Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Flew to Hokkaido to Play in the Snow

Last Thursday I went to Hokkaido to attend the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) in Sapporo. I went with a large group of ALTs from Shizuoka Prefecture and some surrounding areas. I didn't know most of the people in the group, but it was nice to not have to plan out the trip myself.

The flight between Haneda Airport (Tokyo) and Chitose Aiport (Hokkaido) is only a little over an hour and a half, but the journey there was much longer.

I left Toi a little after 7:00 on Wednesday evening. That part felt really weird because I realized it was the first time I had left Toi at night. I've left in the evening before, but it hadn't been dark yet.

Once I arrived in Mishima, I met up with some other ALTs who were going on the trip. We went to a couple of ALT's apartment and slept there. Well, I got a couple hours of sleep. We had to get on the bus at 3:30 AM! I was really out of it as we walked towards the station and got on the bus. The bus then took us to Haneda airport. I sorta slept. Well, maybe. I'm not really sure. But eventually we arrived at Haneda.

Going through airport security was so strange. I never had my ID checked at any point. I didn't have to take off my shoes. I didn't even have to take off my winter coat. I had an open bottle of water and I was allowed to take it onto the plane! They had a separate bottle scanner, but I was still surprised. Security is soooooo much more relaxed here! I especially can't believe they never checked our IDs!

I didn't have a window seat, but as we got to Hokkaido I had some glimpses out the window. Everything was covered in snow! It was so different from Toi, which had reached 14 degrees (57 F) the previous week. It felt like I was going to another country. It kind of reminded of going to Hawaii. Hawaii is part of the US but it was so different from what I was used to that it felt like another country. Hokkaido sort of had that same feel... well, except a lot colder. :P

As we got off the plane, we saw a Pokemon plane! I was jealous! Why didn't we get such an awesome plane?!??!?


After we got our luggage, we boarded a train headed for Sapporo. It took a little under an hour to reach Nakajima Koen station where our hotel was, but it was really interesting to see the scenery.


After getting a quick lunch, I headed out with some other people to the Ishiya Chocolate Factory. It's also a museum. Here's the outside:


Here's the inside:


The museum was really random. Most of the stuff had absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. It was like someone just had a bunch of random stuff and decided to make a museum. There were a lot of toys, a bunch of gramophones, music memorabilia, and more.


The signs in the museum had a random cat theme. It was cute though!


There's the factory!


The factory didn't actually make chocolate (well, maybe it's in a part we couldn't see). They were assembling the cookies (two cookies with chocolate in between them) that they are famous for. I picked some up in the gift store to give to the teachers at school.

Overall, the factory was fun, but it was much different than I expected because very little of it was related to chocolate. Also, we only got one cookie at the beginning and didn't get to sample as much chocolate as you should be able to in a chocolate factory. Oh, and they don't have Oompa Loompas.

I can't really say I was disappointed though because I did have fun. But if you're only in Sapporo for a short while it's probably not worth visiting.

When we left, it was snowing!


On our way out we came across a couple inner tubes on a small hill. It was probably the best part of the factory! :)


By the time we left, we were able to check into the hotel. I was pretty surprised when I entered the room. It was huge! Well, at least compared to the cheap hotels in Tokyo I'm used to staying in. I've gotten pretty used to tiny little capsules. Just the bed alone is bigger than a capsule, lol.



The people I had gone to the factory with were taking naps, but I generally hate naps so I headed out to Odori by myself. Odori is a park in the city and is also where the main part of the festival takes place! As I exited the station, I saw a huge Lion King sculpture!


My friend Jenny had arrived in Sapporo separately, so I contacted her. While waiting to meet up, I wandered around and looked at the sculptures. They were super impressive! They have so much detail! I don't understand how they are made!



Do you see the poles in the picture above? You can see one clearly on the right side of the building. How does it stay up?


Some areas of the park were filled with sculptures made by local people and groups (I think). Darth Vader is one of those.



The next couple pictures are from the international snow sculpture competition. The first one is from Sweden and the other one is from Hawaii.



I wonder if the group that made this one usually makes sand sculptures since they are from Hawaii.

I got a little hungry so I stopped for a snack. I got nikuman, which is a pork bun. It was really warm and yummy! :)


After I finished eating, I met up with Jenny. By that time it was starting to get dark and the sculptures were illuminated. This ice sculpture looked especially nice at night! There was a concert on the stage in front of it.



