Last day in Kisarazu

29 03 2010

Our apartment inspection went quickly with no troubles apart from being told that some items we had put in non-burnable rubbish were actually burnable. Eww too much rubbish incineration.

During the inspection it started to snow.

After dramas at the post office trying to post our stuff home (they wouldn’t accept our suitcases so we had to pack stuff in boxes to send home. Now we’re stuck with suitcases while ‘backpacking’ shoganai), we caught the express bus to Tokyo and met Emma for dinner at the vegan pub, Non. It will close for good soon, so we went one last time. And that was our final meal in Tokyo (this time, anyway!)

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 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, withย  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!

Nagano-ken Snow Monkeys

6 01 2010

After the first day of skiing we went to a local onsen to soothe our muscles. But after 2 days of beginners skiing it was time for a break from sore knees, shoulders, ankles, cold toes and fingers. We caught a couple of local buses from Hakuba to Nagano and beyond to the Jigokudani Monkey Onsen Park.

“Wild” Japanese monkeys live in the park and when it is cold they like to hang out in the hot spring onsen. It was a 30 minute walk up the mountain along slippery ice/snow paths before we could reach the monkeys in their natural surroundings. There were two film crews filming the monkeys and one of the teams interviewed Benno in Japanese about where he was from and his experience of visiting the monkeys… maybe he will be on Japanese TV?!

The monkeys were really cute and quite tame (they didn’t mind cameras pointing in their faces). Although some of them had their grumpy faces on display the day we visited…

There is a “Monkey WebCam” set up outside the onsen that takes photos every hour and posts them online. We got caught being uninteresting at midday. You can see the monkeys too.

When we came back to the hostel the snow had piled up and in some places we had to walk through almost knee-high powder snow. So soft, but so cold and wet.

Skiing in Hakuba

6 01 2010

As the train ride went higher north and into the Japanese Alps we started seeing snow covering the houses and rice fields. By the time we reached Hakuba it was heavily snowing, everything covered in a couple metres of snow and several degrees below zero.

It was totally magical to see snow (and in such huge quantities) for the first time. Looking out the window of the hostel we could watch the snow falling and building up on the rooves and gardens outside.

We booked a group ski lesson with Evergreen for our first morning skiing, but we were the only 2 in the group so it was like a private lesson. Richard took us up to Hakuba 47, to a beginners slope that was at the top of the mountain. It was snowing all day and so the powder was soft to fall on when it was too hard to turn or stop on the slope… ๐Ÿ™‚ Then he took us down to Hakuba Goryu and we went down the beginners slope outside the Escal Plaza. Snowboarders came roaring down from the black double diamond that joined up with the beginners slope, but we kept on zig zagging slowly skiing down the hill… We didn’t fall over too many times, but the next day we limited ourselves to the same beginner’s slope in Goryu, and another (rather deserted) slope in Iimori that was flanked on both sides by tall, snow covered pine trees.

Evergreen were really good instructors and one of the only English ski instructors in Hakuba. K’s House Hakuba Alps is also highly recommended. Go say hello to Toshi and friends! We stayed at K’s house in Hiroshima as well and really love the clean rooms, great prices, new bathrooms, fully equiped kitchen, free internet and super friendly staff and guests. We could not love and recommend K’s enough!! Go stay there if you’re planning on going skiing in the Hakuba area – there are heaps of other Aussies and Kiwis that stay there so the atmosphere is really cosy and welcoming.