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Sapporo Redux (2010) November 30, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sapporo Redux (2010)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-wd

In a previous post, I mentioned that I went to the Japan Rally in September of 2010.  It was a great trip and I had a chance to visit a few new places in and around Sapporo.  Sapporo is one of my favourite cities in Japan.  In Sapporo, each season is extremely different.  In the winter, you have the snow festival where you can see huge snow sculptures along the main park, Odori Park, and ice sculptures in Susukino.  When you visit in the summer, Odori Park becomes one large beer garden where you can sit outside and enjoy several beers on a nice hot summer’s day.  You can also head out to Furano as a day trip and enjoy the beautiful fields of lavender.  On this trip, I obviously focused more on the Rally itself, but thankfully, there were a few things I wanted to try that I didn’t have a chance to do before.

The only new place that I visited was the Hitsujigaoka. Literally translated into “hill of sheep”, it’s a nice little getaway that is located next to Sapporo Dome.  To access the site, you have to take the Toho subway line to the final stop (Fukuzumi), followed by a short bus ride.  You also have to pay the entrance fee to access the main park area.  Walking is possible, but it’s very far from the station itself and not recommended.  The public access area is located at the top of the hill and there is only a small area for people to roam freely.  Unfortunately, when I visited, there were no sheep.  This could be due to the foot and mouth disease that afflicted the southern island of Kyushu earlier in the year, so they decided to protect the sheep from infection.  It could also be due to the season, but I’m not entirely sure as to why.  At the hill itself, there are only a few buildings of interest, and it only takes a few minutes to enjoy them.  One of the more spectacular buildings is the Hitsujigaoka Wedding Palace.  It’s a tall building that’s pure white inside and out and many weddings are held there.  If you are thinking that you’ll see a traditional Japanese wedding, you’ll be disappointed as the weddings here are almost always done in a western style.  I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but I did see a wedding and did get a chance to see the building itself.  Another building that is of interest is the Austrian House.  It’s an Austrian styled building that houses a souvenir shop and a small snack shop.  Inside, you can also get your palm read among other touristy things.  The last main building is the Sapporo Snow Festival Museum.  It’s a small building where they feature posters, photos, and miniature models of past snow sculptures.  There are also videos on how they run the snow festival every year.  Unfortunately, the video is in Japanese, and on a very old TV.

The main claim to fame for Hitsujigaoka is the statue of William S. Clark.  William S. Clark was an American Professor who moved to Japan for 8 months in 1886-1887.  His main goal was to set up and establish the Sapporo Agricultural College, now Hokkaido University.  He had a huge influence on Hokkaido and helped with its colonization.  His influence on this island was tremendous and he’s famous throughout Japan.  He even helped introduce Christianity to this area of Japan by creating an ethics class that utilized the Bible when the Bible was outlawed.  When he left Japan, he gave three parting words to the first class of Hokkaido University, “Boys, be ambitious”!  There are several variations added on this, but these three main words are what stuck.  Throughout Japan, many schools use this motto to help motivate their students, and it’s hard to find anyone who wouldn’t know what you meant if you said “boys be ambitious”.  At Hitsujigaoka, the statue of William S. Clark is prominently displayed with him pointing to the distance, probably to Hokkaido University, and the famous motto written under him.  It’s common for people to run up and just point in the same direction as William S. Clark’s statue for fun.  If you walk around a little more, you’ll also see another small monument that is dedicated to the Nippon Ham Fighters.  I believe it commemorates the move of the Nippon Ham Fighters from Tokyo to Hokkaido in 2004.  It’s a small, often overlooked monument that is probably not interesting to most foreign tourists.

Back at Fukuzumi Station, there is a short walk to reach Sapporo Dome.  Sapporo Dome is a very interesting area. While you may not need to go to watch a game, you can definitely go and enjoy the park behind the dome.  As you approach the dome from the station, you’ll see a very futuristic looking building.  There is a large observation platform that is easily viewable from the street.  You can enjoy a tour of the dome itself with a chance to actually walk on the baseball field, but I’m not too sure if that is possible.  Of course, both of these tours are paid services.  If you don’t want to spend money, walking past the front and approaching the park in the back is great.  It’s an amazing sight to see the football pitch sitting outside with the potential for it to be brought in for football games.  You can watch videos of this happening on their own website.  Even if you aren’t too interested in the football pitch, or the technology, the entire park has several modern art sculptures.  I couldn’t grasp the meaning of each sculpture, but it was a nice place to spend an hour or so.  You could also just lie on the grass and enjoy the nice weather, if you are lucky.

