At last I made it to Sapporo where the whole purpose of my trip, the 雪祭り(Snow Festival) was in full swing.
When I arrived around 1pm I walked to the clock tower (apparently famous but quite boring), then headed for Hokkaido University where the gardens are lovely and snow covered and there is a museum about the University’s history and its fields of study. I think it was quite interesting but it was 97% in Japanese so I’m not sure.
A girl from Takamatsu, Charli, was in town too, so we met up and walked to Sapporo Tower, paid a sum of money, and made it up the tower in time to watch the sun set. It was really beautiful, especially as the festival was beginning its light ups for the night.
Then I headed back to the station to meet my host, Hiro. We went back to his place so I could dump my bags, then he took me to his favourite ramen place. The owner was shutting up for the night, but offered to stay open long enough to serve us huge bowls of delicious Hokkaido ramen. Win.
The next morning, one of the other guests, Ben from Switzerland, and I were picked up by Hiro’s friend Satoko who had offered to set us up with a woman she knows who teaches calligraphy, kimono-dressing and tea ceremony.
First we went to a large fish market, where we walked through the stalls, marvelling at the obscure produce for sale, and the fish frozen decoratively into large ice blocks.
For lunch we had the most amazing seafood I’ve ever tried. Ten different kinds of sashimi and roe on sushi rice, accompanied by green tea, was only improved by being able to sit at the counter and watch as the chefs expertly sliced, diced and arranged various kinds of fish and seafood.
I have heard Hokkaido seafood is the best in the world and I must say I’m inclined to agree.
Then it was off to class, and we stayed for three or four hours, learning how to splash ink authoritatively, dressing in kimono, and performing tea ceremony, under the watchful eye of Sagata sensei, a small, efficient woman in traditional dress.
I discovered that I really love doing calligraphy (or shoudo) and I really don’t like koicha (thick, dark matcha drunk in traditional tea ceremony).
When we had been sufficiently educated in traditional Japanese arts, Satoko, Ben and I stopped briefly at Satoko’s house to take her dogs for a quick walk before heading for the main festival venue in Odori Park
We drank hot wine to stave off the -9 degree cold, and admired the amazing sculptures which stretched along four or five blocks. There was a Taj Mahal, a two storey anime relief, many dragons, a moose in a box, and even a representation of Waitomo Caves from the New Zealand team!
There were hundreds of people, and colourful lights and amusing J-pop performances and stalls with food and wine and beer and souvenirs and it was a wonderful place to be on a Friday evening.
Hiro met us after work, around 8 (by which time there was concern that we were going to lose extremities) and we desperately tried to find somewhere to have dinner. The downside of a city buzzing with festival fever is the lack of empty seats in restaurants.
By the time we eventually found delicious curry soup in a bizarre 1970s themed restaurant, we were all exhausted, so we headed back to Hiro’s.
Instead of heading for bed immediately, though, we somehow ended up in an hour long kanji lesson, all three of us standing around a couple of whiteboards armed with whiteboard markers discussing obscure kanji and primitives and amusing compounds.
My brain just about exploded.
The following morning, my last day in Sapporo, I walked to Asabu to meet Charli and had coffee in the most bizarre and amazing cafe ever. It was like a junk shop had a love affair with Christmas and produced this little gem.
Charli and I headed for the Tsudome venue where there were many food stalls, a few ice slides (that I would have gone down if it hadn’t been too cold to wait in line) and some more sculptures.
When we were done freezing and laughing at people trying to ski on strips of bamboo, we headed back to the city centre to find the Ainu Museum.
We hunted and hunted and eventually asked for directions in a civic services type building, only to be told that it was closed today.
I was very disappointed as I had been looking forward to it, but in true Japanese spirit, the man who ran the museum opened it for us.
I’m not kidding. He overheard us asking, and just ushered us up to the 7th floor where the museum was (it’s only little), unlocked it, turned the lights on, showed us how to play the movies and left us to it.
We looked at the exhibits then watched a really interested video about the history of the Ainu people and their current situation.
When we were done, we headed back downstairs and thanked the man profusely, before wandering back to the station for a softcone.
I know it was -9, but Hokkaido’s softcone is famous, and I can now attest to the deliciousness.
Charli had to go and meet someone, so I walked to Susukino to see the third and final festival venue. This one was smaller, only a few blocks of sculptures, but it also incorporated an ice bar which would have been tempting except for the large amount of ice involved.
That night, Hiro, Satoko, Ben, some girls he had gone skiing with, and I had the most delicious nabe party. I love nabe parties, because the food is delicious and it’s a good chance to talk (English and Japanese) and laugh and have a long relaxed meal.
When we had eaten as much delicious nabe as we possibly could, we headed for a nearby karaoke place, stopping to snowfight on the way.
We did three hours of nomihodai karaoke, rocking out in English, Japanese and even German before calling it a night, and snowfighting all the way back to Hiro’s.
This morning, Hiro dropped me at the bus station and I said a sad goodbye to Sapporo. Luckily I ran into Naomi, Liz, and some other Tokushima JETs at the airport, so we travelled back to Osaka together.
I had a magical trip in Hokkaido, and I can finally say this now that I’m sitting safely in my bedroom: NOTHING WENT WRONG.
I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t end up in any police cars, I didn’t meet any creepers, my phone functioned the whole time, I didn’t miss any buses, trains or planes and I didn’t mess up any bookings.
Snowventure 2012; success.