I always thought being a travel writer would be the ideal job. And maybe it would, but I'm left wondering whether I could really do it, given how terrible I've been since we got here about telling you guys about our travels around Asia. When we moved here I thought blogging would be so easy because I'd have so much Asian stuff to talk about! And I do! But for some reason, I don't.
So here is one attempt to make it up to you, by telling you about our recent trip to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of mainland Japan.
Raj gets a week off over Christmas and has wanted, since we got here, to go skiing in Hokkaido. Since we are (officially now!) moving back to the DC area sometime this spring or summer, this winter was our last chance. We flew from Okinawa straight up to Sapporo, then got on a bus at the airport for the two hour drive to Rusutsu, where we'd stay at a ski resort for the first three nights. Our first stop there was to buy Raj a pair of snow boots. Because basically as soon as we stepped into the Okinawa airport, the soles of Raj's very old and well-used hiking boots pretty much detached. He flew to Hokkaido with boots looking like this, courtesy of some tape we got from the ANA baggage counter.
Klassy as always. Anyway, Raj got some boots and since it was 7:30 and I'd been ravenous for a while, we went to find a restaurant. The Italian restaurant had an hour wait, which was just not possible for me, so we went to the Oktoberfest buffet next door. German food? No. American/Japanese/Chinese. And since the whole resort was 1980s-tastic, an animatronic band like at Chuck E. Cheese. They only played two songs, both polka, in what I can only assume was an attempt by the owners to get people to stop eating and leave sooner in order to escape those two songs. I didn't get a picture there, but you can get the idea from this photo of the similar band in the middle of the fast food area that was similarly motivating with its two bluegrass songs.
Fun fact: just inserting this picture was enough to get one of their two songs back on repeat in my head (nothing could be finer than to be in Caroliner in the morrrrrrrning) so that's pretty terrific. We really just sat there long enough to wait for and then eat our pizza, which had where you'd expect slices of mozzarella, squares of cream cheese. And you know, it was pretty good.
Plus there was skiing!
Photo by Raj
Also hot chocolate and reading pretty much all of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing in the warmth. I'll let you guess which one of us chose that activity over snow sports on certain days.
After three days, we headed back into Sapporo to spend the rest of the week there. Sapporo is best known for the Ice Festival that happens in February (we'd have liked to go, but Raj never knows with much notice whether he has to go to an exercise in Thailand at the same time) and for Sapporo Beer. Also for being really, insanely cold. I was pretty worried about that last part, but it didn't end up being too bad. I mean, not too bad while wearing long underwear, Heattech socks, boots, jeans, sweater, TurboDown coat, and (faux)fur-lined hat and mittens. Given all of those layers, I did not even find it unpleasant to be outside.
It turned out that they had a German Christmas market in the park where the ice festival takes place, which we certainly did get in on. You guys, the butter pretzel didn't have butter on it. It was filled with butter. FILLED. God bless Germans and/or Japanese people for coming up with that.
We also had sausage, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and hot apple cider. And saw Japanese Santa and pretty Christmas lights.
Sapporo-specific cuisine includes what is known as Genghis Khan lamb barbecue, which a person can do at Sapporo Bier Garten
and for seafood ramen. There's a famous ramen alley which we visited. All the shops look pretty much alike, so we went to the one that advertised "Anthony Bourdain came to the here"
We also went to some museums. There's a beer museum ending in beer tasting and the winter sports museum where you can simulate ski-jumping, bobsledding, cross-country ski racing, figure skating turns, and playing hockey goalie.
You can also ride a lift to the top of the ski jump used in the 1972 Olympics. Looking down from the top is quite terrifying.
There is also a preserved colonial village from the late 1800s when Japan colonized Hokkaido (previously populated by native people known as Ainu) to keep Russia from taking it. Nearby is the Hokkaido Museum, which includes an exhibit on the habitat and animals of Hokkaido. Which includes this bench.
We did visit one more museum, but that was on Christmas Day, which I think can be its own post. Given that I ever get around to writing it.