Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hakodate city view from Mount Hakodate

As I wrote in the previous post, on 19th July hubby and I travelled from Aomori city to Hakodate city in Hokkaido prefecture by using Hakucho train that travelled through undersea Seikan tunnel which connects the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. We reached Hakodate railway station at about 5.30 pm. At the railway station, we kept our baggage in a locker located inside the station itself and then went for sightseeing at Mt. Hakodate.
Hakodate railway station

Hubby waiting for bus in front of Hakodate railway station

Hakodate is a city and port located in Oshima sub-prefecture of Hokkaido and is the capital city of the sub-prefecture. Hakodate city is situated in Kameda peninsula and is nestled at the southern tip of Hokkaido where the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan merge. Hakodate city has been a port open to the world since 1859. It is one of the most picturesque, friendly, historical, charming, and rustic seaside city. It is a scenic tourist destination. Hakodate is most famous for the spectacular night view it offers of the city and Tsugaru Strait from Mount Hakodate.

Mount Hakodate (Hakodateyama) is a 334 meters high, lumpy wooded mountain that lies at the southern end of the peninsula on which much of central Hakodate is located. On clear days and nights, the mountain summit offers an unobstructed spectacular view of both the city and the Tsugaru Strait. From the mountain summit, visitors can get a sweeping view of the Hakodate bay to the left, the Pacific Ocean to the right, and the fan-shaped streets of Hakodate spreading out below. Visitors can gaze back at the city and take in one of the most amazing views of the world. The night view (yakei in Japanese) from the summit is renowned in Japan as one of the best in the country, and one of the top three in the world along with Hong Kong and Naples. The panorama of lights is truly beautiful. Mount Hakodate is nationally well known as a romantic nightlife date spot. From the mountain summit observation platform, visitors can observe the beautiful ‘million-dollar’ nightscape.

The summit of Mount Hakodate can be reached by hiking trail, bus, car, or Hakodateyama ropeway. The best way to get a panoramic view of the city and its surrounding is by taking the ropeway to the mountain top. We took a direct bus from Hakodate railway station at about 6.40 pm and reached the lower station of Hakodateyama ropeway in about ten minutes. The lower station is known as Sanroku station and is located in Motomachi district. The cost for a ropeway ticket was 1160 yen for a round trip per person. The ropeway travelled from the foot of Mount Hakodate to the peak (Sancho station) in approximately three minutes. The gondola had a capacity to hold 125 passengers and departed every 10 minutes. It was a smooth, comfortable, and exciting ropeway ride above the ocean to the mountain top. Hubby compiled a video of our ropeway ride during our ascent to the mountain summit. The ropeway connected to an all-weather rooftop observatory at the top of the mountain. Facilities at the summit terminal included rooftop observation platforms (free of charge), souvenir shops, a cafe named Tea Lounge Legato at the third floor and a cafeteria style restaurant named Genova at the second floor with incredible finest views, and an events hall where 12 monitors produced a multi-vision presentation that introduced the four seasons of Hakodate.
Sanroku base station of Hakodateyama ropeway

Ropeway gondolas traveling to/from Mount Hakodate

View from ropeway during ascent to the mountain summit

Video of our ropeway ride during our ascent to the mountain summit

On reaching the mountain summit, hubby and I went to the rooftop observatory platform outside the summit building. It was still day time. The view of Hakodate city and Tsugaru Strait was exotic. The sea looked calm and it was a soothing sight. We wanted to view the changing sights of Hakodate city during the sunset. That day the sunset was at about 7.15 pm. Since it was only 7 pm, we strolled outside the observatory building facility and enjoyed the views from various positions and angles of mountain top. However, the temperature at the top of the mountain, even in summer, was cold (about 6 degrees Celsius) and strong winds caused a drop in the sensory temperature even further. Since hubby and I were dressed for the summer season, we felt very cold and so we returned inside the observatory building after about 10 minutes. After that we went to the souvenir shop inside the building. There were many varieties of original and fascinating items in the shop and we bought a few memorial goods.
Day view of Hakodate city from Mount Hakodate

