Like a fragile-boned bird unequipped for flight, my red plastic umbrella crumpled under the power of the wind for the second time in less than ten minutes. I can’t believe I actually paid for this thing! Muttering darkly, I forced the battered umbrella against the push of the wind until it cracked back outward in its correct position. In front of me, a couple fought against the wind themselves, hunched shoulder to shoulder. How’s that for a romantic day of sightseeing? I couldn’t help it; in weather like that, to see other people suffering came as an amusement. The truth of the matter was that my mother and I had picked the perfectly wrong day to step outside our room in the Hotel Dormy Inn. Granted, we only had one day to stroll around the streets of Hakodate, but why we ended up deserving such a horrendous day was beyond my grasp of comprehension. What could we have possibly done to upset the weather gods so badly that we were being tortured by near-hurricane conditions?
Despite the conditions my mother and I battled, the city of Hakodate (located on the farthest-North Japanese island of Hokkaido) was one of the most beautiful places I ever laid eyes upon. However, during much of the day, I was cursing the very instant my mother decided to plan this trip. Not only did we spend a good three hours crawling at a snail’s pace up a hill (I convinced myself through careful logic that it was a good eighty degree angle), but the residents of the city were celebrating ‘Obon’, a festival designed to celebrate the dead. We dodged cars jammed bumper to bumper trying to get into the temple, weaving our way through the pungent smell of incense so sweet it nearly made a person choke. When we finally reached our first destination, I was quite out of breath. However, the sight that stood before me made me forget all about it. Actual people did things here! Diplomatic things! I thought excitedly asI stood outside the doors of the one-hundred-year-old Russian Consulate Building. It was plain and unremarkable to the eyes, but the very history that oozed from its dreary walls lit me up.
Hakodate is rich with stories interwoven throughout the centuries: Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival in Hakodate Port, the star-shaped Goryokaku Fort that provided shelter during the Boshin War, and the missionaries that arrived from distant places with only his faith. Walking from site to site, drenched, but in awe, I couldn’t help but envision the people who might’ve walked through the hallways of the impressive consulates and churches long before my existence.I gained an insight while sitting in the tea room of the old British Consulate Building, gazing through a window at the water bursting out diagonally from a chipped fountain. I realized that a large portion of people living today in the modern world are much too engrossed in the ‘now’. If we are forced to turn our attention towards something ‘old’, we whine, unable to make any connection. During my time in Hakodate, I made a connection between my life and of those long passed. Maybe there weren’t any specific faces I could set with each site I visited, but I didn’t need any. Looking up at the empty windows and locked doors of each crumbling, but captivating, place was enough for me to forget the rain and wind weighing me down and to just imagine.
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