Japan #5, Hokkaido | 北海道, Korsakov | Russia & Aomori | 青森
Kushiro | 釧路
Overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean in northern Japan, on the island of Hokkaido, it should come as no surprise that Kushiro, ‘City of Mist’ is a major Japanese fishing port. Although the freshly caught seafood served ashore is a highlight for many visitors, Kushiro has so much more to offer! The natural wonders of this region, such as Kushiro Marsh/marshland, are home to the rare and graceful Japanese cranes at Tancho Nature Park.
Washo Market offers a staggering array of fresh seafood. If you’d like to sample the wares, you can buy a small bowl of rice and walk around, sampling tastings from each vendor (they may charge 100 yen apiece).
Founded in 1853, as Sakhalin’s first Russian military post, Korsakov would later serve as a penal colony. Ruled by Japan between 1905 and 1945, and later reclaimed by the Soviet Union, Korsakov is the place where Japan and Korea left imprints of their sojourn here on Russian culture. Though its tumultuous history includes power struggles and forced labor, the town is a perfect picture of tranquility today. Little is known of the early history of Korsakov. The site was once home to an Ainu fishing village called Kushunkotan which was frequented by traders of the Matsumae clan.
In 1905, Fort Korsakovsky was handed over to Japan, after Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Renamed Ōdomari, it was temporarily the capital of Karafuto Prefecture from 1905-1907. While in Japanese hands, the town grew substantially. Upon the ashes of Fort Korsakovsky (Russians burned the wooden town before the hand-over) the Japanese built a stone-clad, modern city, with paved streets and electricity. After World War II, Ōdomari was again ceded from Japan, this time to the Soviet Union. Like many Russian towns, statues of Lenin still stand and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is no exception.
Sapporo | 札幌
The capital of Hokkiado was host city for the 1972 Winter Games. The heart of Sapporo is mile-long Odori Park. Immediately upon arriving in Otaru, we took a 20 minute train ride to metropolitan Sapporo, to see landmarks and especially, to go to Ramen Yokocho (photo at top) and have the most famous/delicious ramen we could get! The place was packed with high school students on their ‘last year of school trip’. [Excellent video on Sapporo ‘in English’ → here.]
[My 27 second video riding Eco-friendly Velo Taxi → here]
Otaru | 小樽
In 1880, the first railroad line on the island of Hokkaido connected Sapporo, the prefectural capital, with the important port city of Otaru. For most of the 19th and much of the 20th century, Otaru outshone Sapporo in importance. The city was home to a thriving herring fleet. Ships regularly plied the waters between the port and the then Japanese island of Sakhalin. Coal was mined in the hills and Otaru even won a reputation for producing fine music boxes. It was the island’s industrial heart. Closure of coal mines in Hokkaido and downturn in demand for coal initiated a long decline that lasted into the 1950’s. However, Otaru survived – and has thrived. Japanese travelers discovered the city, drawn to its winter sports, its fine sushi, and its historic architecture. Otaru seemed like a portrait frozen in time. Today, international travelers flock to experience Otaru’s charms – including the scenic beauty of Hokkaido’s rugged west coast and its nearby national parks. Otaru Canal is lined with restored stone warehouses that are home to elegant restaurants and shops. [Excellent video on Otaru ‘in English’ → here]
Hakodate | 函館
It took Commodore Perry and American gunboat diplomacy to open Japan to the outside world after two centuries of self-imposed isolation. In 1859, the port of Hakodate became the first Japanese city fully opened to Westerners, under the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. Foreigners soon flocked to Hakodate. Today, visitors wandering the cobblestone streets of the city’s Motomachi District can view their Western-style frame houses.
– Hakodate, once a fishing port famed for its high quality fish and shellfish, quickly became Hokkaido’s largest city and one of Japan’s most important ports. Morning Market is the perfect place to people watch while meeting vendors and sampling the bounty of sea and farm. The 400-shop market spans four city blocks for an endless array of enticing flavors.
– Goryōkaku Pentagonal Fort is a stunning military monument with a serene carp-filled moat, landscaped garden and world-famous cherry trees.
– Red Brick Warehouses – This historic waterfront district marks the site where shipyards and foreign settlements were once located. Today, the warehouses are home to an atmospheric shopping center.