Hakodate bay to the left

Another photo of Hakodate bay to the left

Tsugaru Strait to the right

Me standing at the observation platform at the mountain summit

Hubby standing at the observation platform at the mountain summit

Visitors enjoying Hakodate city view from Mount Hakodate

Beautiful view from observation platform

Me at Mount Hakodate summit

Hubby wearing a Kashmiri wrap-around shawl and standing at the souvenir shop

A beautiful night view of the lights of Hakodate city appears about 30 minutes after the sunset. So at 7.25 pm, we again went outside to the rooftop observatory platform and had a nice time enjoying the view after sunset. The lights of Hakodate city lit up slowly. The streets, houses, buildings, everything lit up, and created a dramatic view of the overflowing lights. The panorama of lights of Hakodate city is indeed one of the best night views in the world. However, it was very cold and my fingers were almost frozen! Hubby was literally shivering and had some difficulty in taking photos as his hands were too shaky due to the cold weather. But he could manage to take a few beautiful photos of the amazing night view of Hakodate city. In addition, hubby and I had a professional photographer take a photo of us at the mountain summit in front of the dazzling night view of the city. The photo came out really nice but it could be clearly seen that we were shivering in the cold windy conditions in our summer clothes.
Street lights slowly lighting up during dusk

Night view of Hakodate city from Mount Hakodate

Night view of Hakodate bay to the left

Hubby and I at the mountain summit in front of night view of the city

The second time we were outside in the roof top observatory platform for almost 45 minutes, and hubby and I felt very cold! So we went to the mountain observatory third floor Tea Lounge Legato for having cups of hot tea and coffee. We again got a superb night view of Hakodate city from the Lounge.
Night view of the city from Tea Lounge Legato

Me at Tea Lounge Legato

Hubby and I enjoyed the exotic day view as well as the dramatic night view of Hakodate city from top of Mount Hakodate for about two hours. At about 9 pm, we returned back to the base of the mountain by ropeway. While descending, we again got a beautiful panoramic view of the city lights. Then we hired a taxi and returned to Hakodate railway station. After collecting our baggage from the locker at the station, we bought ‘bento’ dinner (packed meal in a box) at a convenience store as we were very tired to go to a restaurant. Later we hired another taxi and went to a hotel named ‘Hotel Grantia Hakodate Goryokaku’ in Goryokaku town, which was about 4.5 kilometers away from Hakodate railway station. After check-in at the hotel, we had our bento dinner and retired for the day. It had been a long day for us. Next day we went to see Goryokaku fort about which I will write in the next post.
Our room at Hotel Grantia Hakodate Goryokaku

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seikan tunnel

As I wrote in the previous post, on 18th July after having lunch at a restaurant in Aomori railway station, hubby and I went to the platform where we took a train named ‘Hakucho’ for traveling to Hakodate city in Hokkaido prefecture. The train travelled through an undersea tunnel named Seikan tunnel that has been acting as a main artery that connects the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. We wished to do sightseeing inside Seikan tunnel and so we bought train tickets that included Tappi undersea railway station tour and Seikan Tunnel Memorial Hall tour course.
Hakucho train at Aomori railway station

Seikan tunnel is a 53.85 km railway tunnel with a 23.3 kilometer long portion under the seabed, and is the longest undersea tunnel in the world. The tunnel travels beneath the Tsugaru Strait linking Aomori prefecture of Honshu and the neighboring island of Hokkaido. The tunnel contains a rail line and is part of the Kaikyo Line of Hokkaido Railway Company. The tunnel connects Aomori city and Hakodate city in just two and a half hours, and was named by combining the two characters and pronunciations of ‘ao (sei)’ of Aomori city and ‘hako (kan)’ of Hakodate city. The tunnel runs at a maximum depth of 140 meters from the sea water level and 100 meters further down from the seabed. Seikan tunnel actually consists of multiple tunnels. A two-track main tunnel for trains travelling, a smaller service tunnel next to it, and an even smaller pilot tunnel below the other two that was dug the first. Today, the service and pilot tunnels are used for maintenance and evacuations. There are other tunnels such as inclined and vertical shafts to connect to the ground.
Seikan tunnel schematic

Typical tunnel cross section model showing main tunnel, service tunnel, and pilot tunnel

Construction of Seikan tunnel began in 1964 and was completed in 1988. About 168,000 tons of steel and 850,000 tons of cement were required for the construction. It was impossible to bore the tunnel because of the unpredictable nature of the surrounding rock, so 6.3 million cubic meters of earth were blasted out. The amount of explosives used for blasting was approximately 2,900 tons. Total construction cost was about 690 billion yen. The tunnel boasts some interesting engineering features. The rails inside Seikan tunnel are welded together, which makes them the longest rails on earth. The super long rail is 52.57 km in length. Furthermore, the tunnel has triple slab track type rail, which is capable of running Shinkansen bullet trains along with regular trains in future. The tunnel remains one of the most formidable engineering feats of the 20th century.

