As the site of a fairly large-scale offshore CCS demonstration – one of the first of its kind in the world – Tomakomai is going to become an increasingly important place for international CCS researchers. Now that injection of CO2 has started, there is hopefully going to be interest in – and opportunity for – international collaboration around the Tomakomai site.
At the same time, though, English-language information on Tomakomai itself is a bit thin on the ground. Having spent three days in 2014 and then three weeks there in 2016 doing fieldwork, I thought it would be a good idea to compile a guide to the town itself. There are two reasons why I want to do this. The first is quite straightforward – to maximise the benefit to the CCS research community out of the funding I’ve received to visit Tomakomai (first from the Japan Foundation and then from the UK CCS Research Centre) by leaving information that will allow others to focus on the research job in hand when they arrive in town.
The second reason, if you will excuse me, is a little more profound. I believe it is really important to support the local economy when one goes to do research, especially for something like CO2 storage where it’s asking quite a lot of the community. So it would be great if, because of this, researchers visiting Tomakomai were able to go out and support some of the independent businesses in the community. It’s not going to give a multi-million pound boost to the economy, but it is a nice way of putting something back that all researchers, regardless of discipline, can get involved in.
Anyway, that’s enough of a preamble. Over to the info. Usual disclaimers about accuracy at time of writing, all opinions being my own etc etc.
I will keep adding to this over time!
How to get there?
You will most likely arrive by aeroplane at New Chitose Airport, about 30km north of Tomakomai. There is no direct train from the airport to Tomakomai, so you will need to change at the next station – Minami-Chitose. Most trains leaving the airport stop at Minami-Chitose and are fairly regular, but trains to Tomakomai may be far less frequent so it is a good idea to check times in advance. You can do this online at http://world.jorudan.co.jp/mln/
There are ‘Local’ and ‘Express’ trains. As the name implies, Express trains are faster but require an extra Express Ticket (tokkyu kippu). It takes about 20 minutes by Local train and 18 minutes by Express, but the Local costs 540 Yen compared to the 1680 Yen you pay to save a whopping two minutes by traveling Express. (Just as a side note, if you are venturing into Sapporo you might want to stomach the extra cost for the Express, as it is significantly faster once you clear Chitose, 45 minutes versus 1 hour 20 or thereabouts).
If you have been super eco-friendly and arrived by boat, you will come straight into Tomakomai – well done! (albeit that the port is about 5km and a taxi/bus ride from the city centre). If you are coming from central Japan by train, you’ll most likely come off the bullet train at Hakodate and then change to an Express which passes through Tomakomai.
How to travel within the town?
It’s important to note that Tomakomai is massive. 170,000 people live there, spread out across a huge area. The CCS plant is on the far side of the port, which means it is a 15km journey from the town centre if you are doing work at the plant itself. I am reliably informed that boats for marine monitoring and sampling tend to leave from the fishing port, which is a slightly more palatable 3km/half-hour walk from the town centre.
You may therefore wish to hire a car if you are going to be traveling a lot, or book a taxi (http://kankou-hire.com/) if it is a one-off excursion.
If the weather is nice and you don’t have to haul kit around, you can also rent a bicycle from the tourist information office next to the train station. The fee is 500 Yen for one day with a 1,000 Yen deposit, and they also do multi-day rentals. Cycling in Japan is much more relaxed than in the UK, but watch out for Tomakomai traffic which is a bit speedier than elsewhere in Japan… The wider pavements have designated cycle lanes, but outside of that cycling on footpaths is not frowned upon in the way it is in the UK (I still cannot get my head around that).
Where do I get good coffee?
This is the most important issue academics face when they travel.
Best coffee in town is undoubtedly O-Uchi Coffee, a little bit to the east of the town centre. Flat whites are exceptional, as are the straight coffees (on some days there is a tasting menu of three coffees for 1,000 Yen). The building itself is unmissable, being bright yellow. They open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11am-5pm. The owner also speaks excellent English.
Terrific for coffee, cakes and food is T-Terrace Tsuki. Décor is a mixture of western and traditional Japanese, with a really chilled atmosphere. It is a bit out of the way, off to the west behind the paper factory, but is a great place to go if you need somewhere to work on a paper for a few hours. They open Tuesday and Wednesday 11am-6pm, Thursday/Friday/Saturday 11am-8pm, and Sunday 11am-5pm.
My Roast Coffee Shop/Coffee House Hayashi does exceedingly high-quality black coffee with a huge variety of beans, if that’s your thing. Open 11am-8pm Tuesday-Sunday.
Where can I go to eat?
Tomakomai has a good number of restaurants. The main restaurant area is Nishikimachi/Omachi, about 10 minutes’ walk south-west of the station. There you will find all manner of stuff.
What follows, therefore, are just a few places I ate at across town which may be worth a visit. There are many, many more.
