Come rain or shine

Please note: While my books were translated by professionals, this blog post got a little help from AI, meaning it may not be a perfect translation.

Previously on the blog: I celebrated my birthday catching Pokémon in Sapporo. I had come there by plane, but I wanted to go back by train. I planned to buy a Tohoku rail pass, which would allow me to travel freely for five days. That way, I would go to Tokyo step by step. Because the Tohoku railpass is not valid on Hokkaido, I bought a normal ticket to Hakodate, the most southern point of Hokkaido…

It’s quite the distance, from Sapporo to Hakodate. The train ride, not on a shinkansen but on an express train, took about four hours – and cost me almost 70 euros! After such a long ride, I figured I probably wouldn’t feel like exploring the city, so I decided that I would stay two nights in Hakodate. I had booked a room at the JR Inn hotel, which turned out to be an excellent choice: the hotel was literally right above the train station.

A small station along the way

From behind the desk in my hotel room, I looked straight at the tracks and saw the dark clouds gathering. Only rain had been forecast for the next two days. But I was tired, so I didn’t mind that much. “I’m going to sit inside for two days, sleep, shower, work on my website a bit. The attractions of Hakodate will come another time.”

I got food from the convenience store at the station, and crawled behind my laptop. I wrote the previous blog. And I was shocked by the emergency text messages I received on my phone. Part of Hakodate had to be evacuated: there were floods due to the heavy rain. Meanwhile, at the station in front of me, I could hardly see the rails.

Google Translate, but you get it
On my Instagram Story Highlight there's a moving version of this picture

The next morning, the rain was a lot less. It was even dry for a while. However, the station had been without power for several hours that night, which meant that the 7/11 where I wanted to get my breakfast had almost nothing left in the refrigerator. At the railway station, some employees were looking at the turnstile for trains that had been flooded. Train traffic had been cancelled for the whole day. I counted myself lucky with the two nights I had booked.

"Shit Henko, now what?"

Sad trip, Hakodate edition

But then it was Tuesday afternoon, and I actually felt like going for a walk. I grabbed the plastic raincoat I’d bought unnecessarily for the Pokémon event – now it came in handy. I had no idea where I was going, but soon I was amazed by the buildings. Hakodate was one of the first ports to open to foreigners at the beginning of the twentieth century, and you can totally see that. Old red brick warehouses, European, American and Russian (wooden) buildings, churches…

A lot of them deserted and dilapidated, but also a lot of them renovated. The area reminded me somewhere of the Kop van Zuid in Rotterdam, where Riemer lives, but perhaps even more of the area around the Keilewerf (also in Rotterdam), where I lived for a summer last year. Old harbours, where industrial shipyards with gigantic doors are transformed into beer venues and food halls. I hadn’t looked it up, but soon I came across a Starbucks in a wooden decor. The call of the siren, I guess.

"Sad trip? You didn't like it?"

Don’t worry, I loved it. Treurtrips (sad trips) is a book by Mark van Wonderen, about the languishing places of the Netherlands. During the corona lockdowns of 2020/2021, a #treurtrip was a welcome outing, a walk along the beauty in the ugliness of the districts and neighbourhoods of the Netherlands. Discoloured signs from the 80s, tile walls that have seen better days, boarded-up windows and rust: I love it.

On top of the hill

After my visit to Starbucks, I wanted to walk back to the hotel, but then I saw that the observation deck on the hill, which was hidden behind the clouds earlier that morning, was visible again. I couldn’t let that pass me by. I walked towards the hill and bought a ticket for the cable car. On the way, I passed two more questionable attractions: something I only discovered was a burger joint after a follower told me she had eaten there, and Japan’s oldest concrete electricity pole. It was on Google Maps, as a tourist attraction. There was also a sign next to it, with information. Oh yes.

Pole. From 1923. Such old. Much wow.

The ride on the cable car was beautiful. Not only did I have a view of the whole of Hakodate, but the mountains, with trees shrouded in mist, clouds or a combination of both, were beautiful too.

Hello Hakodate, I like you

The next morning, it was time to travel on. I had decided to book a night in Sendai, as I had no idea exactly how long the journey would take, with the chaos on the railways due to the rain. A number of trains/lines were still cancelled, but luckily I had already booked some things the evening before my departure: the local train to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, from where the shinkansen goes, and the shinkansen ticket to Shin-Aomori. I wanted to get off there to buy the rail pass, as they didn’t sell them in Hakodate, unfortunately. But that still made sense to me.

Local train to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto
The end of the shinkansen line (that's double, Toeps!)

The shinkansen has only been running to Hakodate since 2016. To make it possible, a very long tunnel had to be dug, the Seikan tunnel. It is the second longest underwater tunnel in the world. Or longest, depending on how you measure it. The intention is to extend the line to Sapporo, which is expected to be finished in 2030. And knowing Japan, it will be.

No pass

Arriving at Shin-Aomori, I made my way to the ticket office.

“Hello, one Tohoku rail pass, please!”
– “We don’t sell those here.”
“Huh, where do you sell them?”
– “At Aomori station!”

I thought it was weird, since most people with such a railpass would want to use the shinkansen anyway, but well, then I’d go to just-Aomori to…. Nope! There were no trains between Shin-Aomori and Aomori all day. Something to do with rain.

I decided to just buy a ticket to Sendai, and from Sendai to home. That was slightly more expensive than the rail pass, and with that pass I would have three days of free travel left after those two days, but those would have to be the three days immediately following. And I actually wanted to go home. I wanted to buy a shelf for my washroom cabinet rack thingy, and prepare my office for the government people who are coming on Tuesday to check whether the office in question exists. And whether I don’t live there secretly. And whether I actually run a business there. Or something.

Yesterday I bought that shelf – although I had to go to the shop twice for it, the first time I forgot my wallet. I must have been tired. Today it’s raining cats and dogs all day, because there is a typhoon. In my flat on 10 everything is shaking, so last night I took my futon and moved to my office on 5, where it is a lot quieter. I’ll put it back before the government peeps come by.