Memories of Hakodate: Goryōkaku Park
I remember as a child how my mother always scolded me when I was late for dinner. One day while playing at Hakodate’s Goryōkaku Park, I noticed the light was beginning to fail and called out to a dark form sitting on a nearby bench. “Hey, Mister,” I implored. “What time is it? C’mon, I need to know!”
Getting no answer, I came around to face the man. And then . . . For the first time in my life I saw it. The man on the bench was in fact a couple locked in a kiss. The pair were pretty serious about it, too, in retrospect.
When I was in elementary school, Goryōkaku Park was a place my friends and I went to play, staying until evening fell. Even now, when I cross the bridge at the main gates, I remember diving from that spot into the moat in summer. Back then doggy paddle or breaststroke was the best I could do; even today, I’m still not much good at the crawl. But I did not let that bother me—when it was hot, the moat at Goryōkaku Park was the place to be.
In winter, the ice on the moat was so thick that a skate rink was set up. Perhaps the colder months were even colder then. Our skates and winter clothes were meager, but we did not mind. Shivering in the cold, hands and feet painful and itchy from chilblains, we skated like our lives depended on it.
We were not supposed to skate outside the rink, due to fears that the ice would crack. But nothing makes children more determined to do something making it off limits. We would venture all the way around the moat, breaking out in a nervous sweat as we skated across literal thin ice. Together, we felt invincible, adventurous, unstoppable. Looking back now, I shake my head at our utter disregard for the concern our parents and teachers showed for us. In any case, neither swimming nor skating are allowed on the moat today.
Mori Ōgai wrote a novella called Vita Sexualis, a kind of sexual autobiography of his life from age 6 to 25. Considered immoral, it was censored after its release.
To an elementary school student whose heart would race when he saw stars embracing on posters outside movie theaters, seeing that kiss in the park was earth-shaking. I still remember the sleepless night I spent afterward.
Goryōkaku Park is not just a memory for me. It is also a page from my own vita sexualis.
Getting there: 10 minutes on foot from Gorōkaku-Kōen-Mae station on the Hakodate City tram
(Originally published in Japanese.)