Studio Oval, a gallery of Koji Usaka's ceramic works

On my way to a nearby supermarket, I found a cool gallery on Daisan slope.

It displays ceramic works of an artist whose name is Koji Usaka(苧坂 恒治). Actually I knew it was there but it was the first time to see it was open. A person of the gallery taught me that it opened only weekends and holidays from April through December.

I liked not only the works but also the ambience of the building. I didn’t bring my camera with me and I couldn’t take any photo to show the outside of the gallery. But you can find it easily. It has a show window in which some works are displayed. If you like a pot on the photo, I recommend make a visit to Studio Oval on weekends.


For your information, the photo is from a postcard I got at the gallery.

Bon Festival

The Bon Festival in Hakodate is held from 13th though 15th of July. In other places in Japan, it is held in August. It related to the fact that Japan used to use lunar calendar. At the beginning of Meiji era, the government switched its calendar from lunar to solar. According to the lunar calendar, the Bon festival falls on August while based on solar calendar, it falls on July. Today, the Bon festival in August is prevalent in Japan and people in Hakodate used to celebrate the festival in August, too. But Hakodate Hachimangu Shrine, one of the biggest Shinto shrines in Hakodate, holds its festival on August 15th. So monks of Buddhist temples held a meeting and decided to celebrate the Bon festival in July according to the solar calendar in 1917. Since then, people in Hakodate celebrate the Bon festival in July.

By the way, what is the Bon festival? It is a Buddhist festival held for departed souls. During the festival, departed spirits are said to return their homes. So people welcome their ancestors’ back to their homes preparing good dishes and pay their respects to their ancestors’ graves to console the spirits.

In case of my parents’ home, my mother prepares dishes to offer to altars at home, to the temple, and to the grave. This year, she made red rice, dumplings, vinegared cucumber slices, boiled spinach tasted with sesame paste, cooked beans, nishime or various vegetables cooked in a pot, etc.
As I took a plate of red rice to our family altar, it was decorated auspiciously with a pair of electric lanterns and other ornaments. My grandmother is religious and other altars are coexisting. There are alters for a Shinto god and a dragon god. In China and Japan, a dragon is believed as a god of ocean and controls weather. Besides them, a statue of Kompira, a Buddhist guardian deity is worshiped. During the festival, a statue of Kannon, a deity of mercy is also placed beside the family altar. Shinto is polytheistic religion and it can be often happened in other Japanese families.

When all the offertory dishes were ready, my father and brother came back from their work to go to a temple to which our family belongs and temple’s graveyard. At the temple, we ask a monk to make a pray for our ancestors. At the graveyard, we go to our family’s gravestone and offer flowers and prepared foods. Then ask a monk to pray for our ancestors.

It’s all what our family do during the Bon festival.

Soundscape and soundwalk

The other day, I read an essay about soundscape and soundwalk. According to the essay, each city or place has its specific soundscape. Reading it, I thought of the soundscape of Hakodate.

I live in the old district called west area that is located at the foot of Mt. Hakodate. There are churches, temples, shrines and a park in my neigbhborhood. In the morning, I can hear birds chirping cheerfully. At noon, I can hear the peal of bells of Russian Orthodox Church. This church used to be called "Gangandera" or Ding Dong Temple by citizens. Today, I heard strong sound of a horse wagon passing up the paved slope. Where I live is a sightseeing area and I often see a horse wagon for tourists.

The essay referes to soundwalk, too. Soundwalk is a walk trying to be aware of good sounds.

When I had a walk in my neighborhood, I could hear a street car running. It is one of the characteristic sounds of this town. When I walked along the waterfront, I could hear cries of seagulls. It is my present boom to be counscious of my sonic environment and to pick up comfortable sounds for me.

Why don't you try soundwalk by yourselves?

Kahee Takadaya /高田屋嘉兵衛

Telling the history of Hakodate, you can never forget to mention Kahee Takadaya. Here below is his story.
Kahee & Mt. Hakodate

Kahee was born in 1769 in Awaji island, which is located south of Kobe, as a son of a poor farmer. When he was 13, he began to work in Kobe as a sailor in order to help his family.

At that time, productivity of Tokyo, which was called Edo, was not enough for its population and products of farm and factory were carried from commercially advanced Kansai area where Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe are situated.

When Kahee was 28, he stood on his own feet owning a boat and embarked a business venture. He placed a base in undeveloped Hakodate though Matsumae was much more thriving. One important reason was a port. It was well known to sailors as a very calm and safe port, nicknamed a “ropeless port”. He brought in sake, salt, rice, etc. to Ezo(former name of Hokkaido) and took out abundant local seafood such as herrings, salmons, and kelp. In those days, herrings were used to fertilize soil for rape blossoms. Rapeseed oil was widely used and there used to be a rich herring fishery in waters around here. Through his business he heaped wealth and was famous as a talented trader and an efficient sailor. Later he cultivated new course to the Kuril Islands and ran many fisheries around Nemuro, eastern coast town of Hokkaido, and still disputed Northern Territories.