As we walked around it started snowing again. It was really cool to see it snow so hard. I was glad that it was snowing, but it was kind of hard to get photos because my lens kept getting wet.


The snow really piled up on the hood of my coat!


We both got crab rice soup from one of the food stands. It was really good!


I think it was the first time I've eaten outside in the snow!


Despite the snow, the concerts still went on. You can see the snow piled up on this guy's guitar! I really love how this picture turned out. The timing was perfect!


This next sculpture was one of the most impressive. I never got a really good picture of it though because my lens had too much snow on it and wouldn't dry. I wish I had a close-up picture of the eagle because the eyes were made of ice so they really stood out!


So far I hadn't thought it was very cold in Sapporo. The temperature ranged from -9 to 0 that day (16 to 32 degrees). But we both started getting pretty cold then (my toes were numb) so we headed into a nearby underground shopping mall. We had dinner at a waffle place. I had the special winter waffles. It was waffles with sweet potatoes, apples, nuts, and corn flakes. It was sooooo good!


That picture looks heavenly because the melting snow fogged up my camera lens.

After finishing dinner we headed for Susukino. Susukino is the main nightlife district of Sapporo. It's also where the ice sculptures were. 

We randomly ran into some other people we knew in a tent. Inside the tent they sold hot drinks and had live music. The first musicians we saw were pretty typical. People singing with guitars. Then the next people got up and said they were going to sing opera. We thought maybe they were joking. No... they were not...


It was so random! :)





Here's a picture of the main crossing in Susukino:


We ended up going to a place called ES Flair Bar, which Jenny had been to the night before. It was so much fun! They have games, such as Jenga, at all the tables. They even have a Nintendo. Yeah... the old Nintendo! At certain times the bartenders put on a show and juggle and do tricks. I don't have pictures, but I do have video. I'll post a link at the end.

ES Flair Bar has a really fun atmosphere. So even if you don't drink, I would definitely recommend it. Plus, their fish and chips are delicious! It's by the main crossing, on the corner with the McDonald's.

The next morning I headed to Nakajima Park, which was across from the station near our hotel. I'm really glad our hotel was there, because otherwise I never would have known about this park.

It's not part of the official snow festival, but a lot of local people make stuff there. There were a couple families working on sculptures.


The park was so beautiful!


The pond was frozen and covered in snow. :)



I met up with Jenny again. While she was waiting for me, some women invited her to make a snow candle holder. When I arrived, they let me make one too. I had just lost my gloves (they fell out of my pocket I think), but they let me borrow a pair.



Wow... I failed... how did that happen???


We then took a trolley back to Susukino. Yes, a trolley! I didn't know Sapporo had trolleys. I wouldn't have known if Jenny hadn't told me about it.


The inside looked just a like a subway car. It was my first time on a trolley so it was exciting!


We walked around Susukino for a while, I bought some new gloves at a konbini, and then we walked down a shopping street. I was amused by a store called Real Monkey, which was a used American clothing store. The pair of pants they had hanging up was HUGE.



We headed towards an old famous clock tower and passed through Odori Park (the picture above is of the TV tower at one end of the park).


We weren't sure why the clock tower was famous. A nearby sign said something about it being loved by the people of Sapporo for a long time. It sounded like it was just famous for being famous.

However, when we went into the museum inside, we learned a lot more about the history of the tower. I generally don't like history or museums, but I really enjoyed this. It had a lot of old pictures. I think the history of Sapporo is really neat because in 1857, there were only seven people living there. Now it is Japan's 5th largest city! One of the pictures said that in the late 1800s the population was about 3,000 people. Toi is now 5,000 people. I'm not sure what the population of Toi was back when the gold mine was operating, but maybe back then Toi was larger than Sapporo! It definitely was in 1857.

Here's a picture of Odori Park a long time ago (I don't know the year because it was in Japanese years which I don't know very well).


The clock tower was built in 1878 as part of the Sapporo Agricultural College. It was interesting reading about the college because they had many foreign professors. I can't imagine teaching in Japan back then. I get surprised looks sometimes now. I wonder how people would have reacted to foreigners back then!

In the gift shop I bought some really really really adorable socks. They had the clock tower (with a face!) on them!

After the museum we found a ramen place for lunch. Hokkaido is famous for ramen, especially miso ramen. Miso ramen is my favorite, so of course I had to eat it in Hokkaido!