Rich and Famous – a bar that does really good burgers and fries. If you are having beer with your meal, ask for the Kirin Heartland as this is a higher-quality Japanese beer. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/42°38’09.5″N+141°35’53.1″E
Tonchan – a small restaurant that forms the front part of a house! It’s run by a family whose son plays for the Japan national ice hockey team, and a wide range of Japanese and Western home cooking is on offer. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Japan,+〒053-0023+Hokkaidō,+Tomakomai-shi,+Nishikimachi,+1+Chome−5−16+とんちゃん家email@example.com,141.5987402,19z
Marutoma – this is the restaurant right next to the fishing port, where food is made with surf clams and other seafood that have come straight off the boat. It opens at 6am and closes at 3pm, and gets VERY busy – definitely worth the wait if you have time (queuing can take 30 mins-1 hour) but bring something to read. Once you are inside, have the hokki curry – either an individual portion or the massive plate which is designed for three people. The own-brand Guarana Cola is also good. If you don’t have time to wait, just across the road there is a good range of seafood restaurants in a small arcade. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/マルトマ食堂firstname.lastname@example.org,141.6116208,15.71z
Café Hanzu – this place does both coffee and meals, is open from late morning until late evening, and has the added advantage of having free WiFi if, like me, you are one of the few remaining trolls who doesn’t have an overseas data allowance. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/カフェはんずemail@example.com,141.6097429,18.21z
Nonbiri Pizza/Coffee – again a bit out of the way, along the coast to the west, but a black wooden building by the seaside which does amazing pizza and coffee – the Master trained in Italy! https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/ｎｏｎびりーのfirstname.lastname@example.org,141.590365,17.46z
Where to stay?
Tomakomai is a bit like Aberdeen was 2-3 years ago, in that when there is work going on at the Idemitsu refinery next to the CCS plant, it is very hard to get a room in town.
If your budget is reasonable, the Dormy Inn is recommended – five minutes from the station, with a good breakfast, a great outdoor hot spring/sauna on the top floor, and, inexplicably, free noodles for guests from 9pm.
If you are on a tighter budget, the Business Hotel Motonakano is also fairly central with friendly service (but certainly not luxury!), and there are a number of ryokan around town.
What to do if you have time off?
Tomakomai is not like the Japan you might read about on the BBC. There are no cat cafes (to the best of my knowledge. But as an example of ‘ordinary’ Japanese life, it is all the more authentic for it. In other words, bring a few papers to work on as there will be few distractions.
Having said that, there are a few things you can do:
-the tourist information centre is right next to the station. They can provide you with English-language advice, maps, information and rental bicycles. There one can also find a wide and sometimes rather bizarre range of souvenirs;
-Midorigaoka Park is a lovely big expanse of green about 30 minutes’ walk northeast of the train station, complete with a sightseeing tower at the top of the hill;
-the Culture Park (sponsored by Idemitsu) is a pleasant place to visit, especially in early May when the cherry blossom comes into flower. The City Library contained within the park has free WiFi – and a fascinating section on the history of industrial development in Tomakomai if you can read Japanese;
-in autumn and winter, there is ice hockey as Tomakomai is home to the Oji Paper Eagles, the top ice hockey team in Asia. Their home is the Hakucho Arena, 10 minutes or so by foot from the town centre. The season runs from late August to early March http://www.ojiholdings.co.jp/hockey/index.html (Google Translate may be required);
-the top floor of the city hall building has a good view over Tomakomai and surrounding area, including out to the CCS plant and storage site. While you are there also have a look at the real-time information on injection rates at the display on the ground floor by the entrance;
-strange as it sounds, the various pieces of industrial infrastructure around Tomakomai make interesting viewing and good photography at night when they are illuminated. If you have access to a car to get there, the CCS plant is especially impressive when it’s lit up;
-there is also the option of going into Sapporo by train – however as the purpose of this post is to highlight what is in Tomakomai, I will let you figure out Sapporo for yourself. Suffice to say it is a very big Japanese city, with trains once every half hour or so from Tomakomai, with lots of things to do. Just be careful not to miss the last train back to Tomakomai at night!
What to buy as souvenirs?
Again, I would encourage you to put money into the local economy by buying things from local shops if you at all can. Here are a few suggestions:
-sweets/tea made with haskap berries. The haskap is similar to the blueberry, and is famous in Tomakomai. Mitsuboshiya is a local business specialising in their sweets – they have a branch right next to the station, and another close to the city hall by Route 36. Haskap Service also produces good stuff if you can find their shop, located as it is in a warehouse behind a tiny door with limited signage – http://haskap.jp/;
-Oji Eagles merchandise – even when it’s not game day, the ice arena sells a small selection of ice hockey goods (t-shirts, jerseys etc);
-anything with Tomachop on it. Tomachop is the unique, bizarre and quite frankly terrifying mascot of Tomakomai City. Her/his name is an amalgamation of many different Japanese words, and she/he is a swan-like creature with a face below its beak (everyone in Tomakomai, however, seems quite okay with this). The tourist information centre by the station sells a good number of Tomachop-branded goods, some of which you may even use in daily life back home!