

Mount Usu

In our original plan, we were supposed to go up Mount Usu the day before to view Lake Toya. But due to the heavy fog we delayed the visit by one day.

Layout of Lake Toya and its Surrounding Mountains

Layout of Lake Toya and its Surrounding Mountains

This morning we arrived at the base station (Sanroku Gondola Station) of Mount Usu ropeway at about 9.30 am. The fog was still quite low and had not lifted much. From the base station we were supposed to be able to see another smaller mountain, Mt Showa Shinzan, unfortunately it was totally covered by fog so I ended up taking a photo with its signboard.

At the base of Mount Usu (Mapcode 321 433 348)

At the base of Mount Usu (Mapcode 321 433 348)

Going up the ropeway to the upper station (Sancho Gondola Station) might be a wasted trip as the visibility could be practically zero. But since we were already at the gondola station we decided to take the risk and went up on the gondola hoping that that the fog over Lake Toya would lift in the later part of the morning.

On the gondola going up Mt Usu

On the gondola going up Mt Usu

At the upper station we walked to the observation deck overlooking Lake Toya and Mt Showa Shinzan and as expected the lake and the mountain were totally obscured by the morning fog. We had to be contented with a photograph of Lake Toya and Mt Showa Shinzan as could be seen on a fine day which was prominent displayed at the deck.

Observation deck overlooking Lake Toya and Mt Showa Shinzan

Observation deck overlooking Lake Toya and Mt Showa Shinzan

We walked a short distance to the second deck and it was a very pleasant walk. The walking path was a wide rubberised pavement with trees and shrubs on both sides. We had to climbed up some steps to reach the top of the second observation deck where we could view Usu Crater Basin. Mt Usu is a volcano which has erupted four times in the past 100 years. Its most recent eruption was in year 2000.

Usu Crater Basin

Usu Crater Basin

From the 2nd observation deck we decided to proceed to  Outer Rim Boardwalk which would take about 45 minutes in one direction which seem manageable to us. There were two parts to this outer rim boardwalk. The first part would would take us to the junction that would branch off to a hiking trail of Usu town. The second part continued from the end of the first part and would lead to another observation deck.

Map of walking trials

Map of walking trials

The early part of the Outer Rim Boardwalk involved mainly going downhill, down and down it went, step after step. Though walking down hill was very pleasant especially when there were proper walkways and steps. But back in my mind I was already thinking of the return journey. The more we were going down now would mean the more we need to go up later.

down and down and down

down and down and down

We took about an hour to complete the first part of the boardwalk, this was much longer than the 35 minutes that was stated on the signboard before the boardwalk. We walked slowly and stop frequently to enjoy the changing scene. One moment the view was all white with fog and the next it was nice again when the fog blew over. We always believe that if we should enjoy the process of moving from one destination to another as much as we enjoy the destinations, this way our trip would have achieved double the value.

At the junction of outer rim boardwalk and the walking trail of Usu town there was a a very pretty patch of greenery. The wooden railing, wooden shade and the wooden “cabin” all surrounded by grass, flowers and shrubs gave the place a cool country feeling. Of all thing that the pretty cabin could be, it was a toilet. Well it was nice and considerate to build a toilet here for trekkers that needed to heed nature’s call.

OuterRim Walk

OuterRim Walk

The fog was getting denser so we decided not to proceed to the Outer Rim Observation Deck which was another 10 minutes walk, we turned to walk back where we had came from. For every downhill steps we took on the way here we would have to go uphill. On the return trip I decided to make a count of the number of steps, there were 600 up steps and 118 down steps before we finally reach the second Observation deck.

We were back to the ropeway station and as we waited for the next gondola to bring us down, we noticed that the fog was finally lifting. We managed to capture several shots of Lake Toya before leaving Mt Usu. By the time we reached the base station, Mt Showa Shinzan could be seen clearly.

Finally the mist lifted

Finally the mist lifted

Driving to Hakodate

We were running late, I had planned to attend the the 28th Citizen creative “Hakodate Pageant” which would started at 3.30 pm at the Goryokaku Fortress in Hakodate. The drive from Mt Usu to Goryokaku Fortress would take about 2 hours 15 minutes. And I had only 2 hour 30 minutes to spare. So without move delay we drove off immediately after getting off the gondola.

The drive along the coast toward Hakodate was very scenic. The fog that shrouded Mt Usu and Lake Toya yesterday and today was no where to be seen during our coastal drive.

On our way to Hakodate – along the coast

On our way to Hakodate – along the coast

Hakodate Pageant

hj-d11opentheatreThis was supposed to be an open Air Theatre performance using Goryokaku Fortress as the backdrop.

The Hakodate Pagent is the nation’s largest scale historical drama stage performed every year since 1988. It is a 75 minutes performance played by Hakodate citizens of a total of 10,000 people.

hj-d11-hakodateopenfestivalbrochureUnfortunately this year, the Hakodate Pageant was a total disappointment. There was no 10,000 people open air performance as seen in the photos of the previous years. Somehow this year it was scaled down to two small free performances a day that were totally not worth watching.

