So, that first night in Sapporo, really quite exhausted, I managed to get 8 hours sleep — getting to bed at 8:30 and awakening at 4:30am — and felt rather better. Why not more? It appears that the curtains in this north facing room are terrible at blocking the light, and the sun currently rises at — you’ll have trouble believing this, but I can assure you that it is so — 3:54 am. I actually just pulled this sunrise time from Google, and it’s quite astonishing. I knew it was early, but I was thinking, I don’t know, maybe 4:45 with the pre-sunrise light being kind of weirdly bright but Ok. No. 3:54 am. That means, if I wish a proper night’s sleep, I need to get to bed a little after 8:00 pm, because the ambient light is going to wake me up between 4 and 5am. And 5am is being unduly optimistic. As I write this, it is Sunday night and I did manage to sleep in until 4:45am this morning, but I cannot count on later and I’ve definitely been running criminally short of sleep for some weeks now. As it is now 8:29pm, I’m going to stop writing immediately, brush my teeth, go to bed, and continue this tomorrow. Good night, all. Please try to keep the volume down for the next 8 hours or so, and pleasant dreams.
So, where was I? Right. Rising unnecessarily bright and exceedingly early on Thursday, I did the usual morning ablutions, logged into ESO and joined one of my gaming guilds for a couple of hours of play, ate 7-11 breakfast food (hard boiled eggs and a Japanese omelet) and set about planning my day. French people woke eventually, and Kenta stopped by from his brother’s place to tidy up and to shower and whatnot. (He runs every morning, I think between about 6-ish and 7-ish. The French people seemed to be a bit standoffish, and barely replied to my various “ohayou”s and “konnichiwa”s while they were here. I thought they were fitting the rude stereotype, but I think they were just shy: the night before they left, one of them spoke a bit more, and I followed up, and soon we were all chatting fairly enthusiastically and sharing my sake. They’d all been doing Kendo for some years, one of them for 20 years despite only being in her 20s. It was nice to have that chance to connect a little, instead of thinking that there was some kind of rudeness involved. It reminds me of that saying, “Never blame on malice what can be explained by incompetence.” Except, you know, a nicer version of that.
There were a couple of landmarks that I thought I’d hit that day: the TV Tower (“You can enjoy a 360-degree panormaic view from the observation floor 90 meters above the ground.”) and Odori Park, which runs 10 blocks west from the base of the tower. And anything else I encountered along the way, of course. For reference, I’ll repeat the map from the last post:
So, at around 10:00am I set off. I followed the salmon-colored road next to my place and crossed the Toyohira Bridge over the river, which is, as it happens, a pretty sweet river and has some built up embankments elsewhere with bike and running tracks, impromptu baseball fields, and other things, and gives a nice view north and south in this pano:
Panos are all well and good, but I think plain photos give a better image.
You’ll notice the cloud cover. The day was cool and overcast, pretty much all day; it made walking all over the place very pleasant, and I rarely broke a sweat.
On the map, you’ll see that a few blocks past the bridge the road crosses a canal, and walking north along the canal takes you (or, took me, at least) to the Sapporo TV Tower. I also passed the entrance to the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade, which I got rather excited by. These are pretty common in Japan, roofed pedestrian streets with lots of shopping/sleeping/gambling/eating opportunities, like a roofed, amped-up version of the Santa Monica Promenade, and this one ran for 7 blocks.
I didn’t wander through now, because the TV tower was right there and I didn’t want to start walking away from it in my wander. But I came back to it later.
