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Archive for October 2011

Setana and Southwest Hokkaido Part 1

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On the southwest coast of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido lies the small town of Setana.  I suppose you could say that this is my Japanese “hometown,” since it is the first town that I lived in after arriving in Japan in 2004.  The area is quiet and remote, and definitely off the beaten path.  Most people who come here do so on purpose.  You don’t see many people passing through on their way to somewhere else (unless they’re going to Okushiri Island).

The former Kitahiyama town sign. In Hokkaido every city, town, and village has a sign like this, with the name and a local symbol or mascot on it. Kitahiyama’s town flower is the daffodil. This sign was taken down after the town merger in September 2005 when the name was changed to Setana.

Setana Town Sign

This is the Setana town sign. The town symbol is the rocks at Sanbonsugi Beach, plus the daffodils from the Kitahiyama sign, plus the Mother Bear and Cub rock from Taisei.

Background Information

In Japan, there are no unincorporated areas.  Every piece of ground, no matter how remote, is part of a city, town, or village.  As a general rule, if the population is around 30,000 or higher, it is usually classified as a city.  A population of roughly 5000 and up is classified as a town, and under 5000 is usually a village.  There are a lot of exceptions, though, as populations tend to grow and shrink over time.  If the population of a village or town reaches a certain level, it can be upgraded to a town or city.  But if the population shrinks, the status doesn’t change; it can’t be downgraded.

Setana is classified as a town.  It is located on the Sea of Japan coast of southwest Hokkaido, about 150 km northwest of Hakodate and 200 km southwest of Sapporo.  The main industries are farming and fishing.  Major products include rice, assorted vegetables, dairy products, salmon, and shellfish.

The present town of Setana was formed in September 2005 with the merger of three smaller towns: Taisei, Kitahiyama, and the old Setana.  The current town is divided into three sections using the former town boundaries and names:  Taisei Ward, Kitahiyama Ward, and Setana Ward.  Since there is open country separating the three wards, it is still easy to think of them as separate towns, even though they are officially one.

Between 3000 and 4000 people live in central Kitahiyama, with central Taisei and central Setana each having 2000 to 2500.  There are also a number of smaller satellite villages with anywhere from fifty to a few hundred people each, giving a grand total of 9843 for the whole town, as of September 2010.

And with that, let’s begin our tour.  We’ll start in central Kitahiyama, with some ordinary, everyday things that you can see in a walk around town.

A Walk around Central Kitahiyama


Yes, they have dandelions in Japan too. These are outside of my house.

Garbage collection place

Garbage collection place near my house.

In Japan, you have to separate your trash, put it into special bags (burnable, plastic, cans, etc.) and leave it in a designated place for collection.  In the photo above, the chart on the side of the enclosure tells you which type of trash is picked up on which day.  I’ve lived in four towns in Japan so far, and each one does it differently.

Continuing on our walk, next to my house (on the opposite side from the garbage pickup) is Kitahiyama Elementary School, and beyond it is a Buddhist temple.

No dog poop

Sign in front of Kitahiyama Elementary School – “No dog poop allowed! Please clean up after your dog.”

Buddhist temple near my house

Buddhist temple near my house. In Japan, even the smallest towns have at least 3 or 4 Buddhist temples.

Street mural

This mural is at the opposite end of the block from my house. Above it you can see part of the Buddhist temple in the previous photo. Down the street to the right is the community recreation center and a little farther on, Kitahiyama Junior High, then a nursing home, and finally a park golf course.

Street with flowers

Walking toward downtown Kitahiyama.

Street with Flowers

Walking toward downtown Kitahiyama – a closer view of the flowers.

View from bike path

View of Kitahiyama from a walking/bicycle path along the south edge of town. On top of that low hill on the right is Makomanai Shrine. If you look carefully you can see the shrine gate just above the houses.

Side street in Kitahiyama

Side street in Kitahiyama

Makomanai Shrine

Makomanai Shrine, Kitahiyama

View from shrine gate

View from near the shrine gate

View from behind shrine

View from the walking path behind the shrine

View from shrine - winter

View from shrine – winter

View from shrine - winter

View from shrine – winter

Here is the Kitahiyama post office.  Besides mail, the post offices in Japan also offer banking and insurance services.  The Kitahiyama post office is in a convenient location, just a couple blocks from the town office building and a couple blocks from the central business district.

Kitahiyama post office

Kitahiyama post office

Post box

Mail drop box outside of the Kitahiyama post office

Downtown Kitahiyama street

Downtown Kitahiyama street. On the left, just outside of the photo, is the Culture Palace.

Culture Palace

Culture Palace. The town’s public library is on the first floor. Upstairs are some meeting rooms and a small historical museum.

Kitahiyama historical museum

Kitahiyama historical museum

Kitahiyama Public Library

Kitahiyama Public Library

Before the town merger, each of the former towns had its own town office building where people would go to pay taxes, register a change of address, apply for a passport, and do other government-related errands. Today the main Setana town office is in Kitahiyama, with branch offices in Setana and Taisei.

