OOOOHHH what an adventure we had at this years Yuki Matsuri, meaning “Snow Festival” in Japanese. A few things to preface this blog entry. I have a teacher at one of my travel schools who is originally from Asahikawa, Hokkaido. When I told him (way back in September when we booked the tickets) that I was going he called his sister on the phone and she was more than willing to show us around. When we started planning our itinerary we were not going to have enough time to make it up there. Second thing to take note of; my teachers kept tell me how it is soooo cold in Hokkaido and how I need to be careful walking because its very slippery. Last note; Japan has some of the best electronics in the world…right?
So let’s begin. The point of the trip was to see the infamous ice and snow statues in Sapporo. They are world famous and I was told something I should not miss. We arrived at the airport and while at the counter the lady told us “The plane might have to turn around, and if it does you can fly out tomorrow.” We all looked at each other kind of funny, but were very optomistic. Our flight kept getting delayed and finally at noon (when we were supposed to be there!) they cancelled the flight due to really bad weather conditions in Sapporo. I don’t think it ever really hit us that we weren’t going to Hokkaido. Basically, we were going to go. Got the travel agent on the phone and headed to Japan Airlines counter to see what was going on. Turns out ALL flights into Sapporo were closed all over Japan. Instead we had to fly into Tokyo, have a 5 hour delay, and then fly into Asahikawa, located 2 hours outside of Sapporo. Apparently I WAS going to ASAHIKAWA!!! The layover in Tokyo was not bad, just long. Due to Birthday festivities the day before we left I needed a little nap to recooperate. I picked some empty seats at the airport terminal and slept for an hour. When I woke up I was surrounded by 5 Australian guys…was I dreaming or was this real?? :-). They started to talk to me before I could get the sleepiness out of eyes and head. We started chatting. They were headed to Niseko to go skiing. Not one of them spoke Japanese and none of them had skied before. That was going to be an adventure! The rest of my crew met up with me, and then ANOTHER group of Aussies came to join us. It was a Gaijin Party! Thanks to the second group of Aussies they arranged a bus for us to go to Asahikawa Station so we could make the train.
All of us, about 15 or so? got on the same train car with all these other Japanese people. Now remember back when I first got to Japan and got in trouble for talking on the bus? Imagine the decible level of all of us on the train 10 times louder than I was on the bus. The J-peeps must not have been happy, but whatever. We were making up for lost time. As Lisa stated “We are supposed to be cross-eyed at the Sapporo Beer Garden right now!” We made it “Suntory Times” (think Lost in Translation) and started putting back a few drinks. As I said, making up for lost time.
We finally arrived (11 hours later than expected but the extra journey was well worth it!!!), nearly escaped the train police, went to our AMAZING hotel, and then headed back out. It was Saturday night! Time to go out!! We were sooo used to hostels and sharing bathrooms and not nice hotels. Yet since we did a package deal we got hooked up in a nice place. The Phoenician Plaza…just sounds cool! So at this point we had all put on our liquid jackets and were venturing out into the night. Lisa and I wanted to go dancing. This Japanese guy walked us 3 blocks to this club. It was soooo much fun to dance! Around 4 we decided it would be a good idea to go to bed. Outside it was snowing heavily (hence why all the flights were cancelled!) and we had the great idea to purposely throw ourselves into the side of snowbanks…repeatedly. I think we were just so excited to see sooo much snow…fresh snow at that!
The next day we headed to a small town just outside of Sapporo called Otaru. We got to see the Japan Sea waayyy up north. We were very close to Russia. Signs in Otaru were in English, Japanese, and Russian. Kinda cool! We even saw surfers…now that is diehard surfing!!!! No thank you! Many of the roads were not groomed so we were trudging along in 6 inches of snow. They had GYNORMOUS crabs like nothing I had ever seen, selling for $100 bucks! Crazy prices! Otaru is famous for its canal with old Japanese buildings and its blown glass. We had an incredible ramen lunch as the snow continued to fall outside. It was quite a small town but there was a lot of charm to it. It was a great great afternoon. Before dinner I took a quick peak at some of the ice sculptures….SOOOO AMAZING! That night for dinner we did a tabehodai and nomihodai (all you can eat and drink) at a crab and shrimp place for 90 minutes. It only cost $50!! I think I ate 2 crabs and drank my weight in beer…it was absolute heaven. What a treat. Next we went out for some drinks. We did not know where to go. While reading my travel guide in search of a bar Lisa asked these two guys where to go. Mind you, we picked them up as they were leaving a hostess bar! That did not register until the next day. These guys were hilarious. We made them come get one drink with us which turned out to them staying out until 5 am. I crashed at 2:30, but Lisa thought it would be a good idea to arm wrestle one of them late into the night. Again…we picked them up out of a hostess bar! We played “never have I ever with them.” We also met a very interesting navy guy: 5’2″, bragging about his timberlands, from Louisiana who tells me he is sorry i am from California, how he “will shoot me but he won’t” and that he cannot disclose his real name so we had to call him “G.” This is probably funny to no one but us…you will just have to see Jeff’s impression someday. On the way home from the bar I totally ate it on the ice. We had been sliding around all day. This time i really fell, landed on my bag, and even being in the case the broke the screen on my camera. Now if any of you know me, I love my camera. So I guess my teachers were right, its slippery! so sad :-(.
Despite our late nights we managed to wake up somewhat early and catch the second half of the superbowl. That afternoon we headed over to Odori Park to check out the main point of our trip, the Snow Festival. Before coming to Japan I knew that I wanted to see the Yuki Matsuri. They say to book tickets in advance. I booked this package deal the same time I booked my Thailand tickets. Even then we got the last of the tickets. There were 20-30 ft ice/snow scultpures that were so intricate it was incredible. One of the main ones this year was the Chronicles of Narnia in honor of the movie. Even the rope that connected the bears was made of ice. You definitely have to see it to believe it. There were about 10 big scultpures and hundreds of little ones. It was such a lovely sunny afternoon strolling through the park to see these incredible figures. My favorites were the Chronicles of Narnia and the big Buddha at the Tawain display. Another added bonus to this afternoon was seeing Japanese babies/kids all geared up for a big snowstorm. Absolutely the cutest things in the world! Such an experience!!!! Soooo worth it to come! Tonight we headed to the Kirin Beer Garden again for a tabehodai and nomihodai. The infamous meal at beer gardens is called Genghis Khan. It is lamb and vegetables cooked on your table on an open skillet. Like all the food we got in Hokkaido…it was freakin awesome. It’s so cold outside that when you aren’t outside you are inside eating! Not a bad lifestyel if you ask me :-). That night we went to see the scultpures lit up and then found this American bar that served none other than my beloved WHEAT BEER!!! Such a treat.
Our last day, Tuesday, we got up early and headed to the snowpark. This was japanese kid central. It was outside of the city. There were more sculptures, a cazillion tiny snowmen, a huge ice maze, and an ice slide. Had a great time here as well. At the airport I found out that I lost my paper ticket. As mentioned in the beginning, Japan has some of the best electronics, but no electronic ticket. I had to buy a brand new ticket and will be reimbursed 6 months later when the ticket is finally declared lost. It was only a mere $400. AUGH. Lesson learned: don’t lose your plane ticket!
So what a trip. What we thought was going to be a great weekend turned into one of the best I have had in Japan. Despite two LARGE problems with my camera and plane ticket, I would not have changed a thing. Even the mess ups in the beginning just made it that more of an adventure. We had a great crew, met crazy people, great conversations, Sapporo is an INCREDIBLE city, great sights, great food….all in all fabulous!