February 11, 2009

Sapporo - Day One

Last weekend we flew to Sapporo for the 2009 Sapporo Snow Festival. This year was the 60th anniversary of the snow festival (yuki matsuri). Mike has wanted to go to the snow festival ever since seeing pictures of the giant snow and ice sculptures. So when we found a (somewhat) reasonable three-day weekend package, we were going!

(We have posted a whole bunch of pictures here, and will post more over the next few days. But if you want to see all of our pictures and videos from the weekend, feel free to check them out here.)

Sapporo is in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four islands that make up Japan. We arrived in Sapporo a little before noon on Friday, and it was snowing huge snowflakes. It is a modern and very walkable city. The kids were thrilled with the snow, and immediately took to making snowballs and sliding around. (We don't get snow in Kobe).

There are three main sites for the snow festival: Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. Odori Park is a long park that spans across 10-12 blocks of Sapporo, and the main site for the large snow-carved sculptures that the Snow Festival is famous for. The large sculptures are spread out over the length of the park. They were amazing to see during the day, but even better at night, when they are backlit and adorned by various musical performances.

After checking in to our hotel, we headed for nearby Odori, and saw the Dreams Sculpture. The kids got to ride on a cute little stream-train, walk through an ice maze, and slide down an slide made of ice.

Since we hadn't yet eaten lunch, we headed for Ramen Yokocho (Ramen Alley). Sapporo is famous for its ramen (as well as for its sushi and especially crab, i.e., kani). Ramen Alley is a tiny non-descript alley (we walked past it once before circling back to find it), chock full of hole-in-the-wall ramen joints. We chose one and enjoyed a meal of nice warm ramen. Talk about hitting the spot!

Ramen Alley is in Susukino, the clubbing and entertainment section of Sapporo, as well as the second of the three Snow Festival sites. In Susukino, there are displays of a long row of smaller ice sculptures.

We wandered through Susukino, checking out the ice sculptures and the fresh-caught seafood at Susukino Market. (Jacob also thought this would be a convenient time to plunge his glove-covered hand into a tank of water. That did not work out so well.)

Our next (urgent) order of business was getting new water-proof footwear for the ladies. Their original boots both had soaked through rather quickly. After we solved this issue, and took a hot cocoa break at the hotel, we were ready to wander the Odori at night, taking in many of the impressive large sculptures, like of Japanese Olympians, Hamamatsu Castle, Disney Castle and Characters, a Train, and Namdaemun Gates. Besides the dozen large-ticket sculptures, there are hundreds and hundreds of smaller sculptures ranging from animals to Japanese cartoon characters. Night-time in Odori in the snow was a terrific vibe, with people wandering about taking in the sites and sampling the many foods, which in addition to standard Japanese matsuri fare included ramen, warm ginger bread, and sinfully good flavored almonds.

For dinner, we took a cab to Sapporo Beer Garden, which is famous for its grilled lamb (called the Ghenghis Khan). Although Sapporo is, in our opinion, far below Kirin and Asahi in terms of the beer, the Sapporo Beer Garden is a terrific place.

It has great grounds (with an outdoor fire pit and a few of its own sculptures, an igloo, and ice slides) and the building itself is a majestic brick structure. It was a perfect place to end our first day in Sapporo!


Alexis Jacobs said...

I cannot believe how much snow is up there. I am not showing Matt this entry. He will have us on the next plane. :-)

Mike said...


Semsavblanc said...

This looks wonderful. Where did you stay in Sapporo and was it nice? We're hoping to get over there next winter.

Mike said...

Thanks! We stayed at the Sapporo Grand Hotel. It was perfectly nice. Good location a few blocks from Odori Park.

Semsavblanc said...

Thanks Mike!

kennhyn said...

I really want to drink at sapporo bier garden but not at winter... cheers!