There are two undersea stations inside the tunnel. One is Tappi Kaitei station on the Aomori side which is 135 meters undersea, and the other is Yoshioka Kaitei station on the Hokkaido side which is 149.5 meters undersea. They are both located just under the coastal line. In these two station buildings tour courses have been established with reference displays of the Tsugaru Strait and the Seikan tunnel. However, since 2005 the guided tours for the Yoshioka undersea station are closed due to the ongoing Shinkansen construction that is predicted to start operation by 2015.

The Hakucho train departed from Aomori station at 11.56 am and arrived at Tappi Kaitei undersea station at 12.44 pm. Tappi Kaitei station is one of the two emergency stations for the tunnel and is located on the Kaikyo Line in Sotogahama in Aomori prefecture. Tappi Kaitei is very infrequently serviced by JR trains but is connected by an underground cable car to the surface. As we neared the train station, it was announced that to leave the train we had to go to car no. 2. This is because Tappi Kaitei station is only one car length long. There were about 15 other people heading for the undersea tour. The tour was for about 3.5 hours and there was a railway tour guide to help us.
Hakucho train at Tappi Kaitei undersea station

Walk from Main tunnel to the service tunnel

After moving to the service pit tunnel, the tour guide collected our baggage and put it inside a locker. The guide told us that the walk to the underground cable car would take about 30 minutes. We enjoyed walking in the tunnel and also saw some of the tools used during the construction of the tunnel. At the beginning of our walk in the service pit, we saw an inspector ride by in a bicycle. It was really wonderful to walk inside the tunnel.
An inspector riding a bicycle in the service tunnel

A board indicating Tappi Kaitei railway station

Service tunnel

There was a pleasant breeze blowing inside the tunnel. By sending 3,800 square meters of wind from both the Yoshioka inclined shaft and the Tappi inclined shaft every minute, a one-meter wind continually blows toward the exits allowing for continual ventilation. Throughout the year the environment underground is maintained at a temperature of 20 degrees and humidity is set at 80-90%. After about ten minutes of walk, the guide told us that we had reached a spot where outside the tunnel there was sea water on one side while ground on the other! It was indeed a thrilling experience. The tunnel was fully made of concrete and sometimes mystery tunnels branched off into the darkness.
Spot where outside the tunnel there was sea water on one side and ground on the other

Service tunnel

Branched off tunnel where we were not allowed to enter

Drainage is a big problem in the tunnel as water drips from everywhere here. The amount of sea water soaking the walls of the tunnel that is drained and pumped back to the surface is about 20 tons a minute. In fact, as we walked we felt that we heard the sound of water as if we were in a forest. This sound actually comes from the drain. In addition, we saw that there were rails embedded in the floor of the tunnel. The guide told us that during the construction of the tunnel, this particular tunnel was one of the access tunnels bored to transport people as well as spoil away from it. One of the two rails has been concreted up, while the other has been left to assist in drainage.
Hubby feeling the wetness of cemented walls of the tunnel

Sea water seeping into the tunnel

Two rails embedded in the floor of the service tunnel

It was an amazing experience to walk inside the tunnel at about 140 meters under sea level. Hubby compiled a short video of our walk in the service pit of the Seikan tunnel.