Unlike other offices where everything is in a separate cubicle or separate room, here everything is out in the open, in one big room. It is still divided into departments – for example the Board of Education (where I worked), the water department, tax department, etc. But there are no walls separating them.

Kitahiyama Town Office

Town office building in Kitahiyama.

View of parking lot

Town office parking lot, seen from the second floor.

Main entrance from above

View of the main entryway from the second floor.

Town office second floor

Town office second floor

New Year decoration

Rice cakes, sake, and an orange placed near the town office main entrance as an offering for the new year.

Main entrance in winter

Main entrance in winter. The daffodils that you see were specially grown in a greenhouse so they would bloom in December and add a little color to the season.

View from town office - fall

View from the second floor of the town office – fall

View from town office - winter

View from the second floor of the town office – winter

Now let’s go outside again.

Street scene - south

Coming into town from the south on highway 229. On the left you can see the Tsuruya hardware/home center store and beyond it, the Seico Mart convenience store sign.

Manhole cover

Kitahiyama manhole cover. Many towns in Japan have their own vanity manhole covers.

Street with barbershop

On this street near the bus center is the barbershop where I got my hair cut.

Street scene

Looking down the street, south of the Culture Palace and west of the bus center.

Bus station

Kitahiyama Bus Center. This was a train station until 1987, and is the only station building surviving from the old Setana rail line.

View from the bus station

Looking north from the Kitahiyama Bus Center.

Community gym

Kitahiyama Recreation Center (in the background, not the house in the foreground).

Street near my house

Street on the west side of my group of houses, looking south.

The Kitahiyama recreation center has a swimming pool and facilities for basketball, volleyball, raquetball, and other indoor sports, plus some meeting rooms. The children’s after-school English class met here.

Now let’s rest for a bit at Minori Park.  Then we’ll have just two more things to look at before we break for lunch.

Minori Park no1

Entrance to Minori Park. This park is hidden between a group of buildings and a former railroad embankment in downtown Kitahiyama. It is not visible from the street, and I didn’t even find out where it was until my third year here.

Minori Park no2

Playground equipment in Minori Park

Minori Park no3

Restrooms at Minori Park, with a beetle picture drawn by a 3rd grader at the elementary school – who knows how many years ago.

Farm scene

Some of the farmland around Kitahiyama.

Street at night

Kitahiyama street at night

Notice the traffic (or lack of it) in the photo above? Night in downtown Kitahiyama is very quiet. Of course, the restaurants and karaoke bars are open, but you don’t see many people outside. Sometimes you can see foxes or other animals wandering the streets at night.

After all that walking around, let’s stop for something to eat at the Kuma-san ramen shop.  The menu is on those strips of paper on the wall above the counter.  Their miso ramen is really good.

Kuma-san ramen shop

Kuma-san ramen shop


That lunch took longer than I thought.  It’s winter now!  Where did the time go?


Looking out the door of my house during a blizzard.

Winter sunset

Winter sunset from my house

Winter street

Winter street scene

Winter farm scene

Winter farm scene

Bus stop

Bus stop near my house

Snowy street

Snowy street. We had a lot of snow during my first winter here. This is about a month after the previous picture was taken.

Winters here are pretty mild for Hokkaido, with temperatures averaging  just a few degrees below freezing.  Extreme cold is rare, but it is windy, with frequent snow showers and mini-blizzards blowing in off of the Sea of Japan.  The snow really piled up during my first winter here.  They tell me that it’s the most they’ve had in over twenty years.

Vending machines and snow

Here are a couple vending machines near my house. I am pretty sure that both of them were kept filled and working all through the winter, although the light seems to be off in the one on the left.

Vending machines - winter

The vending machines above – wide view.

Vending machines - spring

And here’s what they looked like in the spring, after the snow melted.

In March the snow begins to melt, and bare ground usually appears around the first of April.  We’ll end our walk around town with a few spring scenes.

Street scene - March

It’s mid March and the snow is melting. In another week or two, some patches of bare ground will start to appear.

Spring plants

I don’t know what these are called, but they appear around my house as soon as the snow disappears.

Bike path in spring

View from the bicycle/walking path in spring

Danger sign

Danger! Don’t play in the water!

Street scene - spring

Street scene – spring. The snow makes the mountains look a lot higher than they really are.

Street scene - spring no2

Looking north from near the Kitahiyama Onsen Hotel

View from shrine - spring

View from the Makomanai Shrine gate – spring. The round building is the bathhouse of the Kitahiyama Onsen Hotel.

Flowers near the town office

Flowers along a drainage ditch across the street from the town office building.

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this walk around central Kitahiyama.

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Written by hobara09

2011-10-15 at 11:55 am

Posted in Hokkaido, Setana-Cho