(Of course everyone was commenting on our matching shoes…)
Where to begin? It’s been a pretty wild week, but I’ll start off with the 2nd of February (Friday), where Nicole left us and returned back to America. She already knows how much we’re all going to miss her, but I suppose I wanted to mention this because I thought it would hit me far more – when one of your best friends leaves you for a totally different continent and your paths might not cross again, what are you to do? I suppose, even though I have my gripes with it, social media can be a blessing in keeping you connected with people you’d otherwise have lost. I grew up a few months ago when I finally understood that the only way to deal with big change is to go with the flow. Life is just like that – things change, and nothing remains, and the sooner you can shake hands with that fact the sooner you can adapt.
I can also admit now that I’m definitely the kind of person that craves change. I enjoy spontaneity, but that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy familiarity. As upsetting as it is that many people I got to know have already left, the excitement of meeting new people next semester wipes any upset under the mat. It’s healthy to feel negatively and positively about this stuff, but just make sure the scale tips toward the positivity. There’s always, always a silver lining, not matter how hopeless things may feel – it might just take you a while to notice it.
In any case, my advice when you’re faced with something that you know has the power to hurt you, is to take a break from your usual habits. Go to a city far away. Do something that’s always scared you. Try new foods. Read new books. Maybe even do something as simple as taking a different route walking home. When you make an effort to bring new things into your life, you replace the things left behind. Patch up your wounds with the bandages of the new and watch them heal – just like that.
I suppose going to Sapporo was one of my bandages. Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s northernmost island Hokkaido, is the birthplace of Sapporo beer and home to many ski resorts. It also holds a Snow and Ice festival, taking place over the beginning few days of February. As soon as I heard about the snow festival around a year ago, I wanted to go and check it out – and here I am now, back in Tokyo, having returned late last night. How time flies.
After arriving at Narita airport far earlier than we really needed to (I’ve never flown internally in a country before, so I just applied the same manic rules to flying across countries that I grew up with), we spent around 4 hours doing absolutely nothing in the airport. Japan is a bit strange (for me, at least) in that the food court and duty free are all located before you go through security, but I made the mistake of assuming that there’d be stuff before and after. Wrong. There were the ever-infinite vending machines and a few snacks, but nothing great – I’m just glad we had the sense to stop by the 7/11 next to our dorm before we left to pick up food. Even if we were to eat before going through security, Narita has absolutely nothing to offer to vegetarians, let alone vegans. (Other than maybe cucumber rolls. That’s it.)
Also, you don’t need a passport for internal flights. I had literally no clue regarding this.
After a flight that lasted just over an hour, we arrived into Sapporo at 6:10PM, and immediately I felt the change in temperature. I suffered when Tokyo had its one day of heavy snowfall, but because of that I got into Sapporo prepared. Equipped with our matching snow boots and thermal tech, we set off from our “limousine bus” (a glorified coach) toward the hostel.
There’s another first for me: staying at a hostel. It was genuinely such a friendly environment, and I’m excited to stay at more during my solo trip in 2 weeks.
Our room ended up just being ours despite there being room for one more person, and here’s first #3: staying in a Japanese style room. Despite the weird waft of McDonald’s when we first moved into the room that evening, I couldn’t help but feel like I was truly embracing Japanese culture by sleeping on a futon with tatami mats under me. (Which was incredibly comfortable)
The day ended by heading off to Susukino, a district in Sapporo filled with food and entertainment. Doing so, we accidentally stumbled upon the ice festival strip, but since that was on the schedule for the 7th we decided to pass over it that evening. We found ourselves in an Izakaya (think pub vibes, but more Japanese) for dinner and drinks, where we met up with Ross for a well-deserved catch up, having not seen him since I finished my second year of university early last year!
Waking up early in the morning, we headed straight for the snow festival, which was everything I dreamed it would be and more. These sculptures were immaculate, and I can’t even imagine how long it must’ve taken to carve the snow. There were some mini sculptures, but the bigger ones were about the size of a house.
There were some strange ones too – such as one sponsored by Nivea, and several minion ones (including one with the caption “Dream world: so that everyone in the world will become closer”, for whatever reason). Plenty of food and drink, including hot mojitos (even thinking about that makes me kind of queasy) and mulled wine – very Christmas market style.
One particular thing that kept popping up wherever we went was Hatsune Miku, who is the mascot for a voice synthesiser range. She got a lot of recognition in the west when it was discovered that she had virtual concerts in Japan (as in, a 3D animation of her is projected on a screen while songs where she “sings” play. See this video.) Apparently, the company that created the synthesiser is based in Sapporo, and so the character has almost become another mascot for Hokkaido. The more you know.
Following the snow festival, we headed back to Susukino for lunch (a very spicy Indian curry, of course) and for a better look at the ice festival. Unfortunately, unlike the night before where you got to see it up close and personal, it was boarded up today to let cars pass through – never the less, we got to enjoy the statues. There’s something incredibly beautiful about ice – I wonder whether ice or snow is more difficult to work with?
The final destination of the day was Mount Moiwa – a mountain from which you can see the whole of Hokkaido… or so I was told. Truth be told, it was snowing so much up there that there was no visibility, but we did stumble across a ski resort. Actually getting to the rope way as well was a journey, as the stairs we had to climb were not only incredibly steep but covered entirely in snow.
The day ended once again at an izakaya – the best way to keep warm in the Northern-most island of Japan that wants you to catch pneumonia is to drink beer, after all.
As our flight was in the evening of the day, we were very lowkey with the activities of the day. So, the Sapporo beer museum. Essentially, the museum details how Sapporo beer began because Hokkaido felt like it needed something to be famous for. That’s the kind of mood I want to go through life with.
The museum, of course, also had a beer-tasting kitchen. My favourite was the classic. I also got to try Hokkaido’s exclusive carbonated drink, the Ribbon Napolin, which despite the hype is unfortunately just a watered down version of Irn-Bru.
We once again made the same mistake at the airport as we made on the way to Japan – as in, I didn’t eat anything before I went through security, meaning I had to live off snacks for dinner that evening. No big deal.
I loved Sapporo. I didn’t love the freezing, sub-zero temperatures, but I was so happy to get out of Honshu for a little bit and check out another one of Japan’s big four islands. As I write this right now, I’m mentally preparing myself for Korea, which I’m departing for in just over 24 hours.
It’s the Spring Holidays – there’s no rest for someone who wants to do so much. The only problem I’m going to have is running out of money, which means living the saddest lifestyle possible next semester – however, if I get to have the most amazing journeys the next 2 months, it’ll make it worth it. I’d rather eat cardboard and know I’ve cultured and got to know myself more than eat luxury dinners every night with a side of regret.
I’ll have around 1 day in total to write about what I get up to in Korea next week before I depart off to Kyoto – just hoping that’s enough!
PS. In a vintage shop we went to, they had stocks of royal mail bags. I don’t know how they got them, but could you imagine someone in Japan walking about with a royal mail bag on their shoulder?