Video of walk inside service pit of Seikan tunnel

Soon we reached a place inside the tunnel called Tappi Kaitei world. It was a medium sized gallery that included many displays of tools and photos related to the construction of the tunnel. Here our guide stopped and explained in details about the map and route of the tunnel.
Panel explaining the tunnel design at Tappi Kaitei world

Display of some of the tools used during construction of the tunnel

Me standing at the lowest point inside the tunnel

After walking for some more time, we passed through a large airlock arrangement and reached the Driftway exhibition (Taikenkodo in Japanese) corner. The tunnel was very dimly lit here. The construction site of the tunnel was recreated, and the machinery and tools that were used to excavate were on display.
People passing through a large airlock arrangement

Driftway exhibition display of a photo regarding the construction of the tunnel

Display of a few tools at the Driftway exhibition

Display of shotcreting technique

Display of rock drilling machine inside the tunnel

Display of heavy machinery equipment used for the construction of the tunnel

Display of heavy machinery equipment used for the construction of the tunnel

The engine could pull heavy loads of gear and people through the service tunnel

Above photo taken from another angle

After seeing the exhibition, our walk inside the tunnel was over and we reached the cable car underground station named ‘Taikenkodo eki’ that hauled our group up to the ground surface. The name of the railway line is ‘Seikan Tunnel Tappi Shako-sen (inclined line), which is a funicular line operated by Seikan tunnel museum. The cable car named ‘Mogura’ uses the Tappi inclined shaft to connect the underground Driftway exhibition point to the Seikan Tunnel Memorial Hall museum above ground. The elevation of the Tappi shaft is 778 meters and there are 2247 steps in the shaft staircase. It took about five minutes to reach the railway station named ‘Seikan tunnel kinenkan eki’ at the ground level. After reaching the museum station, a massive door closed behind us and we were allowed to climb out of the cable car to enter the Seikan Tunnel Memorial Hall museum.
Underground cable car station named Taikenkodo eki

Photo taken from the back of cable car while travelling up the inclined shaft

We were allowed to come out of the cable car after the massive steel door closed

Mogura cable car at the station named Seikan tunnel kinenkan eki

Inside the museum building, the tour guide took all of us to a meeting room and strictly instructed us to be back there by 3.25 pm. After that we were on our own for a while. The museum exhibited the history of Seikan tunnel from the conception of the idea through the actual construction, completion, and operation of the tunnel by means of audio, video, panels, and three dimensional models. It was very interesting to know the various steps involved in the skillful building of the tunnel.
A huge three dimensional display of Seikan tunnel location and position

Me standing in front of the three dimensional display of Seikan tunnel

Panel explaining the details of Seikan tunnel

Another panel giving details of the tunnel

Three dimensional display of the actual size of the tunnel

Hubby standing next to the display of tunnel

Hubby reading the history of the tunnel

Hubby reading the technical details of the tunnel

Hubby seeing the model of the tunnel and its surrounding area

Hubby seeing the display of cutter head of a tunnel boring machine

Me posing next to a model of a worker using equipment for construction of the tunnel

Me standing next to the model of a worker using equipment for designing the tunnel

After seeing the museum, we went outside the museum to have a look at the ground and the surroundings. The museum building had many circular shaped rooms which looked very beautiful from outside. There were several pieces of old equipments on display outside the museum. In addition, we could clearly see the base of Seikan tunnel in the mountain to our left. Unfortunately it was a cold, rainy, and a very windy day, and so after a few minutes we headed back inside the museum building.
Museum building from outside

Two tunnel boring machines used for the excavation on display outside the museum

Some of the pieces of old equipment on display outside the museum

Base of Seikan tunnel on Honshu side (Seikan tunnel Honshu gata kichi Tappi)

We had lunch at the cafe of the museum. After that we returned to the meeting room of the museum and waited for our guide. At 3.30 pm, the guide took all of us to the cable car station for our descent back down to the tunnel. Inside the tunnel, we walked back to the Tappi Kaitei station. We again enjoyed our walk in the tunnel and saw many small details that we missed during our onward walk. On reaching Tappi Kaitei station area, we took our baggage from the locker, and then waited for the Hakucho train to arrive. The train departed the station at 4.18 pm and reached Hakodate railway station in Hokkaido at 5.33 pm.
Walking back in the tunnel towards Tappi Kaitei station

Walking back in the tunnel towards Tappi Kaitei station

Hubby standing next to the board of Tappi Kaitei railway station

Main tunnel showing two railway tracks; photo taken from Tappi Kaitei platform

Straight across to the other platform

Me at Hakodate railway station platform

Hakucho train at Hakodate railway station platform

Hubby and I really loved the tour of Seikan tunnel. It was an amazingly wonderful experience to see one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. At Hakodate railway station, we kept our baggage in a locker located inside the station itself and then did sightseeing at Mt. Hakodate about which I will write in the next post.