The canal itself is lovely, with plants that have little explanatory plaques, and stepping rocks across the water, and bits of artwork, and lots of green:
Passed this inspirational message, along the way:
I arrived at the TV Tower in good time; the base is surrounded by a Sapporo Beer outdoor “restaurant” (which I did not take pictures of, because we all know what an outdoor, beer-sponsored restaurant looks like). The ground floor was all souvenir trinkets, chocolates, etc. I started to climb the stairs (instead of the elevator, ’cause I needed the exercise), and passed this poster:
I was mystified by this poster, until I saw the next one and figured it out:
After several flights of stairs, I made it to the second floor, where they had another gift shop and a restaurant and a place to buy tickets to the observation deck. So I bought the ticket: I want to say it was about Y720 (I’m just going to type “Y” from now on, instead of “¥”, because it’s way easier and it’s obvious in context what is meant) which is under $6.00.
BTW, yes the Yen is at a wonderfully convenient low against the dollar right now, but I kind of feel like I should use the old conversion rate of Y100 = $1.00 when I describe how much stuff costs. That was what it was for a very long time, and I kind of feel like it better reflects the real, day-to-day, living on a paycheck cost, a better equivalence to US expenses. I mean, there are two questions here: how expensive is a thing in local, living standard terms, versus how much did it hurt me when I bought it? It’s very easy for me to be dismissive of the cost of a thing because it’s super cheap to me, but what does it mean to locals? How pricey is it in “real” terms?
I’ve spent some time thinking about this the last couple of days, and was seriously considering showing both dollar prices whenever I mention a price, like, “It was just Y720 ($7.20/$5.83)”. But I think that, because Y100 = $1.00 is a super obvious conversion, I can just rely on you, the reader, to remember that, and just show the current dollar equivalent. Just remember that the Yen price divided by 100 (i.e., as cents) probably gives a better sense of what it would cost someone living here on local currency. If you like, of course; otherwise, just forget I ever mentioned it and stick to the pretty pictures.
Like this one, facing east from the observation deck:
A better view of the park, which they were prepping for the Yosakoi Soren Festival, starting that day and running through the weekend.
The windows on this observation deck slanted outward from the bottom, tickling at the last remnants of my mild acrophobia. I’ve gotten rid of most of that over the years, but seeing this gave it a faint surge:
All of the gift shops had weird stuff in them. I mean conventional stuff too: ash trays shaped like Hokkaido, cured salmon, little bear statues. But also keychains made like semitransparent green blobs with smiling faces and the like. And then there was this:
After 20 minutes or so in the observation deck, I came back down to the second floor, and perused the gift shop further.
In a tourist brochure, I’d seen these green tea wafers, and was very excited to find them here:
I’d seen these associated with the tower and bought 2 boxes, one for Kenta, hoping that they were his sort of thing. When I gave his to him that evening, he said that he loved them and seemed pretty happy about it, so that was money well spent.
On the way down, I passed this:
You know, honestly, I don’t even know why I take photos of my own. Tripadvisor has over 6,000 photos of Sapporo already. The world doesn’t need more photos of Sapporo. Seriously. I’ll just point you there and walk away now. Sigh.
Well, I left the tower and headed west along Odori Park. Here’s the Google Images page for Odori Park, it’s really pretty, knock yourself out. <Starts deleting photos off his iPhone.>
All right, just a couple:
This was where I was reminded the Portland and Sapporo are “sister cities”, which I guess means they do each other’s hair and fight over which of them Prague loves the most. In truth, they did feel weirdly alike; there’s a combination of greenery, weather, modern buildings, good urban planning, maybe some of the western frontier sense (Hokkaido being, in a way, Japan’s frontier environment). Those things they share are things I really like about Portland, and probably contribute to my general liking of Sapporo so far. But there are a bunch of signs, in both cities about this, and Odori Park has a tiny version of Portland’s substantial rose gardens.
That’s only the right side of the garden. The left side, apparently, comes from Munich which is, as this plaque clearly explains, Sapporo’s other sister city. It’s a very extended family.
I was going to take a picture of Munich’s half of the garden, but Munich’s roses were not nearly as impressive as Portland’s, and I hate to embarrass them. USA! USA!
