February 15, 2008

The Yuki Matsuri



The city of Sapporo, Japan is world famous for its beer, and its annual Snow Festival, the Yuki Matsuri. Tisha and I were there this year, and we have plenty of pictures, videos and stories to share.




Because I am an unemployed slob, I decided to take off for Sapporo a few days before Tisha; and also to travel by sea instead of by air. My trip started with a 24 hour ferry from Maizuru (a port near Kyoto) to Otaru (near Sapporo). This was an interesting experience, as the path of the ship took us far out into the Sea of Japan, which made the trip my first real ocean voyage. While on board the ferry I spent most of my time messing with my laptop, and reading "Guns Germs and Steel", which I highly recommend.

The ferry to Hokkaido was 5 minutes late, and I barely caught my train and made it to my hostel in Sapporo before the front desk closed up for the night. In my rush to the hostel I met, Vivian, a Swedish college student who hadn't booked her accommodations yet. I suggested she try looking for a bed at my hostel, and luckily they had an opening.

The next day I hit up Odori Koen, the site of the snow festival. The sculptures were amazing. Some were huge, check out this video of an ice sculpture of the old Sapporo train station:

video

Others, such as this bear (Relak-kuma) were smaller:



There was a whole gallery of international sculptures. Here is Thailand's entry:



.. and Sweden's (one of my favorites):



Of course anytime you go out in Japan you must expect the unusual:

video

After getting my first look at the festival I headed back to the hostel, where I ran into Vivian, and an British gal named Rosie. Rosie and Vivian had spent the day checking out the sights together. The three of us decided it was time to check out the Sapporo nightlife. This led to a fun filled night of ramen, beer (both Sapporo specialties) and of course karaoke. The three of us had so much fun, we stuck together the next day as well.

After making snowmen, drinking sangria, and enjoying even more karaoke (this time with some Japanese salary-men) it was time for Rosie and Vivian to leave Sapporo. Fortunately, Tisha and a group of English teachers got into town the same day. The English teaching group was staying at a very nice hotel north of Sapporo, complete with an indoor pool and Japanese Onsen. It should surprise nobody to find out that I immediately bailed on my hostel to crash the hotel.

With Tisha in town, the good times kept on rolling. We met a fellow traveler named Megan, and made more snowmen:





We also went to an historic village outside the city where they transplant old buildings from the early 20th century. Here is a turn of the century police officer in front of his outpost:



And at the village, we also got to try cross country skiing for the first time! I was a bit nervous, but it went great:



All in all, this was quite a memorable trip. We met some great people, who I hope to keep in touch with, and saw one of the most amazing winter festivals in the world. If you ever want to visit a winter wonderland, I highly recommend Sapporo's Yuki Matsuri!

Slideshow: