Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010

Since we arrived in Japan we’ve had the opportunity to take day trips and see some of the easier sights to get to from Yokosuka but we hadn’t yet ventured beyond a several hour radius of home.

Last weekend we took advantage of a tour trip being offered and we all boarded a plane bound for the northern most island of Japan, Hokkaido – home to the Sapporo Snow Festival. As a family we have a number of trips around Japan that are on our wish list: Hiroshima, Kyoto, Okinawa and Sapporo. This was a trip we had all been looking forward to – while our friends and family back on the East Coast struggle against mother nature and record snow fall, we watch the evening news … somehow feeling like we’re being left out. “It’s not fair” has been declared more than a few times, as all three kids point out they’ve spent their entire lives up until 6 months ago in the current blizzard zone and they are missing out on the fun.

Well we made our own winter fun in Sapporo and we had no shortage of snow. Sapporo has several different venues – the Odari Park Snow sculptures, the Susukino ice festival and the Tudome site, with snow rides and slides. The tour started us off the right way with a stop at the Sapporo Beer Museum/Factory. We had lunch there and all the beer you could drink in 90 minutes. Normally, I am not much of a beer drinker – those days are long gone. But I will have to admit, I am enjoying Japanese Beer. I do not know how it is different from the American Brew but it tastes fabulous. Jeff and I sampled several different types – meanwhile all the kids cared about was the snow and snowballs. Our children apparently entertained a several Japanese as the snowballs flew. I got a couple of questions: “Twins?” “Yes” I would answer with a sigh, “14 and competitive” – they would just chuckle before moving on and I'm yelling out "Don't hit any Japanese!" After the adults were satisfied with beer and the kids with snow, the tour took us to our hotel and then pretty much cut us loose – warning us to make the most of the festival while we could because a snow storm was moving in the next day.

Odari Park
The main part of the snow festival runs the length of Odari Park, a short walk from our hotel. It was cold and snowing lightly but we decided to venture out and take a look until we couldn’t feel our digits. Superlatives (and photos) can hardly do these works of art justice – they are quite impressive. For the larger sculptures it can take up to a month to sculpt and hundreds of truck loads of snow.

The ice sculptures in the Susukino area were equally interesting – especially since a number of them were still being worked on – the buzz of the chainsaws and the ice shavings were flying. It was fascinating to watch.
Close to the ice sculpture venue was Ramen Noodle Alley that we had read about in one of our tour guidebooks. We had heard that Hokkaido is known for their Ramen Noodle bowls, this small alleyway is filled with little noodle shops. We were having a bit of a struggle to find a noodle shop that had 5 seats open for our family but one very insistent shop owner kept popping her head out of the door, loudly claiming “Number 1 Noodle.” My initial reaction was to move on – we were tired and hungry and I wanted some place charming – not a Japanese version of a NY City Diner. But after peering through a number of windows to other shops and realizing there were not enough seats for us all, Jeff and I just shrugged our shoulders, exchanged a look saying “what the hell” and stepped through the “diner” noodle shop. It was a form of entertainment we had not counted on. The female owner was loud and exuberant, she spoke enough English for us to make our selections. Her husband (I’m guessing) was the chef and as we sat at the counter we could see him working fast and furious on our orders. It was in fact quite delicious, and the perfect meal to warm us up after walking around in the snow.

It had been a long day, up at 4 a.m. to make our flight so we called it a day after filling ourselves with delicious ramen and headed back to our hotel. I'll post 2 more entries covering our next two days in Sapporo and the area. So far we were impressed and were already talking about coming back this summer for the fabulous national parks they have here.

Till next time, sayonara.

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