I've never finished a bowl of ramen. I usually leave quite a bit of broth. This time I ate it all! This a comparison of Jenny's bowl and mine. It was oishii!!!!!! (delicious!!!!)

There are three areas where the snow festival takes place. Odori is the main site, Susukino is where the ice sculptures are, and Tsudome is more of a children's area. I hadn't been to Tsudome yet, but Jenny had, so we split up and I went to Tsudome.  But, first on the way to the station I passed through Odori and stopped for a while to watch some snowboarders.


Tsudome had a lot of stuff for kids. There were snow slides (though anyone could go on one of them), areas to build snowmen, and other activities. I wanted to go on the snow slide, but I wasn't really willing to wait for an hour in line.

I didn't spend a whole lot of time at Tsudome. It's really cute to see, but there wasn't much for me to do there. I'm glad I saw it though!




When I got back to Odori, I went up in the TV tower at the end of the park. The city of Sapporo looked more impressive than I thought it would. It's no Tokyo, but it's still nice! :)


Here's Odori Park from above:



The line had taken a long time to get to the top. I had enough time at the top, but I felt a bit rushed when leaving. I took the elevator down, but I also could have taken stairs to enjoy the view more. But oh well, at least I got to see the mascot when I exited the elevator! Haha.


The floor where the elevator stopped was a large gift shop. I really wanted to look around for a while, but I didn't have much time because I was going to dinner at 6:30. However I did quickly grab a few souvenirs including melon Kit Kats (a regional exclusive flavor) and a cute magnet with a fox on it.

I then met back up with Jenny and we made our way to the Sapporo Beer Garden where we were meeting the rest of the group.

On the way there, I saw a car maintenance place called jms! Those are my initials!


The Sapporo Beer building looked very nice with the snow and there were trees with lights. It looked Christmasy! Actually a lot of places looked Christmasy around Sapporo because there was snow and many trees with lights. It seemed more like Christmas than actual Christmas did.


Anyways, for dinner we had Genghis Khan, which is a famous dish in Hokkaido. There are grills on the tables and you cook your own meat (mutton) and vegetables (cabbage, bean sprouts, onion, and pumpkin). There is a sauce to dip the food in. It was really good! Warm meals were so nice in Hokkaido!




At home I never cook meat. I hate raw meat. I hate buying it. I hate seeing it. I hate touching it. But for some reason in Japanese restaurants it doesn't bother me. I love cooking on the grill!

It was all we could eat for 100 minutes, so I got pretty full!

Afterwards I went to karaoke with a bunch of people. I had fun, but I stayed out really late so I didn't have the chance to go back to Nakajima Park the next morning like I had originally planned. Also, the next morning when I was packing up my stuff I realized I had lost my bag of souvenirs! I knew I had either left it at the restaurant (I remember setting it down when I used the bathroom before leaving) or at the karaoke place. I'm sure I could have gone back to those places and gotten it back, but I didn't have time. Our plane was leaving at 11:25. I wasn't too sad about the Kit Kats, and I could live without the magnet, but I was very sad about the socks I had bought at the clock tower! :( Plus, it meant that I didn't have any souvenirs from Hokkaido. :( 

At the airport I was pretty rushed, but I managed to go into a store and buy some Hello Kitty socks and a cell phone charm. The socks are cute, but they were no replacement for the clock tower socks!


We were delayed a bit going back, but overall it was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Tokyo early that afternoon. I spent the rest of the weekend in Tokyo... yay! There will be a separate post about that. 

A few days later I got a package in the mail from Jenny. Look what it was!


Eeeeee!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so happy! Jenny stayed an extra day in Sapporo and went on a tour on Saturday. Her bus dropped her off right across the street from the clock tower so she got these!

Overall, I had a great time. I wish I had stayed another day though. I would have liked to spend some more time in Nakajima Park and see it at night when the candles are lit. I couldn't go on Friday night because I went out to dinner. I also would have liked to spend some more time souvenir shopping. I didn't really have much time to look for souvenirs so I just kind of grabbed the first things I saw. Two days was enough time to see the main sights of the snow festival, but three days would have been much better to not feel so rushed. 

Looking back at these pictures, the trip kind of seems longer ago than it really was. I think maybe it's because it's such a different place! Trees are already blossoming here in Toi and this evening I walked around in just a light jacket and was really comfortable!

Here's a video that shows all the main areas of the Snow Festival:


Here's an album with more pictures: Yuki Matsuri Pictures

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