A Visit to Aomori: Day 2

Hello everyone and welcome to Tiro Finale for our second day of our trip to Aomori. On the first day, we paid a visit to the Aomori Museum of Art for the Aoki Ume Exhibition as well as the Jomon Historical Site. For the second day, we decided to pay spend more time in the heart of the city where many of the remaining attractions are to be found. 

Starting the day off early, snow had continued to fall since the night before and cause a rather sizable layer of snow to form on both the streets and the sidewalks. As you would expect, the weather was indeed very cold with the moderated winds not helping one bit. 

With breakfast done, the first thing on the itinerary was to pay a visit to ship museum, the Hakkoda-maru. This now defunct ferry once used to service the passage between Aomori and Hakodate. What this does is essentially act as the main connection between Hokkaido and the mainland of Japan. 

But with the advent of highways, airplanes, trains and, most recently, bullet trains, the ferry eventually became obsolete. By the late 90s, the Hakkoda-maru was eventually put out of service and all that remained was the once proud ferry and its purpose built loading bay. 

Rather than let the ship rot away into a derelict state of disrepair, the city council of Aomori decided to honor the once-pivotal service of the ferry by giving it another chance at life. With funding approved and a clear idea for the project, the team set out to revive Hakkoda-maru into an icon and landmark that would educate locals and visitors about the rich history of this mode of transport. 

With the restoration and renovation complete, the Hakodda-maru was now a fully functioning museum which remained docked permanently by the bay. It only costs 500 Yen for an adult's entrance fee and it is even cheaper for children, school students and senior citizens. Worry not if Japanese is not your language of choice as they have guides in several other languages too. 

Part ship, part museum. Much of the ship's interior has been modified to accommodate exhibits about sailing, the use of ferries as human transportation and the service history of the Hakkoda-maru. Many of the exhibits, in fact, were donated by members of the public.
Several rooms such as the ship's bridge were faithfully restored to give visitors a better picture of how things were back in the day when the vessel was still active. 

Aside from the whole host of communication and guidance systems, the large panoramic windows also gave a full view of the surrounding of the ship. Regardless if its purpose is military or civilian, all sea-going vessels maintain this same code of construct. 

Right behind the bridge is an open deck which is normally open to the public. Unfortunately due to the heavy snow fall and strong winds, the outdoor deck had to be closed to ensure the safety of those who are visiting. The guardrails were the only thing between you and the freezing ocean below.

The Hakkoda-maru is certainly a very unique civilian vessel with its equipment lying in between modern navigational methods and age-old sailing practices. These days it would be difficult to find a ferry such as this in Japan and rightfully so as many of them would already have been replaced by newer, more modern and efficient ones. 

From the top all the way to the very bottom, visitors had access to every floor of the ship and it is the lower deck which is the most interesting of them all. 

In the past, the Hakkoda-maru would be able to accommodate entire train cars with the integrated rail tracks built into the ship. This allowed for transportation of either the train car itself or train cars with containers. Till now, I am rather baffled at the accuracy required to line up the tracks between the ship and the port. 

Together with the loading bay, there was also the engine room. Immediately upon entering, visitors are immediately greeted by the unmistakable scent of grease and the sight of powerful diesel engines. Being a transport ferry, the Hakkoda-maru had to be capable of reliably hauling a lot of weight. As such, several of these diesel engines had to be employed to ensure smooth operation with even one diesel engine dedicated for auxiliary services. 

Within the engine room is the other main control center of any ship, the engine control room. All forms and gauges and knobs are there to ensure that the ship is running as it should during its heyday. 

With every floor of the ship fully explored, it was time to take the stairs up and out of the Hakkoda-maru and move on to the next attraction. 

Nearing midday, the skies had begun to clear up a little and snow fall had stopped albeit temporarily. 

This allowed for some prime photo taking opportunities seeing as there was a fresh fine layer of snow atop of everything stationary. 

But, the heavy clouds looming over meant that the cessation in snow fall was only temporary. As the days and weeks pass, the snowfall would only continue to become heavier and the temperature colder. Such is the life up north.

Nevertheless, this was no excuse for beautiful architecture and proper roadworks and amenities as evident by the Aomori bridge. On a good day (read: no snow), visitors are allowed to enter the observation spots located on the side of the bridge. 

To the right of this shot lies a large warehouse-like building known as the A-Factory. Being the largest supply of domestic apples in Japan, it is no surprise that Aomori folk are very proud of their apples. The A-Factory is just one of those symbols of pride with it being a large store carrying various apple-based products made from Aomori apples. There are also restaurants and cafes which serve dishes leveraging the all important produce. 

With lunch done with, it was time for the next main attraction of the day, the Neubta Warasse. 

Nebuta Warasse is a museum dedicated to Aomori's Nebuta Matsuri summer festival. The festival is one of the biggest events, if not the biggest, in the city's annual calendar and is celebrated with a great deal of fanfare. 

One of the most impressive aspects of the Nebuta Matusri are the colossal floats that are paraded during the week of festivities. As you can see, these floats are incredibly well detailed and colored all while telling an important story usually based off Japanese folklore. 

What is even more impressive are the fact that these floats are entirely made by hand and are often commissioned to be built by master builders. Even today, there are only a handful of master builders recognized by the committee. 

Every year during the festival, these elaborate floats are judged by a panel of judges and the selected winner's floats are often displayed in the museum for visitors to admire over the year.

Perhaps the most impressive factor of all for these floats are their sheer size and this is incredibly difficult to capture in photography. But for a sense of scale, observe the black illuminated signboard below the floats. These boards provide information, both in English and Japanese, about the float and its story. The font used is fairly large so, the fact that next to nothing can be made out should probably help with grasping the scale of these floats. 

At its core, each float is actually incredibly simple. They are merely wire-frames wrapped in painted wax paper. Then a diesel generator powers several lights within the float to light it up like a lantern. 

So while the concept is simple and fairly low-tech, it is the execution where things are taken to a whole new level. Like every arts and craft practiced in Japan, centuries of honing ones craft has brought even this "simple" task to the pinnacle of what is possible. 

Looking at these giant floats, one cannot help but wonder just how amazing the actual festival will be come summer. Looking at it all, it is not hard to see why the city decided to create a museum specifically to commemorate the annual festival. 

Aside from just viewing the floats, there are also areas where visitors are allowed to touch parts of the float too. Adding to that, at specific time slots, there are also creation sessions where visitors are allowed to try their hands out at both painting and fixing the paper onto the wire-frame. 

On weekends, there are dance and musical performances akin to those during the festival itself. With actual instruments and a trope of dancers, the whole event is really lively!

In the end, as the day came to a close, we would have certainly loved to spend more time in Aomori. Unfortunately, it was time to go as there was a plane ticket with our names on it. The trip back to Tokyo felt shorter than usual but that would have been partly because of the fatigue kicking in. Now back in Chiba, the usual Chiba Days segment would continue as usual but, not before we complete two more special articles dedicated to Aomori. Until then, thank you so much for reading and have yourself a wonderful day ahead!


Popular Posts