Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hokkaido Trip Day 3: Yuki Matsuri/Snow Festival

The opening day for Sapporo’s widely known Yuki Matsuri came upon us quickly. We headed out around 8:30 am, not realizing that the festivities didn’t start till around 11:00.

The main festival grounds at Odori Park were about a 15 minute walk straight up the street from our hotel. On the way we quickly met with one of my former co-worker’s two sisters who live in Hokkaido. It really makes the world seem a lot smaller by being able to almost spontaneously meet relatives of good friends from half way around the world.

When we reached Odori Park we took a few photos of the large snow sculptures closest to the TV tower. We then decided to head up to the souvenir shop on in the tower, which is as high as you can go without paying admission. After loading up on a few gifts and locally limited snacks, we headed below ground for a quick breakfast at a bakery and ran into Aya, a friend who studied abroad at UW two years ago. Our encounter was very brief due to Aya having a very important presentation, but she made the trip into town on very short notice especially just to see us.

When we later surfaced from the underground mall, we began working our way up the long park. I regretted not having a better lens than just the standard for when we were watching the snowboard ramp. I could have stayed there all day jamming to Japanese punk rock, but it was chilly and we still had plenty to see.

There are several types of sculptures at the festival. The six main attractions are the massive and complex sculptures that make up the backdrops for the stages. The smaller snow sculptures vary from company sponsored advertisements to contest entries. There is a sculpture contest, and teams come from all around the world to give their best shot at sculpting. There were many works-in-progress since it was still the beginning of the festival. It was really cool to see ideas jump from small paper sketches to large and lifelike melt-able art. The road leading to our hotel was the setting for sculptures carved from ice.

Alexa and Melinda made an earnest effort to be interviewed on Japanese television, lowering their hoods and flashing their blonde hair, but the cameraman and interviewer practically ran in the other direction when the girls tried cornering them. Erik and I, however, participated in a short interview a little later for a documentary piece being put together by a man from Nagoya who now lives in Los Angeles. We were told it should be on Youtube by June.

When we had walked about half the length of the park (which is several blocks in length), the sky spontaneously burst forth snow that created white out conditions in merely minutes. We decided then was as good as any time for lunch, and headed to the station to find a ramen shop recommended by our friend Mike who had studied in Hokkaido last year. Ramen is a Sapporo specialty, so we figured with a recommendation from someone who wrote a ramen blog for a school project we couldn’t go wrong.

We headed to Sapporo station in search of Ichi Ryuan for their Genki no deru miso ramen (translated: makes you healthy/energetic miso flavored ramen). The restaurant was in the basement level of a building just outside Sapporo station, and when we arrived there was already a line out the door. The wait ended up being about 40 minutes, but they took our order ahead of time so we could eat soon after being seated. The shop was quite small with only three tables and a lunch bar. The ramen was definitely worth the wait. It was the perfect thing to get me warmed up from the inside and geared up for more strolling in the show.

We then returned to the park and picked up where we left off, the snow having now dissipated. With the departure of the snow, however, the temperature took a dive and made our journey a bit uncomfortable. We ran into a sign for free coffee service at the church across from the park, and took the opportunity to warm up inside. The people operating the coffee service didn’t make an effort to talk to us much because they thought we probably couldn’t speak Japanese, but we snickered over our coffee and chocolates while listening to them debate trying to talk to us. The girls wrote a message in their festival guest book, so they probably realized afterwards that we understood what they were talking about. The coffee was tasty.

We left after they took down the sign since they seemed to be finishing up. By then we had seen all of the Odori features during daylight and wanted to wait for after sunset when the large sculptures get lit up. To waste a bit of time we headed to Don Quijote’s, a popular chain store filled with pretty much everything strange and entertaining. After sunset, we headed back to the park and snapped photos of the lit up sculptures.

On our way back to the hotel, we swung by all the ice sculptures for some photos. We had initially planned to go to the Kirin Beer Garden for dinner, but upon viewing the prices on the menu inside the lobby we opted to run right back out the door. We consulted the front desk at the hotel (who could imagine an inanimate object would be so informative) and found a nearby izakaya (seated bar and grill). The nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) and grill specialty skewered meat sticks were a much more affordable and ultimately fun way to end our trip.

After returning to the hotel we got caught up in philosophical conversation (well, as philosophical as you can get while drunk and with Alexa donning her new Rilakkuma pajamas) till the wee hours of the morning, leaving little time for sleep before our early departure for the airport. I doubt any of us regrets it.

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