In Japan, having a dream is the thing to do. Back in Canada it was always “what do you want to be when you grow up?” or “what are your future goals?” But in Japan it’s “what’s your dream?” Luffy’s dream is to become the pirate king. Naruto’s dream is to become Hokage (apologies to the non-anime-literate). So I made my “Japan dream” to go to Hokkaido, land of Japanese winter paradise, and experience the annual Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) in Sapporo.
This February I finally embarked on my long-awaited Hokkaido adventure. After getting up absurdly early in the morning, Astroviper and I hopped onto a short flight from Nagoya to Sapporo. In Sapporo we met up with a group of other JETs from around Japan, as the trip was organized by HAJET, the Hokkaido Association of JETs. Let the awesomeness begin!
Sapporo’s Ramen Alley
After all the flying, waiting, train riding, and locker-hunting, our first stop in Sapporo was the famous Ramen Alley for some hard-earned lunch. Everywhere in Japan is famous for something, and Sapporo probably has more than one claim to fame, but one of those claims is its ramen, so we had to check it out.
Sapporo Snow Festival!
The moment you’ve all been waiting for! Or, at least the moment I’ve been waiting for since I set on Hokkaido as my Japan dream! There were snow and ice sculptures everywhere, some more epic than others. We wandered around a fair bit during the day, then came back again in the evening to see the sculptures all lit up. I took lots of pictures during the day, but everything looked significantly more awesome after dark.
We took a break from the snow festival to visit the Shiroi Koibito (White Lover?) chocolate factory, a few subway stops away from the festival. They’re known for their white chocolate cookies, of which we each got one to sample. The factory itself was a motley assortment of everything from chocolate cookie production lines, to classic children’s toys, to a gramophone exhibit. Kind of strange, but I suppose they had to make up for the lack of Oompa Loompas somehow.
Snowboarding at Niseko
On our second day we hit up Niseko to shred some pow. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this portion of the trip, as I was too focused on not getting blown off the mountain most of the time. It let up a bit in the afternoon, so we got at least a few enjoyable runs in, just a taste of how much fun it would be if the mountain wasn’t out to get us. What is it with my bad luck with mountains in Japan? (see my Fuji post for details on previous near-death mountain experiences). As the weather was forecast to get worse the next day, we decided to forgo a second day of riding and venture to the nearby seaside town of Otaru instead.
Wandering around Otaru
On our last full day in Hokkaido we headed to Otaru to explore the seafood market, the beer factory, the glass blowing, and whatever else we may encounter. We had an epic lunch of fresh seafood, untainted by anything resembling a cooking device, eyeballs included, and then wandered from place to place in the snow. The town was… quaint, and as we only had a few hours there, and we were with a rather large unwieldy group, I left feeling like I could have spent much longer exploring the place on my own terms. Maybe one day…
Last stop: the airport, of course! Sapporo airport was actually pretty sweet, one could spend hours there, just hanging out, eating and shopping, and it seems like a lot of people go there to do just that. As for me, I enjoyed the airport, but in a melancholy sort of way as it meant I soon had to leave my dreamland. In the end, Hokkaido left me with several impressions:
1. My life in Japan would be infinitely more awesome if I lived in Hokkaido.
2. I could have spent more time on pretty much every activity we did and I want to do all of them again (except, perhaps, eating dinner in the company of drunk, obnoxious, embarrassing fellow foreigners on our last night).
3. The rest of Japan needs to model itself after Hokkaido in terms of building design: central heating, insulation, and double-paned properly sealed windows, as a start. I could expand on this, but I won’t, because that’s getting into dangerous rant territory…
4. Everything is better when you’re wearing a Tigger hat.
Now that I’ve fulfilled my “Japan Dream,” I find myself a little lost in terms of what to do next. The thing I’ve looked forward to most since coming to Japan has come and gone, all too quickly. I suppose I could go to Hokkaido again, and I hope I can anyways, but “my dream is going to Hokkaido… again” sounds like an anime series trying to keep itself afloat after the main plot has already reached its climax (ahem Bleach). Oh well, I have until mid-April when a new crop of students starts asking me “what’s your dream?” to come up with something new. Now taking suggestions…