SAFS Student Voices: Snorkels and Seaweeds and Squid, Oh My!

Snorkels and Seaweeds and Squid, Oh My! Travels of a SAFS Student in Hakodate, Japan

by Grace Workman, SAFS undergraduate student

This summer, I got to experience life in Hakodate, Japan! Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan, is home to the city with delicious dairy, the freshest seafood imaginable, and our host, Hokkaido University. Our trip was only 2 weeks, but filled with adventures that I’ll remember forever. The best parts of the trip were the food, fishing, and friends! I’d like to provide some insight into our experiences on this trip, and convince you that Japan is a wonderful country that everyone should try to visit! Luckily, I journaled throughout the trip and have over 50 pages of written memories. However, I’m going to select the most interesting pieces to share with you. After a few layovers and a total of 15 hours sandwiched in the middle seat of economy class, I finally arrived at the domestic airport in Hakodate, Japan. My first impression of this place can be refined to one word: HUMID. As a native Washingtonian, this moist heat is something I never fully adjusted to during my stay. Despite my body’s failing attempts at thermoregulation, I survived with the help of a small plastic fan held about two inches from my face. Also, five or six typhoons moved through Hokkaido while we were there, bringing rainstorms that rival Seattle’s.

Although it’s fun to talk about the weather, the real reason we went on this trip was to take part in a hands-on course about building resilience in Hakodate.  We visited different businesses conducting research and creating innovative technology in the aquatic realm, as well as ones specialized in industrial fishing and aquaculture. We were fortunate to be welcomed by so many groups who were willing to show what they contribute to the seafood driven economy, and teach us about their research. The first lecture was on seaweed farming, research, and culture.  Before this trip, I wouldn’t even snack on dried Nori. However, after eating a variety of seaweeds with every meal of the day for two weeks straight, now I crave it!  A chemical component found in some seaweed, fucoxanthin, is the basis of extensive health related research conducted in Japan, and will likely be sold as dietary supplements in the future. We experienced a small part of the research process on this topic during a lab session. We used Thin Layer Chromatography plates to identify and observe different compounds in marine extracts.

The first big adventure away from the hotel was a three-day excursion on the Oshoro Maru, Hokkaido University’s largest and newest training vessel, a recently rebuilt version of the original ship. We engaged in a variety of research tactics such as using a CTD and ROV, and even got to try squid jigging! Unfortunately, ocean conditions prevented us from catching any squid, but the crew did snag a yellowtail and prepared fresh sashimi. The next destination was Usujiri Marine Station, where we got to snorkel (my first time in a wet suit!) and drag-net. We also learned about a local set net fishery, and saw a wonderful presentation of underwater photography featuring Grunt Sculpin. I loved the little fishing town, complete with worn piles of buoys and crowded bays of boats, but more excitement followed upon returning to the city. Along our way back, we stopped at the Nanae freshwater station, a remote research site with an impressive aquaculture facility. Here, the class got to complete a lab on sperm cryopreservation, and toured the aquaculture tanks. Once we made it back to the main part of Hakodate, we visited the University’s fish collection—humble when compared to UW’s, though exciting to see regardless. Then we toured a shipyard and viewed the ship building process beginning with sheets of steel, and ending with an intricate ship that takes months to complete.

We experienced a wide array of educational activities, but my favorite parts of the trip were more culturally and tourist based. Hakodate is filled with historical buildings, museums, and landmarks. One night, our small group hiked the steep trek to the top of Mt. Hakodate, a very sweaty and mosquito filled experience. However, the famous “night view” of the city was worth the climb. You had to push past crowds of people who took the easy way up to the top, but the view was great once you saw past the back of everyone’s heads. Another day, we visited Onuma National Park, where we walked across hand carved bridges and through breathtaking scenery. Plus, we tried a lick of the squid ink soft serve, which is a signature ice cream flavor of this town. Hakodate is known for a few main foods: squid, melon, potatoes, corn, and milk. We tried it all! For all you ice cream enthusiasts out there, you should go to Hokkaido, Japan. Everything is better in Japan, but especially the ice cream. Whatever flavor you choose, you’re guaranteed a creamy delicacy that tastes like the genuine flavor it’s supposed to. Since I’ve returned, I can’t even enjoy DQ without missing Hokkaido’s ice cream.

Japan is an interesting and beautiful place. I admire the people, the scenery, the culture, and the academic prospects. Fisheries and seafood are a way of life there, and a large part of Japanese culture in general. The people are extremely friendly, and the food is amazingly delicious. I can’t wait to go back to this charming city, and I hope future SAFS students will go on this mind-opening trip, should the opportunity arise.

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