In Hakodate, Kahee rendered many services to the development. He repaired streets, cultivate the land and forested trees for lumber. Besides he brought clams from his hometown to breed them in Hakodate port.

When one of big fires occurred in 1806(when he was 38), he gave the victims food and clothes and built apartments for them. He sold timber with no profit for a quick recovery. After this fire, he sank wells in his own expense asking workmen from Osaka. Lack of water used to be a problem and he donated water pumps for fires.

In Hakodate at that time, there used to be a lot of shops of ship dealers and inns, especially around Ohmachi and Bentencho area.

Kahee lived in the end of the feudal period in Japan. At that time Japan was governed by a military government called bakufu whose administrative head was a shogun. The government held a strict isolation policy for more than 200 years from the 17th to the mid 19th centuries. But it was hard to continue the policy any more. In late 18th century, Russia dispatched a trade mission (Adam Laksman with Daikokuya Kodayu) to open commerce with Japan. It was refused and then in early 19th century, another mission was dispatched and their require was refused again. International tension between Russia and Japan arose and Golownin Incident happened. It was Kahee who solve the problem.

Kahee was not only a talented trader but also a person of character and an outstanding cosmopolitan in the era.


Tanabata(七夕), Star Festival

Tanabata, or Star Festival is cereblated on July, 7th. Bamboo grass is placed at entrances. People decorate the bamboo with paper ornaments and put some strips of paper with wishes. This annual event is said to have been mixed with a Chinese traditonal habit calld "Kikoden(乞巧奠)" and a Japanese myth of "Tanabatatsume(棚機つ女)". The most prevailing story is as follows.

The emperor of heaven had a daugther whose name was Shokujo. She lived west of the Milky Way and weaved wonderful cloth. She worked so hard that the emperor was worried about her and decided to find her a good partner. He found a good young cowheard working in the East of the Milky Way. His name was Kengyu. Shokujo and Kengyu got married. But after they god married, they stopped working. They had been hard workers but they didn't work and chatterd by the Milky Way day by day. The emperor got angry and separated them.

It is said that the Altair is Kengyu and the Vega is Shokujo. There is the Milky Way between them. Two lovers are allowed to see each other once a year, on July 7th. Magpies are said to make a bridge for them.


Shokujo is also called Orihime, a weaver princess, and Kengyu is called Hikoboshi, a male star.

The above photo is a papercraft I made. I found sheets of papercraft for Star Festival at a nearby supermarket the other day. I took one and made it up. There were wish papers to write wishes on. I wrote my wish and attached it on the craft.

As regards Star Festival in Hakodate, Halloween like practice is held on this day. This practice is held only limited areas, such as Hakodate or Sapporo in Hokkaido. In the evening of the festival, children visit neighbors and ask to give them a candle and sweets or crackers singing a song. This habit seems to reflect the changing society and it makes me feel a little sad.

When I was a child, I prepared two bags. One for candles and the other for sweets. But recently it's rare to be given candles. I suppose it shows the fact that less families keep their family alters at homes. And less families prepare sweets or crackers for children. On the first evening of Star Festival after my marriage, I was expecting children's visit and had prepaired some sweets to give them. But nobody came. Later I knew that schools taught them not to visit homes without bamboo grass ornaments. Children used to sing a song in front of all the houses they could visit, regardless of holding festival ornaments at their entrances. Recently younger children visit only familiar houses accompanied by their parents, I think. I feel the union of each district is disappearing.

A good thing is that the schools instruct their children to participate in the event waring yukatas and holding lanterns. In the evening of the Star Festival, it's enjoyable and tasteful to see singing children in colorful yukatas.

Joe Neesima 新島襄

Joe Neesima is one of the most important educators in Japan and is known as a founder of Doshisha University in Kyoto. When he was 22, he left Hakodate secretly for the United States of America. The then government, Tokugawa Shogunate had a national isolation policy and prohibited its citizens going in and out from Japan. But he was interested in the West and risked his life to board an American vessel named "The Berlin" in 1864. He studiedat Amherst College and Andover Theological College. He was wondering the strength of Christian countries in the West. He came back to Japan 10 years later and taught Christianity in Japan.
His original name was Shimeta, but the captain of the ship he embarked gave him a name of Joe(→Joseph Hardy Neesima). Later, he used this name.

You can find this statue of Joe Neesima near the Kanemori Warehouses facing to Hakodate port.


Akiko lives in a city next to Hakodate and loves to drive around Hakodate and surrounding area. I hope people who visit or live in the Southwest area of Hokkaido come to love the area, too.