I should have felt suspicious after I could not purchase the tickets from the Loppi machine at a Lawson outlet near Goryokaku Fortress despite entering the correct concert code, despite the Lawson staff helping me to check that I had entered all the necessary details into the Loppi machine, the purchase just would not go through.

Somehow the “grandiose” performance was abandoned and the ticket sale was pulled off without any online announcement. 

Various Hakodate tourism related websites were still broadcasting the “fabulous” performance without knowing that they were misleading tourists. All the mad rushing brought us eventually to Goryokaku Tower where we saw a simple stage performance of the Hakodate Pageant on the podium of the Tower.
Goryakaku Fortress

This is a western-style fort built about 150 years ago. It entire star-shaped estate was surrounded by a moat.

Goryokaku Fortress

Goryokaku Fortress

The fortress could be best view from the viewing deck of the Goryokaku tower at a height of 107 metres. We paid an entrance fee of ¥840 per person to go up to the viewing deck and was told that there was no time limit and we could stayed till 7pm when the place closed.

The star shaped fortress looked very unique. It was a captivating sight when viewed from the observation deck of the Gorykaku Tower. We had actually walked through the compound of the Goryokaku Fortress before coming up to the tower but on the ground level we could not in anyway see the “star” shape structure of the fortress.

Goryokaku Tower

Goryokaku Tower

We left the tower at about 5 pm and moved on to explore the ground of the fortress. There was one prominent building sitting in the centre of the fortress, it was the former magistrate office which looked very well maintained and retained its majestic look.

The government House in the compound of Gorykaku Fortress

The government House in the compound of Gorykaku Fortress

Marine DayToday was the 20th of July which was also the third Monday of July.“The third Monday in July is a Japanese national holiday called Marine Day also known as Sea Day and Ocean Day. It is a celebration that praises the sea and its bounties. Hakodate celebrates Marine Day with fireworks display at Hakodate Port. Elaborate creative fireworks are set off one after another to music. This powerful fireworks show can be watched from the quayside where the memorial ship Mashumaru is moored or at the Bay area where the Red Brick Warehouses sit. The timing of the fireworks display is 7.45pm to around 9 pm.”

I pieced the above information from various websites prior to my visit to Japan unfortunately somehow the information was wrong! We did not see any Marine Day celebration as we drove around Hakodate. We drove to our hotel which was supposed to be in the downtown area of Hakodate and we saw no sign of celebration. We asked our Hotel receptionist about the celebration and she looked so puzzle, we could not speak Japanese and she could hardly speak any English and we gave up trying to understand her.

It was only when we were in Mt Hakodate when we were told by a staff that the fireworks that celebrated the Marine Day had taken place the day before, which was the eve of Marine Day. This was our second disappointment of the day. I was upset with the misleading information posted on the Hakodate website.  

Mt Hakodate

We would have preferred to drive up to Mt Hakodate as there was a road leading up to the summit, unfortunately that road was closed to traffic every evening from 5pm to 10pm. So we parked our car at a carpark just beside the ropeway station. Surprising we needed not pay any parking charges.

Going up Mt Hakodate

Going up Mt Hakodate

At 6 pm the ropeway station was already very crowded but luckily we did not have to wait for very long to get into the gondola. Each gondola had a capacity of 125 persons and the ride was only 3 minutes. The cost of a round trip was ¥1200 per person. 

When we reached the upper station we found the place pack with people. The cafes, the observation deck, the stairs were full of people. The observation deck had many levels and people were everywhere, many were sitting on the steps of the staircase, not bulging because on the steps they had a good view of the Hakodate city. They were there waiting for the sun to set. The wait would be at least an hour.

View from Mount Hakodate

View from Mount Hakodate

After searching around we also found a ledge where we could have a good view of Hakodate City. Though the setting sun rays were hot on our faces, we still had to stay put as once we moved away, others would take over our vantage point. The sun set and Hakodate city below Mt Hakodate turned into a huge “Christmas Tree!” So absolutely beautiful!

Hakodate City at Night

Hakodate City at Night

By about 8.30 pm we were ready to leave Mt Hakodate. As we walked towards the gondola embarking point we found that there were a long queue of people waiting for the gondola. The queue was so long and we couldn’t seemed to be able to find the end of the queue. The queue snaked around all the way out of the gondola building on to the grass verge outside the building. We queued for about an hour before we could get into a gondola and get down of Mt Hakodate.  

 

Accommodation for the Night (2 nights)

I had booked to stay two nights at Comfort Hotel Hakodate. The cost for a double room for was ¥4600 a night. It came with ensuite bathroom and breakfast. Car parking charges was ¥550 for a night.

When I stepped into the room, I found the room very tight, it was actually the size of a semi double room. Unfortunately, Comfort Hotel called it a double room. No wonder the cost of the room was only ¥4600.

Though the room was very tight, it was new, clean, modern and it felt very comfortable. Wifi signal was good and the TV controller had a dual sound button which allowed us to watch English program in English rather than the dubbed Japanese.

Since we would be spending most of our time out sightseeing, the tightness of our room did not bother us much.

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