Tokyo Disney Land

25 02 2010

Today was a whole school excursion to Disney Land. All the kiddies packed onto buses for the 1 1/2 drive to DL. Once there, the kids scattered (wouldn’t want to be caught with their teachers – eww!) None of the other Inter teachers were interested in rides (or rollercoasters) so I went around with a Japanese teacher. Luckily he was a young English teacher so we were able to talk in a eigo/nihongo blend for most of the day.

Hopefully their identities have been obscured by the bows and glasses.

First up, a 2 hour queue for Space Mountain. The ride itself seemed so short after spending so long in line. But it was fun! After that we tried to ride on the other rollercoaster, Thunder Mountain, but it was temporarily closed due to technical difficulties. Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Carribean were already closed due to scheduled maintenance. So we went on the teacups at Alice’s Tea Party. We span really fast and it was so dizzzzzzy that I couldn’t see straight after the ride finished. We needed a sit down so had our bento. Then we went on a rather boring ride, It’s a small world after all. Australia was represented by 1 Kangaroo, 2 Platypuses and 3 Koalas. Time for some more fun and thrills. We went to Toon Town and lined up for 40 minutes for the Go-Coaster. We ran into several students also in line. Fun, but too short.

J1I on the Go-Coaster.

Then it was time to spend out Y1500 voucher. I bought a popcorn bucket as we always see girls with popcorn buckets on the train returning home from Disney Land. We decided to return to Thunder Mountain – it was running, but the parade was blocking the road and we had to wait for it to pass before we could cross. When we got to the other side there was a 140 minutes wait time for Thunder Mountain. Impossible! We only had 90 minutes until the bus left. So we went on the Tom Sawyer rafts across to an island and back, then found some foods, the other teachers, omiyage and took some photos of the students.

Popcorn - well, what else was I going to spend my voucher-money on?

I was surprised at how busy it was – the lines were quite long yet it was a normal weekday in winter. Do these people not go to school or work?

I’m so tired now. I’m disneyed-out.

Shinkansen -it’s the only way to go

18 02 2010

We got up early and signed out of the hotel, caught the subway to Sapporo station and got on the limited express to Hakodate. Three hours later, we transferred to another limited express train to Hachiohe, through the tunnel under the ocean connecting Hokkaido and Honshu. Then we caught the Shinkansen down the eastern side of Japan, through Sendai, back to Tokyo. Three hours of Shinkansen and we’ve travelled about 600km. Express bus and we’re home safe and sound. Time for some densha otaku photos.

Inside the Shinkansen.

Our Shinkansen.

Night time quake

17 02 2010

First quake that I remember while sleeping. It felt like the middle of the night, but the JMA website said it was at 5am. We both woke up when it started, and I felt the floor move and I think the windows rattled. It was only a magnitude 2. Earthquakes are the trade-off for hot onsens.

from JMA

Celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary in Sapporo

17 02 2010

Coming all the way to Hokkaido, Benno wanted to visit an Ainu culture museum. Ainu are the indigenous peoples of Japan, the last remnants live in Hokkaido. The Sapporo Ainu Culture Promotion Center, Pirka Kotan, was at the end of a subway line followed by a 40 minute bus journey. We got on a number 12 bus, which is what we thought was the right one according to sightseeing map. However, it took a different route. The bus driver stopped at the terminal and pointed us in the right direction of the main road to get the bus that goes to “Koganeyu onsen” bus stop. It was a little slippery walking on the ice, but we found the next bus stop and soon a bus came. We got to “Koganeyu” bus stop and asked the driver if it was the same as “Koganeyu onsen”. He said no, keep going. So we waited, then he stopped 3 stops later and said that if you want “Koganeyu onsen” stop, it was back there. We walked all the way back in the snow and ice (stupid bus driver) and finally found the Ainu museum. It took us about 2 hours to reach it.

The Ainu made interesting clothing. They made woven bark fabric for gloves, cloaks, headbands and bags. We went outside and saw some traditional buildings covered in snow. There was also a hut that they kept stolen bear cubs for fattening up then eating. It made Benno feel sad.

