We just got back last week from a long planned trip to Sapporo and the Snow Festival they hold there every year. A friend at work had started planning it almost a year ago as it's so popular that all the hotels sell out far in advance. We left on Thursday evening, the flight is only 1 1/2 hours, and with a little adventure found our hotel and got settled for the evening.
The next day we went to the nearby fishmarket and wandered the stalls, tasting all the samples. Another friend bought a fresh sea-urchin which was cut open in front of us and the eggs extracted (uni) for all of us to taste. Now, I've had uni several times before, and only 1 time (Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo) did I have *good* uni. This stuff was fantastic! Even Kerri liked it. Sapporo is famous for fresh uni, salmon roe (ikura) and crab (kani). There were several restaurants in the fish market for ikura/uni donburi (rice bowls). I had recently had breakfast, so didn't partake, but I vowed to make it back before we left (successfully!) and try one.
After this, we hopped a bus and went to the Sapporo Brewery. There were several restaurants there that served the "genghis khan" yakiniku (cook your own meat and veggies) style of mutton. It was good, but rather plain in my opinion. Still, they thoughtfully gave us plastic bags to stuff our clothing into so it wouldn't reek of meat. Then we went to the next door museum, which I found rather uninteresting. We did have some Sapporo beer at lunch, and as with most Japanese macro beers, I was unimpressed. It's ok for a lager, but I just don't particularly like lagers (no flavor!).
Next we hopped another bus and rode quite a ways out to an airport where huge snow slides had been set up. The wind really picked up here, reminding us of Hoth or the planet on Alien. Snow blowing sideways, you could barely see the looming convention center where we retreated after a few of us braved the looong line for the slide. Here we recouped and then made our way back to the hotel for a rest.
Finally, we left Rowan at the hotel with some instant ramen (he was happy about this as he has decided he hates snow) and went to a crab specialty restaurant and had all you can eat crab (3 varieties) for 90 minutes. Oh...my...goodness...we had never done anything like that before (first all you can eat in Japan actually) especially crab! It was actually not a terrible price, about $50 a person. I'm told this would easily be over $100 back in the Tokyo/Yokohama area, and the crab wouldn't be as good. We bravely tackled two platters of crab and couldn't quite finish it all between the six adults present. Walking back to the hotel, we lingered along several blocked off streets that had some beautiful and impressive ice sculptures.
Back at the hotel Kerri and I braved the public bath downstairs (naked time! but separated by gender). It was Kerri's first time to do the public bath thing (ofuro) while Rowan and I had tried one nearby where we live at least once before. Rowan wasn't having any of it this time, so I went alone. I was trying to hang out until my friend showed up, but the water was so hot I couldn't stand it. Kerri said her experience was quite busy, with many many people having bath time. Mine wasn't too bad, and that was the end of day 1.
On Saturday, after sleeping in, we headed down to the main show, the Snow Festival. There is a section of several blocks in the middle of town where the huge snow sculptures are set up. Unfortunately, the snow was coming down something fierce, and after a while we all decided we had had enough for the moment. We then headed for Ramen Alley and a specific ramen shop featured in an Anthony Bourdaine segment that one of our party was keen on trying. The Hokkaido Butter Miso ramen is quite famous, so we all had to try some. Yummmmm....
We retreated to the hotel for a much needed rest, intending to head back to the Snow Festival after dark. Luckily the snow had cleared and it was an excellent viewing time with the lights in full effect. It was incredibly crowded, and we felt like a pack of penguins all shoved up against each other. But still, it was fun, and the sculptures were incredible. We were on the lookout for a smaller set of sculptures from contributing countries around the world, as we had heard that Portland (Sapporo's sister city) had sent a team over to make one. Unfortunately, it was quite sad, some kind of bigfoot, beaver, duck thing that was not cool at all. Oh well.
Then it was time for what Kerri and I had been waiting eagerly for. We had dropped Rowan off at the hotel earlier and then we all headed for Beer Inn Mugishutei. Years ago, we had heard of this association between Rogue Brewery in Newport and some guy in Sapporo. Having hunted down his pub, we were super excited to see (and try!) so much good beer. I particularly liked the double Dead Guy 30th Anniversary special in honor their relationship with Phred Kaufman (the guy himself). And then, who should show up, but Phred! So we got to meet him too, which was cool. He runs a beer distribution business and distributes from Rogue as well as other international breweries all over Japan. Kerri has already made her birthday present request known!
That pretty much wraps it up. The next day we took the train back to the airport (New Chitose) and flew back to Haneda (Tokyo). Took the train to the base, did some grocery shopping, and drove home. All in all, a very enjoyable trip. We are very grateful to our friends for all the planning, translating and guiding they did to enable all of us to have a good time.
In other news, some of you may know that we have been looking into the possibility of adopting here in Japan. We have contacted the ISSJ (International Social Service Japan) and made our application. On Monday, we'll be heading into Tokyo to do the first face-to-face interview. We know another couple that is adopting through them, and they have good things to say. We'll keep you posted as things develop on that front.
That's about it. Winter is wrapping up, and we are hoping spring is around the corner. Looking forward to all the local festivals and travels we'll be doing this year. We love it here and hope some of you can come to visit us and experience Japan for yourselves.