Angel of the Boat Rental
It was a long weekend in May and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Goryōkaku Park. Arriving at Ninohashi, the “Second Bridge” that leads into the park proper, I found myself drawn toward a small boathouse nearby. Painted on the boathouse’s door was a large pair of white wings. Couples and children were lined up to pose between the wings for photographs, the occasional person leaping into the air for an action shot. One by one, the visitors to the park transformed into beaming, winged angels.
The artist behind the wings was none other than the owner of the boat rental service, Noda Yumiko. Inspired by participatory artworks she encountered in Los Angeles, she took up a bucket of white paint and executed the wings in a single painting session.
Yumiko is the fourth generation of her family to run the boat rental service. Her great-grandfather founded the business during the Taishō era (1912–26), and it has remained in operation since, weathering even the storms of wartime. In two more years, it will celebrate its centennial. All kinds of people sit down at the oars: children on school trips, couples, grandfathers. I well recall the blisters I got rowing one of these boats myself long ago.
When the moat freezes over, the boat rental business naturally goes on hiatus, and Yumiko spends this time with her Finnish partner, a former boat rental customer. The two of them divide their time evenly between Goryōkaku and Finland. No doubt an angel with spreading wings was behind the first happy encounter that brought them together.
Noda Rental Boat Shop
Getting there: 10 minutes on foot from the Goryōkaku-Kōen-Mae stop on the Hakodate City Tram.
(Originally published in Japanese.)