Hokkaido via Seikan Tunnel and the Hokutosei Train

On Monday evening July 30 we boarded the Hokutosei (北斗星) a limited express sleeping car train at 11:30 pm at Sendai Station. Our type B bunk beds were comfortable enough to stretch out in and we and woke up on Tuesday morning at Aomori on the northern tip of Honshu to see the sunrise. Then we entered the Seikan Tunnel that connects the two islands Honshu and Hokkaido by a tunnel that is 53.85 kilometers (33.5 miles) long with 23.3 kilometers (14.5 miles) of it considered the submarine segment. This means that the 37.5-kilometer (23.3-mile) Euro Tunnel aka “Chunnel” is longer under water but total length of the tunnel that is not underwater is not as long as the Seikan Tunnel. As far as depth goes the Seikan Tunnel railway track runs some 240 meters (787 feet) below the sea surface, and is the deepest railway line in the world! I had wanted to take this train since it opened in 1988 and now I must admit that I slept through most of the dark ride to Hokkaido. There was no chance for any meeting with a Japanese Leviathan or Cthulhu while the train passed through the tunnel that is not only below 140-meter-deep (459-foot-deep) water but also another 100 meters (328 feet) below the seabed.

When we reached the Hokkaido side and stopped at Hakkodate it was cloudy and hazy and there were no long distance views across Uchiura Bay as the train rounded the bay to Muroran. But there were scenes of the beach and boats nearby before the sunlight in the misty haze dropped its cloudy curtain about half a mile out at sea. As we arrived at Sapporo Station passengers who had boarded at Tokyo’s Ueno Station completed their 16 hour trip. I was happy that our boarding at Sendai made it a bit shorter and yet we still had time to enjoy our sleeper car and the diner for breakfast. Our hotel in Sapporo was conveniently located near the north entrance and not far from the University of Hokkaido (“Hoku-Dai”) our next destination.

At “Hoku-Dai” we headed straight for the “Boys, Be Ambitious” statue of William S. Clark, a former President of Massachusetts Agricultural College (Now UM Amherst) who came to Sapporo in 1876 to become an advisor to Sapporo Agricultural College, the predecessor of the University of Hokkaido. Clark’s words of wisdom “Boys, be ambitious!” became known throughout Japan and often quoted since but the longer version is less well known, “Boys, be ambitious! Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for that attainment of all that a man ought to be.”

The Hokkaido University Museum has an extensive collection on display for public viewing and includes exhibits about ambitious Japanese men including Nobel Prize Winner Professor Emeritus Akira Suzuki, one of two Japanese Nobel laureates to win the prestigious award Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010 and whom together with Prof. Ei-ichi Negishi (Purdue University, USA) and Prof. Richard F. Heck (University of Delaware, USA) won the Nobel award for “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.” If you don’t know what that is remember the Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate (“One Word: Plastics”), but their work tops that because of their insights into the reactions of molecules to create better products such as plastics. I even got to hold a virtual reality Nobel Prize Medal.

We spent the afternoon seeing Sapporo sights and ended up the Odori Park outdoor beer garden near Sapporo Tower. Happy Times in Hokkaido!

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