A sure-fire way to top off your day is taking a cable car for the panoramic ride to the summit of Mt. Hakodate. Views will dazzle the senses, especially at night. [Excellent short video on Hakodate → here]
Aomori | 青森
The capital of the Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, Aomori derives much of its beauty from the apple orchards and cherry blossoms that encompass its landscape and the snow-covered Hakkoda Mountains that look on from a distance. Aomori is perhaps best known for its gorgeous, delicious apples and renowned Nebuta Festival, an elaborate yearly event in which participants illuminate giant paper representations of samurai warriors, animals, and popular cartoon characters, while parading them through the streets. [ 22 second peek → here]
We took a full-day excursion, including an 80-minute drive to Hirosaki. The area around Hirosaki has been inhabited since the 8th century but wasn’t declared a city until 1889. Hirosaki Castle was constructed in 1611. The original structure was struck by lightning in 1627 and burned to the ground. Although rebuilt in 1810, the castle still retains an aura of its ancient past when samurais ruled the country. This historical treasure sits tucked away in the lush and peaceful 121-acre Castle Park, home to one of the country’s most popular natural spectacles. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the last week of April or the first week in May, you’ll witness the “Sakura Matsuri,” or cherry blossom festival. The entire park turns pale pink when its 2,600 cherry trees are in full bloom. Hirosaki is so well known for cherry trees that it’s the official city flower.
Excellent video on origin and history of samurai armor → here on samurai swords → here.
Ramen | ラーメン
Ramen has been very popular food in Japan for the last 70+ years. Now, more than ever, it is booming in Japan and around the world. The name ramen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese lamian, and consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles. That is as Chinese as it gets. As for the rest, it is an all-Japanese invented dish. The broth comes in many flavors with no limitations on toppings. It is very common to see it topped with chāshū. Japanese are always on a quest to find the best tasting ramen. There are so many ramen shops in Japan. Each has its own prized, secret broth, which is combination/ratio of bones, meats, vegetables, condiments and spices that get boiled-fused in a huge pot for ten plus hours and are constantly stirred.
Well, since Japanese home-cooks don’t make the 10+ hours secret broth at home, I am not about to start a trend. Here is a much (much) simpler method and it can be vegetarian or vegan, delicious recipe for you. [Excellent MUST SEE video on origin, history and boom of ramen → here.]
Miso Ramen 味噌ラーメン
Recipe by: Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
• 3 Tbsp white, roasted sesame seeds
• 2½ tsp sugar
• 2 Tbsp soy sauce
• 1 tsp la-yu/hot sesame seed oil, if desired hotter, add more at the table
• 800 ml / 3.5 cups unsalted chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegetarian)
• 2 cloves/1 Tbsp, garlic, minced finely
• 2 cm/¾”/ 1 Tbsp ginger, minced, finely
• 2 Tbsp white miso (soybean paste)
• 2 servings dry or raw ‘ramen‘ noodles
Toppings – Whatever goes (watch video above for some ideas), Here, I used:
• 2 eggs (skip for vegan)
• 2 stems green onion leaves, sliced thinly
• 7 cm / 3″ leek, white part sliced thinly in circles or julienned, or both
• 6 pieces snow peas, blanched
• carrots for color, blanched
• a few pieces of sliced acorn squash, blanched in 1 tsp sugar
◊ To have the ramen quickly made and eaten while its hot, it is important to prepare all ingredients and have them ready.
◊ For half boiled eggs: In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. With a spoon, gently put the eggs into the boiling water. Boil eggs for 6½ minutes if right out of refrigerator, or 6 minutes if at room temperature. Turn off heat, take the eggs out the of boiling water and place in very cold or ice water. When fully cooled down, peel very gently, not to tear the egg. Set aside.
◊ In a suribachi, grind sesame seeds and sugar finely. Split and put in two medium-sized serving bowls. Also, split and pour soy-sauce and la-yu into the bowls.
◊ In a saucepan, add broth, garlic and ginger and bring to boil. After boiling for 30 seconds, turn off the heat. Dissolve the miso into the broth through a fine meshed sieve, using a spoon. Through a sieve, pour the hot broth evenly into the two serving bowls. Briefly stir the broth in the bowls. Discard the ginger and garlic bits in the sieve.
◊ While broth is being boiled, simultaneously, in another saucepan, bring water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook per instructions on the package (don’t overcook). Drain and firmly shake the colander to drain the noodles well. Split the noodles in the bowls.
◊ Garnish the prepared vegetables on top. Cut the eggs horizontally and place on the side. Serve while hot.
~ どうぞめしあがれ • Douzo Meshiagare ~
If interested in how I cut the carrots, see the first 35 seconds of video → here. It is in Japanese, but it is understandable.
So, what’s cooking in your kitchen?