Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Wa-Fu Oasis in Modern Sapporo: Nakajima Park (札幌市中島公園)

北海道札幌市中島公園 Nakajima Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido

(The original post can be found here).

(BGM: "Yozora no Mukou" by Shikao Suga)

Like any young, idealistic American Japanophile raised on a steady diet of imported anime, Kurosawa films and campy classics like The Karate Kid, I expected to see a certain level of wa-fu (J-Style) as I embarked upon my survey of this "strange, new world." The tacky and wonderfully cheesy gift shops at Narita and Chitose airports whetted my appetite and I was ready to drown myself in the Hokusai Wave of sumo wrestlers, kimono-clad geisha and samurai. But two weeks into my Japan experience and I saw nothing but a non-stop parade of Prada and Vuitton models, hi-tech gadgets and uninspired square-shaped buildings! I'd studied about Japanese culture my entire life! So where was it? Where were all the ninjas?

(The ninjas were all training in Shiga Prefecture)
"Where have all the geishas gone..."
My university professor had to explain to me that Hokkaido was the wild and naturally wonderful domain of the Ainu people until the end of the Edo Period (1866), when the tondenhei ("farmer-soldiers") moved up from Honshu to settle, force the indigenous people into compliance and develop the land for agriculture. This explains Hokkaido's lack of pre-Meiji era architecture and shrines so common throughout the rest of Japan.

"But I didn't come thousands of miles across the Pacific to live in a mirror of Western culture" I whined in defiance. "I came to Japan because it always advertised itself as 'exotic!" I just couldn't accept that I would be spending the next year of my life studying an ancient culture in a land where I couldn't even access it. Even the idea of all that wasted time brought pangs of panicky disbelief to my heart.

Knowing just how to mellow me out, my dorm mate, a Sapporo resident, had the perfect cure for my ills. She led me to a quiet, spacious stretch of Zen-inspired heaven only a few blocks' walk from Susukino Alley: Nakajima Park (Nakajima Koen 中島公園. The official park website in English can be found here).

Nakajima Park in the Chuo District of Sapporo City
Unlike downtown Sapporo's Odori Park, Nakajima Koen was recently designed with traditional Japanese style in mind. Sporting two lakes and almost stretching to the Toyohira River, the park provides a real sense of wide expansion and freedom. The lush harmony of over five thousand different kinds of trees clustered around gently sloping patches of green lawn gives the soul a refreshing break from the claustrophobic effect of the ever-encroaching concrete jungle. If you plop yourself down in the sun beside one of the two lakes, watching kids playing frisbee with their dogs with the water stretching out into the distance, it's really easy to forget you're in the middle of northern Japan's largest city. The trees effectively hide the presence of the concrete buildings along the river, whereas Odori Park uses the city skyline as a type of "borrowed scenery." There are plenty of bike-friendly paved walkways that stretch and twist into the park's many different environments, dotted with historical buildings and facilities that compliment the surrounding scenery.

The walkways are very popular with cyclists!

The old tea house Hasso-an, designated by the government as an "Important Cultural Property,"
Perhaps my favorite feature of Nakajima Park is Hasso-an, a tiny, eloquent expression of simple reverence in natural woods and ocher, gracing the north eastern part of the park next to the Hoheikan building. My desire for anything Japanesque was swiftly satiated as I breathed in the antiquity of this government-designated Important Cultural Property that stood well over a hundred years old. We weren't allowed to poke around inside, but just knowing it was here was enough for me. The trickling nearby brook and cheerful screeches of bulbuls in the trees erased the clanging din of traffic that cluttered up my outdoorsy Alaskan heart. We spent a good couple hours aimlessly admiring the gently flowing streams, expansive pond filled with elegantly swimming vividly colored koi that looked like they'd been scribbled on by a creative kid with crayons.

How could anyone not find this relaxing?
According to locals, Nakajima Park is quite famous in the city for its beautiful array of momiji (Japanese maple) trees that transform into blazing fire when the air goes chilly in late October. Hailing from a land where the only deciduous trees take on a single shade of gold, the vision of these maple trees filled me with inexpressible awe. I had no idea such shades of orange, red and purple even existed in nature! A carefully placed stone lantern here, an elegantly arching shrub there, I didn't need the geisha or the samurai to remind me that I was in Japan. I had everything I needed here in this quiet, inspiring garden. With all the pleasures of the natural world here at my fingertips, I had finally achieved inner bliss. There would be no more complaints from me. Spirits refreshed and mind soothed, I was ready to start exploring and enjoying my new home for what it was: a virtual paradise. I found myself delighted by Sapporo's sheer variety of environments that I could easily submerge myself into. And the more I looked, the more options I had. Such is the joy of travel.

Elements of J-Style near the Hasso-an tea house.
Nakajima Park maple trees in all their fiery splendor.
Access to Nakajima Park: Nakajima Koen Station is only 2 stops south of Odori Koen Station on the Nanboku (green) Line.

Update: Apparently Nakajima Park was ravaged in 2004 by a typhoon, so some of the trees and structures pictured here might not be there anymore. But I'm certain it's still lovely as ever and quite worthy of its designation as one of the "100 most popular parks in Japan."

Copyright 2013 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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