Monday, March 1, 2010

Hokkaido Historical Village and Lake Shikotsuko

Our last day in Sapporo was filled with what else, but more activities involving snow. The kids still not having reached their fill of snowballs, headed out with Jeff for an early morning round of Snowball Mania. Barely back in time to gather up the bags before the 11 o’clock checkout time, we stashed our gear with the rest of the tour group and headed back out in search of another adventure before our tours 3 pm hotel departure time.

Looks can be deceiving – Caution Map not to Scale
I have a couple of really good guidebooks to Japan and one of them recommended a visit to the Historical Village of Hokkaido. Jeff and I pulled out the brochure provided by the concierge and thought “well this looks easy – it’s right across from the train station.” Having had some previous experience with maps not to scale (see Mashiko to Nikko blog entry) we really should have known better.

Oh yeah … we blend.
With 4 out of the 5 Cleary family members taller than the average Japanese, most of us with blonde hair and blue eyes, it’s not exactly like we blend in here in Japan. There is no doubt that we are Gaijin, and some times this can be a good thing. Like for instance when you get off a train and you stand there looking at a map, trying to orient yourself and you realize you have no idea which way you are supposed to go …

I know you all have read this before, but it is worth repeating once again – the Japanese will go out of their way to be helpful. Above and beyond the duty helpful. It’s like they all take a course in “Helping Clueless Gaijin: 101.” So with the five Clearys standing around, the wind whipping outside the station blowing in yet more snow, we are approached by a Japanese gentleman who speaks English – he guides us to the underpass and we are on our way – or so it seemed. But not 10 yards out into the blustery weather we quickly realize that this museum is not “directly across from the station” as the map seemed to indicate. In fact it’s nowhere to be seen. A dad pulling his son on a sleigh was headed in our direction, so putting on my best voice I say “sumimasen” and point to the map. I have no idea what they must have thought of us, but looking back now the thought must have crossed their minds that we are some crazy foreigners. He pointed off in the direction of a tall tower – that certainly didn’t look like it was very close. Jeff and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and pressed on with the tower as our beacon … while the snow balls were whizzing by – thank goodness it appears that our kids are happy just to be in snow – it doesn’t matter that their parents are dragging them on a snow hike to a place they now question is worth the effort and have a useless map in hand to get them there.

We discover the major road, cross it and continue up a hill until we nearly reach the top and realize that, well, we really have no idea where we’re supposed to go. It’s still snowing, we can see the tower but from where we’re standing it’s not evident where the historical village is. Seeing two girls who look to be college aged, I yet again call out “sumimasen” and show them the map. There is much discussion flying back and forth and they point us off in a direction – as we start to trudge away in the snow yet another Japanese gentleman stops in his car and in impeccable English asks us if he can help, even apologizing profusely that he cannot fit all of us in his car and drive us there! Hello dear readers – please read that last sentence again and ask yourself when was the last time you stopped your car in the U.S. to ask complete strangers if they needed help and then even contemplated giving them a ride?! I love Japan! (Of course the crime rate in Japan is very low, and they do have gun control here – that probably has a bit to do with it.)

After about 15 more minutes of walking through the snow we reached the Historical Village of Hokkaido and I have to say I thought it was pretty darn neat. It is sort of like a Japanese version of Williamsburg. There are around 60 structures from the mid 19th to early 20th century that show what a pioneer’s life was like in Hokkaido. The huge bonus for me was that during the winter they have a horse drawn sleigh that will take you down the main part of the village – this is something I have always wanted to do and I only wish the ride could have been longer, or I could have been like the kids with the roller coaster and immediately gotten off to run around and get back in line. It was great fun, covered with blankets and the bells on the horse jingling along – and the quiet. You know how when it snows, everything becomes more quiet, like the snow has laid a quiet blanket over everything, this was what it was like and it was lovely. Jeff and I broke apart as a member of our party needed to find the facilities, and so while I waited in the visitors center, I walked into a room where there were several people making monoprints – this very sweet ancient Japanese man made a print for both Wrenn and myself, “gift for you.” I found out later that he is 98 years old and comes to the Historical Village every Sunday and makes these prints. I love them, they are so graphic and the image he is holding is the famous clock tower in Sapporo.

The village is very English friendly, brochures are available in English that tell you about each structure, inside there are docents that will tell you about their building. Wrenn and I stepped inside the Sake Brewery and were please to discover the interpreter there was fluent in English. We could have spent much more time at the village, but our adventure in getting there had eaten up quite a bit of time. And so we headed out, hoping that this summer we could head back up to Hokkaido and visit here again. Our trip back into Sapporo was much easier – if only we had known, there is a bus that takes you straight to the train station! For more information on the Historical Village of Hokkaido visit

Chitose-Lake Shikotsuko Ice Festival
The last stop on our Snow Festival adventure was to visit the Chitose-Lake Shikotsuko Ice Festival. There was some doubt as to whether we would be able to go since it had snowed and we were headed into the mountains but luck was with us and we arrived just as it was getting dark. Huge ice sculptures are formed at this venue by jetting the water from Lake Shikotsu with sprinklers and they are large enough to walk into. They reminded me of an ice version of a “dribble sand castle” – where you take the soupy sand and let it run down your fingers, adding layer upon layer until you get the look you want. It was pretty, although quite a trek through the mountains from Sapporo – it is supposed to only be about an hour but with all the snow it was slow driving and it took our bus nearly 2 hours to get there. The best part though was probably the awesome grilled scallops on a skewer I had from a vendor, along with the warmed sake (see the photo of Jeff). If you’ve never had warm sake, you haven’t lived. It hits the spot, warming you up all the way down to your freezing cold toes and was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

Till next time, sayonara.

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