Japan Day 8 - Sapporo

Our morning coffee was interrupted by the sounds of music drifting in through the window. The thermostat on the apartment’s heater didn’t work, and we were keeping the window open to cool it down, even though it was still brisk out. I ran over to poke my head out the window, and noticed a small parade making its way down the street below. Day two of the Hokkaido Shrine Festival was apparently in full swing, and how fun to be able to sit and observe from above with a cup of coffee.

Parade making its way down the street below us. 

We met up with Jon for lunch one station over, and he led us to a restaurant that served something called soup curry. I had never heard of soup curry before. The guide book only mentioned miso-style ramen as a culinary specialty in the region of Sapporo, but Jon informed us that Sapporo was the only area of Japan where soup curry could be found. When he mentioned twenty different varieties of vegetables on top, I was sold. The first shop we tried had a twenty minute wait, and so very hungry by that point, the three of us kept walking. We found a second place, and after being seated, followed the steps in the menu: choose a broth, choose a rice bowl size, choose a spice level from 1 to 6, and finally pick some toppings. Of course I went for all veggies and added on some extra avocado. The meal that came out was exactly what I had been craving, a spicy flavorful broth, full of perfectly cooked veggies, each slice of vegetable better than the last. That was definitely my favorite meal I had eaten so far, and it was something I had never even heard of.

The three of us walked Odori Park after lunch, which was a beautiful green area, a block wide, and several blocks long. The main parade for the festival was supposed to be coming through here. We wandered around the park for a while, catching up and passing the time, and then got the grand idea to look for the parade from the observatory deck of the TV Tower, which was located on one end of the park. TV Tower was a quirky little tower, with a lot more character than JR Tower, even if it wasn’t as high up. JR tower had been a lot newer and more sophisticated, with an observation deck at 160 meters. TV Tower, with its 90 meter observation deck, packed more charm and character, but without any space to relax. Metal beams criss crossed diagonally from floor to ceiling, meaning that even someone my height had to watch their head.

TV Tower, Sapporo

In Japan, everything must be made cute, including famous landmarks. Therefore, any place you visit in Japan likely has a cartoonified version of itself. The cartoon version of TV Tower somehow ended up looking like a traffic cone with a creepy pedophile mustache. TV Tower wasn’t the only disturbing plushie hanging around the gift shop. Apparently the mascot of a nearby town was a terrifying bear face bursting through a melon, given that the town is renowned for its brown bear habitats and cantaloup melons. Nearby Sapporo stole the bear image and had it bursting out of things that were more Sapporo-famous, such as corn and crab claws. Everything from plushies, to key chains, to socks could be found with the creepy bear emerging from something a bear just should not be hiding inside.

Cartoon TV Tower (Image found on Google)

Scary bear mascot (Image found on Google) 

The observation deck provided us with zero sightings of the parade, so we made our way back down and wandered around Odori some more. Crows, bigger than I had ever seen anywhere else, mocked us and cawed as we passed, eying us suspiciously. The chilly air with the sounds of cawing made it feel more like late autumn than the beginning of summer. We noticed one especially large crow trying to steal food from a couple sitting on a park bench, so Fletch, excited by the discovery that the crows were accustomed to people, sat down on the next park bench and waited. One crow landed on the spot next to him, eyeing him greedily to see if any food was around. The crow who had been stealing from the other couple flew over and landed on the back of the bench behind Fletch’s shoulder. He slowly picked up a morsel of bread someone had dropped on the ground and offered it to the crow. The crow took it and flew off again, and Fletch, amazingly, walked away with all ten fingers.

Just hanging out with some crows...

We hopped over to 7-Eleven for drinks. I’ll stop mentioning the drink runs eventually, but those first few days, every trip to the convenience store surprised us with new oddities you just don’t see anywhere else. This time around we discovered that you could buy a cup of ice for $1, which was quite convenient if you wanted to buy a drink from the non-refrigerated section, which I did. I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a whole dollar on a single-use plastic cup full of something as cheap as ice, but the novelty was almost worth it. The kiwi drink on the other hand was disgustingly sweet.

If you read the Odori Park section of the Japan Lonely Planet book, it says, don’t miss Noguchi Isamu’s elegant Black Slide Mantra. Nothing about where to find it, or what it even is, just not to miss it. I had filed that odd tidbit of information in the back of my head and forgotten about it, until our park wanderings brought us to a large mound of black stone, polished and carved into an elegant spiral. Before I could even comprehend what the sculpture was, Fletch was disappearing behind the back of it. He reemerged at the top, and slid around and down, as happy as a little kid. Black Slide Mantra was a literal slide. How nice to combine art with something fun and interactive in the middle of a park. Nearby was another slide of sorts that looked more like a bank of snow. I probably shouldn’t have slid down either wearing white pants, but I had already been wearing them for far too many days in a row due to the cold and my poor packing ability. A little bit of childish fun wasn’t going to make them that much worse.

Black Slide Mantra, Odori Park

Sliding down the pretend snowbank, Odori Park 

The three of us wandered over to another scenic park area where no one else was around. We found a park bench next to a lake and sat down under a red, Japanese maple tree. As we visited, we watched as turtles poked their heads out of the water to see who was in their midst. Pigeons strutted around on the shoreline, jutting their heads back and forth with each step like a chicken. Shadows from some very large fish in the lake silently floated past. We slipped into another world for a short while there, at peace with the pretty view and the absence of other people.

Scenic lake view in Sapporo, Japan

When we were ready to replenish our drinks, Jon led us to a little craft beer bar with 33 beers on tap. We had given up on finding the parade by that point. I opted for a flight, which wasn’t preset, but just choose whichever beers you want off the menu. I wish I could say if the beer was decent or not, but unfortunately I’m not much of a beer drinker. It all tastes very similar to me. I know, that’s blasphemy coming from someone from a place with as many craft breweries as Colorado. I can say that my favorite was a concoction called Bitches Brew, and that the atmosphere had a welcome laid back feel in contrast to the rigid structure to which the rest of Japanese society conforms.

Jon brought us to a soba and tempura shop for dinner. It was quite late, as we had spent a good amount of time drinking beer. At that late hour there was only one other patron in the restaurant, a fellow westerner. Noticing the table of other white people sitting down, he tried to start up a conversation and asked where we were from. Niceties under way, he offered us some help ordering in a very thick, French accent. “Whatever you order just don’t get that.” He said, motioning to his full plate he had pushed away with a disgusted look on his face. It was cold soba, which I am actually a fan of. I almost ordered the exact meal, just out of spite. French people: always dissatisfied and in need of something to complain about. In some areas, it’s not as obvious, but in Japan, where everyone is polite, and chefs take great pride in their food, his helpful little tip really stood out as rude. My travels have led me to stereotype pretty much everyone. Apologies.

Hot soba and shrimp tempura

Still a bit tired from the previous night out drinking, we said our goodnights after dinner, and headed back to our little apartment in Nakajima Park.