I learned an interesting fact the other day: in japan, when the bride moves in with the groom, if street is really small and it meets another car coming from the other direction, backing up would mean the marriage will break up, so they actually pay the other car to back up instead. Ha!
I’ve just had a lovely trip to Hokkaido.
For those who don’t know much about the layout of Japan, Hokkaido is the second biggest island in the chain of islands, and is all the way up north. For this reason, it has a lot of ties with Russia, and apparently the further north you go, the more signs are written in cyrillic and not english.
It was only conquered and added to Japan during the Meiji restoration period, in the 1860s. Most impressive to me was that Japan intended to develop Hokkaido and to do so looked to the west – they hired William S Clark from the Massachusetts Agricultural College to set up the Sapporo Agricultural College. After him there were many English-speaking teachers, most from the same school, and they taught mainly in English. This was why the graduates spoke beautiful English – of which one of the first was Nitobe Inazo, a economist, diplomat and author, most well-known for his work Bushido about samurai and Japanese culture, originally written in English. Also, as a secondary result, Christianity is more widespread than elsewhere in Japan. Sapporo Agricultural College went on to become Hokkaido University. In 2010 Akira Suzuki, from Hokkaido Univerity, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on a reaction called the Suzuki reaction (named wonderfully after himself) used to synthesize styrenes and biphenyls.
Enough of the history lecture, safe to say Sapporo is a very young but vibrant and growing city. It has a very calm, peaceful atmosphere, and is enveloped in ethereal beauty – as if it knows that although there’s not much to see in terms of touristy sites, the nature that surrounds is speaks for itself. The food journey that it offers is enough to make many people pig out on their short visits.
I went there with my friend Nat, an English guy who used to work for the same company as me. The main reason for our visit was the snow festival – a festival that was started by a couple of high school students in 1950 who built a few snow statues. 5 years later, the army joined in and started making huge statues, which has now developed into the snow festival we see today. One part is located along a wide avenue and has many statues, big and small, and even a competition between countries. There were some amazing entries – see photos.
There’s also some ice statues, again beautiful, though they looked more like advertising boards and most seemed to be sponored by a big company and the name was put in there somewhere.
We spent most of our first day walking around the snow festival, taking photos, and then we also went to the Hokkaido shrine, very quietly located in a park. We had a lot of luck with the weather this day, because it snowed quite heavily the next two. We had a gyoza curry and went out to seek miso-flavoured ramen (sapporo speciality – ramen is very popular all over japan, a chinese noodle soup dish). On thursday we intended to see a famous clocktower, and instead ended up at a chocolate factory (which had a clocktower, though not the one we wanted). This factory produces shiroi koibito (white lover), which is a white langue-de-chat cookie famous all over Japan. Pleased with the find we indulged in a tour followed by some cheesecake and hot chocolate. We went on to Otaru, a small town just outside Sapporo, which turned out to be quite disappointing, even if it hadn’t snowed all day. At night the canal was lit up by candles placed in snow sculptures, which was really pretty to see, so we weren’t disappointed about going out there.
Back in Sapporo we went up the TV tower to get a beautiful view of the illuminated snow festival (the layout of sapporo is actually very similar to Nagoya – apparently post-war they just recycled one design), and ate lamb bbq, very aptly names jingus kan. It was delicious, though i wasn’t feeling too great.
On Friday we met up with one of my private lesson students who was also there with her husband, and we went to eat soup curry. We had a walk around Sapporo to visit the last of the sights, as well as the university, and we were finished sooner than anticipated so we went shopping to kill the last of our time before heading back to the airport.
Nat and I both felt that Sapporo is a really nice place, and I’d love to go back in the summer if i were still around. I would recommend it to anyone, hands down.
Back in Nagoya, back to work.
Today, near Nagoya, they’re holding the ‘naked man’ festival (hadaka matsuri) – a festival where men wear only loincloths and try to touch the ‘shin-otoko’, the completely naked man, and by doing so they will get rid of the misfortune in the new year.
Was going to go see it, but I was called in to work, sadly enough.