Published: October 25th 2006October 11th 2006
Dead Tree at Mt. Uzu
We got a cable car to the top and then walked for an hour round the crater. It last erupted in 1978 - destroying much of the town, the ghostly charred shell of which can still be explored.
Japan is well known for its seafood. This can cause problems for two people who find this form of food more than a little unpalettable. I think our sea food experiences stretch to fish fingers and, of course, fish and chips. Basically, we like it when what we're eating isn't recognisable as having once been a living creature. If its got limbs, fins or eyes we tend to steer clear.
For this particular reason Vikki found our trip to Hakodate Morning Market less than enthralling. The sight of crabs, bound and gagged before having their legs ripped off so that passing tourists can have a tray did not appeal to her. I, on the otherhand, was thoroughly enjoying the barbarism of it all. I'm suddenly concerned what that says about my psyche...
Anyway, having been to the market and seen crabs held like hostages and squid flitting about in their final waiting room, I decided that it was time to put aside my squeamishness and begin a personal oddessy to try all that the sea has to offer.
In the surrounds of the Hakodate beer hall I opted for the grilled squid while Vikki, feeling the same necessity to
Bob smokin Showa-Shinzan
This little volcano is called Showa-Shinzan and is only 478 metres high but is growing alarmingly fast. It first appeared as a little bump in a farmers field and is now the smoldering beast you see. Naturally, the locals are a little alarmed. Property round the volcano is pretty cheap at the moment.
sample real Japanese sea fare, opted for the fish and chips (start gradually Vik). I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying it. And the Hakodate brew wasn't bad either. Shame about the girl at the piano belting out Beatles numbers.
Anyway, over the next few days in Hokkaido I tried squid, octopus and seaweed - not a bad effort for a person who as a child would have listed Captain Birdseye as "the enemy".
Other than limited amounts of seafood, our diet was consisting mainly of pot noodles. By "pot noodles" I don't mean the trash we get in the UK, but a higher class of noodle and dried, unidentifiable bits. When I mentioned to a Japanese girl that the pots of dried noodles here were better than in the UK, she scoffed and said that "of course they are, they're Japanese noodles and the food is real." Sure enough, it's amazing the way the unidentifiable pieces of dried stuff form identifiable food stuffs. A little packet of strange dark green and orange grains added to a bit of hot water produces full chunks of cabbage and carrot! Mmmm. Nutritious!
When we reached the hostel in Otaru
and found ourselves sat at the dining table tucking into yet another pot of noodles, Vikki began to dispare. "I just want something with bread and salad!" was her stomach felt cry. Salvation was at hand. As she flicked through a list of local places to visit her eyes lit up and her mouth fell open - "they've got a bagel shop!". If it hadn't been close to midnight we would have gone looking for it there and then. It produced the "finest bagels in Hokkaido". It wasn't just a shop - it was a whole damn factory of bagels. "Otaru Bagel Factory" was the name to be engrained in our minds. It's brochure was adorned with images of perfectly formed bagels with luxuries such as cheese, cucumber, tomato, pastrami, ham, lettuce... Vik noted down the address of the place and we decided to head there for breakfast the next day.
For hours we searched the streets of Otaru for "The Otary Bagel Factory". At first we walked with purpose. It should have been ten minutes from the station on the road going south. How difficult could it be? According to the brochure (which we'd left at the hostel)
it was a ten minutes walk in a straight line from the hostel. But we couldn't find the damn thing. Desperation set in and arguments about why we were spending our day on a search for something that might have closed ensued. Finally I went into the Tourist Information Office and mustered up my best Japanese to ask for directions. I read out the name of the place, the street it was on - I drew bagels in the air with my hands but still the staff looked at me with totally blank faces. Eventually they pointed me in the direction of the bakery across the road. We spent the remainder of the day wondering where we had gone wrong. We drifted from place to place watching our Cream Cheese and cucumber dreams slip away...
Back at the hostel that evening we checked the brochure again to see if there were any clues to where we went wrong. Nothing seemed obvious at first. But then I noticed something odd about the diagram of the train station. It wasn't called "Otaru" station, it was called "Asari". It turned out that "The Otaru Bagel Factory" is not in Otaru City, but
an Otaru province. Asari was a town 20 minutes along the coast. Bugger.
By that time, Bagels were driving us to distraction and we couldn't let it go. If we were going to spend a day looking for Bagels then, God damn it, we were going to spend two days looking for them! We decided that this was now a mission that had to be completed. It was a destiny that had to be fulfilled. We had to see this factory. We had to taste those damn Bagels. Forget the temples, shrines, volcanos and beautiful scenery of Hokkaido - we were going on a Bagel hunt!
The next day we left our hostel and caught the train to a deserted Asari station. I don't think many tourists ever set foot in this town. People looked at us with amusement. Why would backpackers be in Asari? It was a sprawling suburban town by the sea with nothing more interesting than a top quality driving school. (The mini road system for learners looked superb). We again followed the directions on the brochure, which for some bizarre reason we'd decided to leave at the hostel, and walked for the required 10
minutes in a straight line from the station. Nothing. Just houses and more streets.
Eventually we found someone in this suburban ghost town who could point us in the right direction. It turned out that we weren't too far from our destination, but we swore under our breathes at the person who mapped the route - 10-15 minutes my arse.
The place was totally anonymous among the other boxy units around it, except for a single swirly bagel logo way above the door. It looked more like an office building than a bakery.
The staff looked like they had never seen a Westerner before as I walked in the door. Their cries of "Irraishaimasen!!" (Welcome) seemed to contain more hilarity than they did for any of the other customers in the shop. But they were really friendly and after a titanic struggle to explain to me why Blueberry Cream cheese would just not work with salmon and a chocolate bagel - I left the shop victorious; a selection bag of Hokkaido's famous bagels in hand.
It had taken two days of searching. Temples and shrines were bypassed. Sushi was snubbed. But for those extra special bagels
(she even put a little red stamp on one of them and pointed to it saying "special" - and at the price they charged I bloomin' well hoped it was special!). It was all worth it though - for that moment, as we sat eating them in silence on the sea wall outside a deserted Asari station - bagels never tasted so good.
BAGEL UPDATE: A few days later Vikki found a bagel in Tokyo that topped them. She reckons the thrill of the chase made our Hokkaido bagels seem better than they actually were. According to her the addition of Pastrami to her Tokyo bagel was a crucial factor...
By the way - for those who think we must be the saddest tourists in Japan, I can asure you that we do go and see touristy stuff and have normal travel related adventures... we just like boring our readers into submission.
There are more photos below