I may or may not have mentioned this in the past, but the food in Hokkaido is amazing.  If you enjoy eating, Hokkaido has everything you need to be stuffed.  Going to the Sapporo Beer Garden, you can enjoy Ghengis Khan, a type of barbecue, or a seafood buffet.  You can also head to Ramen Alley and get a nice bowl of corn butter, or seafood ramen.  Delicious is an understatement.  Recently, Soup Curry has become popular.  There are several shops located throughout Sapporo and all of them are delicious.  Keeping things traditional, you can still get seafood doburi all over the city, and being Hokkaido, chocolate, corn, and milk products are extremely popular.  When visiting Hokkaido, it’s a must to eat as much as you can.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much more for me to see in Sapporo, so I may not return for some time.  I have been there almost every year for the last 3 years and each time has been different.  The weather and season plays a huge part in how things look and feel.  The people are all the same, very relaxed. When visiting Sapporo, it’s best to just enjoy things and take it slow.  You’ll never know what you’ll discover just around the next corner.

This is an update on what is happening in Sapporo.  To read more about Sapporo, please continue to the original post on Sapporo.

Sapporo Information:

Hitsujigaoka (Japanese): http://www.hitsujigaoka.jp/amusements/fighters.html
Hitsujigaoka (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitsuji…servation_hill
William S. Clark (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Clark

Sapporo Dome (English): http://www.sapporo-dome.co.jp/foreign/index-en.html
Sapporo Dome (Japanese): http://www.sapporo-dome.co.jp/index.html

Sapporo (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2163.html
Sapporo (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Sapporo
Sapporo (Official City Website): http://www.city.sapporo.jp/city/english/

Hokkaido (Official Tourism Website): http://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2010 Japan Rally October 5, 2010

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2010 Japan Rally” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-vz

September 2010 marked my third trip up to Hokkaido and my first ever trip to a World Rally Championship (WRC) race. It was the first time in two years that the championship held an event in Japan, and as with tradition, the race was held in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. I had no idea on what to expect and just went for the fun and the chance to be up close to some of the drivers and co-drivers. I was extremely surprised by how much I enjoyed the event. The event itself is staged over 4 days (Thursday to Sunday) with Thursday being a ceremonial start and super special, and Sunday being only half a day. As with most race events in Japan, there were the plethora of die hard fans in the area, but there were also a few of the casual fans as well.

If you have read my previous blog posts, I have been to both F1 and Moto GP races in Japan. WRC is a very different type of event. Whereas F1 and Moto GP consist of 3 days, the first day is for the die hard fans only, and for those looking to do some shopping. The second day is for the big fans to enjoy qualifying and of course, do more shopping. The Sunday is the day that all the action happens. For the WRC, everyday is an event. Racing started on Thursday with two special stages inside Sapporo Dome. Sapporo Dome is a large futuristic looking dome that is home to the Sapporo Consolade FC and the Nippon Ham Fighters (Baseball). The inside was set to the baseball configuration. When the time comes to convert to a football field, the football field is actually rolled into the stadium, rotated, and the seats adjusted to fit. For the WRC, they just removed the baseball field, opened the bay doors, and did most of the racing inside, with just a little outside. They held two stages within the dome itself on each day, for a total of 8 stages. On the other days, aside from Sunday, they also held service at the service park. Think of it as a pit lane for the cars, but with much more time.

