Friday, 16 April 2010

Island Hopping

Last time we spoke (you know what I mean), I was about to set off on a great and perilous journey north to the Island of Hokkaido, and more specifically Japan's fifth biggest city, Sapporo.

The name Hokkaido translates literally as "north sea way", and the island has strong ties with the sea (much like the rest of Japan), but it also has a very big link with dairy products and sheep (which are rather uncommon on the main island of Honshu). It is a lot further north than Tokyo, and therefore has a much colder temperature - it being around 7 degrees while we were there.

Naoko and I flew from Hanada airport early on Thursday morning, and arrived an hour and a half later in Sapporo. The first thing we noticed was that it was a lot more spacious than Tokyo. Perhaps spacious is the wrong word - it was simply quite empty. The main streets in Tokyo are always heaving with people, whatever the time of day. The main street coming out of Sapporo station was relatively deserted by comparison. The station too, seemed to lack the buzz that is always around the main stations in the capital.

The hotel we had was in a decent location, and was pretty swish for what we were paying. We dropped off the bags and head off back to the station to catch the local train all the way to Otaru.

Otaru is a much smaller city than Sapporo, located about 40 minutes away by train. It has a lot of history and is a major tourist destination because of the old buildings and scenic canal that runs through it. The fish in Otaru is also well known for being fresh, and I wasted no time in digging into a big bowl of "kaisendon" - raw fish and hot rice. In the evening after having wondered around the town and taken in the sights, we made our way back to the canal in order to go to the Otaru Beer Hall. Otaru beer comes highly recommended, and I have to say it was pretty damn good. We chose to stay there for dinner before getting a late train back to Sapporo and walking back to our hotel.

The next morning we got up early so that we could make the most of the day. We wondered around Sapporo, visiting the main sights including the old government building, the fish market, and "Sapporo Tower". For lunch, we went for "Soup Curry" - basically a very liquid Japanese style curry with a big bowl of rice. The restaurant we chose was rather interesting to say the least. It was recommended by one of the guide books we had, and the food didn't disappoint (I went for a "medium spicy" lamb ball curry - which proved to be ridiculously spicy), but the place was decorated with stained reggae and Jamaican flags, the seats were old and knackered, and this along with the reggae music that was being played didn't seem to fit with the business clientèle that were crammed in the dingy room.

We spent the evening with one of Naoko's high school friends who is studying in Hokkaido. She took us to a restaurant well know for its large selection of Japanese sake, and I made a decent job of trying a fair few.

Before catching our flight back in the evening, we spent the last day stocking up on as many of the other things Hokkaido and Sapporo have to offer, including ramen, yoghurt, pudding, milk, chocolate, and many other tasty treats. We also took a trio to Hokkaido university to look around, and marvel at the openness of the campus compared to how tightly packed universities are in Tokyo.

All in all, it was an awesome trip, and I recommend it if you have the chance, as it is certainly another side to Japan compared to the hectic life of Tokyo.

Since having got back from Tokyo, classes have finally started (3 months of holiday is too much in my opinion), and I am now well into my second semester - which turns out to be the first semester of the academic year here. I had to take a placement test again in order for them to decide what level of Japanese class I should be put into, and that turned out to be a bit of a joke. I was looking forward to complaining about it here at the time, but that having been three weeks ago, I've kind of lost the passion that it instilled in me. Suffice to say that it was well in line with the rest of the bureaucratic nonsense that this country seems to be plagued with. (I did manage to move up levels though).

So that's pretty much it folks. Obviously there's more to tell, but I'll keep some of it back so that I feel motivated to write another entry soon (yes that does make me sound lazy). Until next time!