You’ll be pleased to know that I did stop and smell the roses, and they were quite nice. I’m not a rose connoisseur — in fact, I’m grateful to spellcheck for helping me to type that word — but I have to say, these were quite pretty:
Not shown in these pictures are the festival food courts set up around the middle of the 10 block park. Tons of booths, in two locations, set up around tree shaded areas with tons of tables. At this point, it was around 1:00, and I walked past most of the booths looking at the pictures of food over their counters and trying not to reflexively flinch every time their hawkers bellowed out the Japanese equivalent of “Step right up and try our boiled eel!” They were freaky loud, and often rather nasal, and it was kind of excruciating. Plus, nothing makes me want to run the other way like someone yelling “Come over here!” Eventually, I found a stall with bits of beef on a wooden skewer, and paid about Y700 for it, found space at a table, and ate it while reading Twitter. (It’s considered rude to walk and eat at the same time, as I’d read and Holly confirmed. You’re supposed to sit down and pay attention to your food. I did see a couple walking and eating, but they were clearly assholes.)
After lunch, I headed south towards that shopping arcade that I’d seen earlier, which ran nearly as far west as the park. I did find some places along the way that I’ll have to come back to.
After a short walk, maybe 5 blocks, I arrived at the Shopping Arcade.
Running for 7 blocks, this place was packed with interesting shops, most of which I walked past for now. (Like two restaurants advertising organic food.) I did want to pick up some Vitamin A though (my cuticles had become really sore the last couple of days, which is always a sign I need more A), so I stopped in at a large-ish drugstore, which carried a remarkably wide array of things, from cold medicine to electronics to sake, with a surprising amount of convenient English labeling.
I would have bought some of that sake, but I balked at buying it in a drug store. What kind of sake are you going to find in a drug store? I had a hard time thinking it would be good. But that’s American thinking, and I think I’m going to have to recalibrate that sense. Sake is so ubiquitous here (though now getting a lot of competition from beer and wine) that I don’t think I can dismiss a bottle just because it’s not sold in a special store. Of course, I can’t read the labels, so most of my sake knowledge doesn’t help me much, but I’ll get it. I’ll even remember that it’s not called “sake” here — “sake” just means alcohol, of any kind. What we call sake in the West is called “nihonshu” here, and I keep using the wrong word by habit even though I know better. Oh well, I’ll get that too, eventually.
Meanwhile, back out on the arcade…
By this time, I was back near the entrance that I’d passed this morning, and twenty minutes later I was home, tired but fulfilled. It was close to 4:00, and Kenta was there doing work on his computer, so we exchanged some brief conversation, and then I went to meditate for a bit, checked into ESO to pick up my mail, and futzed with some other stuff, and then a little before 6:00 I was going to head out for dinner to a place Kenta had recommended nearby called Victoria. I told Kenta I was going to dinner, and he was welcome to join me if he wanted; he said he could if we went at 7:00. I said sure, and at 7:00 we start going towards the restaurant. But then we passed other places that Kenta was recommending, and I asked if he’d like to go to one of them instead. It took some coaxing to get a preference out of him, but eventually he pointed to an izakaya (basically a pub) that he and his friends liked, so we went there.
The walls were covered in printed materials, and there was *nothing* in English in here, but the food was fantastic. Multiple courses of rice with mushrooms, and sashimi, and edamame, and whole cooked fish, and noodles, and this fascinating chopped jellyfish and plum dish that tasted just like sweet, salty, tart vacuum cleaner lint and was weirdly addictive. Kenta had a huge mug of beer and I had a small bottle of sake (one of those little, traditional ceramic bottles that I never used because they don’t hold nearly enough, but the sake was still good). There was soccer on the TV nearby, and the place filled with locals, and it became even harder for Kenta and I to communicate, but it was still a great time. Total cost was about Y3,800, so about $15.38 apiece, a terrific deal.
We came home, and I think I got to bed at around 9:45 or so. Here endeth the second day.