Afterwards we headed back on the bus and subway to Sapporo, then down to the end of another subway line and on another bus to lunch at Chi-e no ki, a vegan macrobiotic restaurant. It felt like a blizzard walking from the bus stop to the restaurant through all the snow. We had a lovely late lunch at around 3pm to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. We ate the curry set that came with tempeh (Benno is happy) and the fried rice set. Then we had the moist and rich carob cake for dessert and the waffle set with ginger herb tea. Unable to move but needing to get home, we waited in outside in the snow for the bus, throwing snowballs at each other and having snow fights.

We stopped off at the Jupiter International supermarket in Sapporo eki for some treats, then booked our limited express and shinkansen tickets for tomorrow’s ride home.

We ate out at Aoi Sora again for dinner. It was very enjoyable and the staff are lovely. While the menu is small, every item is delicious and beautifully presented. It was a fantastic wedding anniversary dinner. We had the fish burger (awesome, best ever) and the millet burger set with many salad options. For dessert (even though Lara was already full) Benno ordered (and ate almost entirely on his own) the hot apple pie, the parfait and genmai amezake. To top it off, we got given presents again- free rich chocolate balls that were so creamy and chocolatey. And, I think he gave us a big discount for coming again as we only paid Y4000 for all that.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Odori and saw the remains of the snow sculptures – a pile of snow blocks. It was almost -7 degrees and noticably chillier.

If you go to Sapporo, please eat at Aoi Sora! It’s so tasty and welcoming!

Day 3- Skiing at Teine

16 02 2010

Today was actually a national holiday, the 11th Feb is Japan National Day. So, the other restaurant that we wanted to visit was closed, as was the Ainu museum. Lara suggested visiting Otaru and the Sea of Japan but Benno wanted to go skiing instead. The closest site with lots of beginner runs was Teine. Benno must be getting better – he didn’t fall over once in 4 hours of skiing and tried out almost all of the green runs.

It was about -9 degrees with large visible snow flakes falling during the afternoon.

There were lots of families and children. Little kids are really cute when they ski. Not only are they really good and fearless, but when they are all rugged up in jackets so they can barely move they look like star fish going down the slope – arms out, legs out in plough, skiing down the hill.

Benno doing his skiing thing.

Day 2, -1.7 degrees in the daytime

15 02 2010

First thing we headed down to Odori Park for some ice skating. Ice skating is fun! Especially when it only costs 200 yen for skate hire. We got interviewed by two groups of school kids doing a kind of “city week” project. They had to talk to us in English and ask us questions like “where are you from” and “what are you doing today” and “do you like snow” and “can you speak japanese”, after which the questions were asked in Japanese, not English (lazy kids).

After skating we finished looking at the snow statues. The temperature outside the NHK building said -1.7 degrees. After that we headed off to lunch to Xi Fang. But before we got there two English vegetarian girls stopped us and said it wasn’t there. So we back-tracked and went to Lohas Raw Food cafe instead for a surprisingly tasty lunch. Afterwards we caught the subway to the Tsu-dome site that was meant to have lots of fun snow activities. However, when we got there, it turned out that most of the activities were only for children. We did get to go on the Tube Slide and see the Hydrogen-powered FCX car.

In the evening we walked from our hotel to the Susukino area where there were ice sculptures. We saw a man making ice scultpures using his chain saw, and went down an ice-slippery dip. Some of the statues were gross, like the frozen fish and crabs in ice blocks where their guts were leaking out into the ice. There was also lots of alcohol being advertised. It was about -4 degrees.

61st Sapporo Yuki Matsuri- Odori site

14 02 2010

Odori Park in the middle of Sapporo runs along about 12 blocks and was filled with snow statues.

We started at block 11 and looked at all the International Snow Sculptures. 15 teams from around the world competed in the 37th contest, including teams from very non-snow countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. NZ was represented, but no Australia.

Indonesia’s snow statue was a detailed Hanoman Duta.

Block 12 held small snow sculptures made by the citizens of Sapporo. Unfortunately they had lost some of their detail and melted in parts (they had been made a week earlier) but it was still fun to walk past all the cute statues, like mameshiba (edamame and other little beans) and rilakuma (relax bear). Also here was an International Food Stall area with America’s offering being spam burgers and a combined Greek-Mexican stall.

The first huge snow statue we saw was Chibimaruko-chan in block 11. Standing at about 15m high, the statue was of characters from the popular TV show about school children in class 4.

The next block contained a statue of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters Victory Parade. The Ham Fighters are Hokkaido’s baseball team that won the Pacific League last year. As the guide book said “It was very glad news for Hokkaido in which a too bright topic was not located. It is a top of Japan this year.”

Block 8 contained the Baekje Royal Palace of Korea large snow sculpture. The sculpture was of the centre palace (Junggungjeon) and measured 18m high, 25m wide and 330 m2 area inside. It took 4500 tons of snow from 750 6-ton dump trucks of snow, with  3,900 people working 29 days to make it.

Block 7 contained the Dresdner Frauenkirche from Dresden, Germany. It was built in 1722 and is considered a prime example of European baroque architecture. However, it was bombed during the war and only recently rebuilt in 2005. The snow statue was 26m high, 28m wide, involved 439 trucks of snow and 4730 sculptors.

Next up in block 5 was the Iolani Palace from Honolulu, Hawaii. It was an ice sculpture that was lit up at night time. When we went past there was a rock band playing in shorts and t-shirts even though the temperature was well below 0.

At the same time as the rock concert on the Iolani palace stage, there were young girls singing pop songs karaoke style on the “The Place Where Dreams Come True” stage – yes, a disney snow sculpture advertising disney sea and land.

There was an impressive large snow scuplture on block 4 of “The Zoo of the northland” with white bears, a snow leopard, penguins, orangutan, wolves and a Steller’s Sea Eagle.

Opposite the animals was a snowboard jump platform. Throughout the day they had competitions were boarders (and skiiers) jumped off the 24m jump and did tricks.

Down to block 2 where there was another large ice sculpture of winter sports – skiing, snowboarding, ski jumps and ice hockey. As the brochure says, “expressed movement that the throb feeling overflows in the background in which nature in Hokkaido was imaged with the relief of ice.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

During the day a girl played Michael Jackson songs on a synthesizer inside a polygonal glass bubble whilst wearing silver gogo boots in front of the statue.

Finally, in front of the Sapporo TV tower, was an ice skating rink. What fun!

Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

14 02 2010

We hopped off the train on Tuesday morning and headed for the tourist office in the station. After collecting some maps we helped test some translation software for the tourist office. We were asked in Japanese “What will you eat today?”, and Benno replied in English “vegan food”, which it heard as “big and third”. I guess they have a lot of testing yet to do.

We hopped on the subway and went straight to lunch at Aoi Sora Nagareru Kumo (blue sky, rolling clouds) a vegan organic restaurant. We ate delicious food and had a chat to the chef about how Benno learnt about the yuki matsuri in high school and “long time wait” to actually come and see the festival. We had fried imitation fish and chickpea curry for lunch, followed by chocolate cake and baked pumpkin pie.

After filling our bellies we walked down Odori Park where the snow sculptures were. There were so many we didn’t get to see all of them before we headed to our hotel for the night, which was cheaper than the Sapporo International Youth Hostel. The hotel would have been ever better value for non-vegans as it had FREE breakfast and dinner, plus free internet in each room. Yay!

The overnight train to Sapporo

13 02 2010

On the road again! This time we were headed to Sapporo, Hokkaido for the annual Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival). Sapporo is 1054km away from Tokyo (about twice the distance of Kyoto to Tokyo), so the local train was out of the question given than we only had 5 days of holidays. So we booked the express overnight train from Tokyo to Sapporo that takes 16 hours. There are two overnight trains, the luxury Cassiopeia (named after the constellation), and the Hokutosei (also named after a constellation, the big dipper). We booked into a duet berth on the Hokutosei, leaving Ueno around 7pm and getting into Sapporo at 11.15am the next day.

We ate soup from a thermos for dinner on the train and drank chai. We had special JR yukatas to wear in the cabin and to bed. The beds were quite comfortable, although it got hot in the cabin (surprisingly, since outside it was snowing). Overall, it was a fairly pleasant way to travel the long distance- not that much cheaper than a flight, although more convenient to arrive in the morning and be able to walk straight into town from the train station.