To go any further without explaining WRC would be pointless. WRC, in its standard form, consists of 3 days of racing. Each day is split up into several stages. Each stage is a run on closed roads where the drivers are allowed to go as fast as possible. Once they finish the stage, they have to drive themselves to the next stage. At certain points of the day, they return to the service park, which is effectively a temporary garage. The cars drive in and the clock ticks down. They are given an allotted amount of time to fix the cars so that they are ready for the next set of stages. By the end of Sunday, they are quickly serviced and scrutineered. This is a basic rally. When I went to the rally, I went for two days. Rather than actually going to the rally itself on the first day in Hokkaido, I went to a small park that overlooks Sapporo Dome. I did get a chance to tour the outside of Sapporo Dome and enjoy the sights. If you do go to Sapporo for the rally, you don’t technically need a ticket to see the drivers, nor do you need a ticket watch the actual race. If you want to guarantee that you can see the drivers and the race from a good seat, you will have to pay for tickets.

The service park is where most people will want to go. While the Sapporo Dome stages are great, the majority of the fans will be at the service park waiting patiently for the drivers to enter. Depending on who is there, and at what time, you will have a good chance to get an autograph from your favourite driver. When I arrived on Sunday morning, I was surprised to see a car at the service park. It was Kimi Raikkonen. He unfortunately spun his car after misunderstanding a pace note read to him by his co-driver and beached it on the side. He couldn’t continue on his own, so he had to retire. When I arrived, he was still giving a small debrief to the crew and the crew had just started preparations to pack the car up and bring it back to Europe. For the die hard fans, they could just sit and watch him for hours as he relaxed and had a drink. It’s interesting to watch them relax as they really do look like a normal person. In fact, he reminded me of me when I was doing a track day in Vancouver several years ago.

The WRC, as I said, is very different to other motorsports. It’s a family sport, rather than an elitist sport. All of the drivers and co-drivers are friends, of course to different levels, and they are all very close to each other. In MotoGP, things are similar as the MotoGP riders are the father figures to the lower classes. In WRC, due to the small numbers of drivers and co-drivers, it’s easier for them to talk to each other, and it’s possible for them to bond. This is one of the main reasons the press says Kimi Raikkonen is happier in WRC and probably won’t be going back to F1 unless the money is truly that good. At the end of the rally, all of the drivers must drive through the ceremonial start/finish gate. Without doing so, they technically don’t finish the rally and would be listed as a DNF. For fans, this is a great opportunity to get up close. In F1, you are lucky to be close enough to see their faces as you are generally located across the track when they do the podium ceremony. In MotoGP, due to the crowds, they have to keep you 10 metres away, and the riders are a couple meters up on a platform. In WRC, you are no more than 5 metres away, at level, and the drivers can come really close to you. I was literally only 1 metre away from the drivers after the podium ceremony.

My most memorable experience is the fact that Petter Solberg finished second. He is one of the most recognizable faces in the WRC, at least to fans, and one of the most personable ones too. During the podium ceremony, he was the first to run at the crowd and throw some champagne on them. The other drivers and co-drivers soon followed suit and my side of the podium was getting into the champagne fight as well. I got a good amount of champagne dumped on me by Julien Ingrassia, the co-driver to Sebastien Ogier, the winner of the 2010 Rally Japan. After champagne is dumped on you, or sprayed if you are a driver, it’s not a great feeling. It is fun to do, but you feel very sticky afterwards. Thankfully, I didn’t get the full brunt of a shower as there wasn’t enough champagne to spray everyone. However, I did smell of champagne for the rest of the day. Afterwards, I hung out at the service park for about an hour. I quickly headed over to the Petter Solberg World Rally Team (PSWRT). Within minutes, Petter Solberg arrived and started signing autographs. I stayed my place and sure enough, he headed over. I was busy taking pictures, but my girlfriend was lucky enough to push her way forward to the fence. Needless to say, we got our program signed and it was a very happy moment for us. I came within feet of what I consider a great rally driver, and one of my motor sport heroes. I quickly got out of the mob as I felt I had enough and wanted to let others get a chance to get an autograph as well. I’d swear that Petter stayed for 20 minutes trying to sign as many things as possible. If you are a true fan, you’d be camped out in front of their tents waiting for them to arrive. If you do that, you’ll more than likely get an autograph or two.

In general, the WRC is an experience that I’ll always remember. It’s not for everyone, but if you do enjoy rally racing, you MUST go. If you are just an average race fan, it may not be so interesting, but it’s worth the trip. While the Rally Japan will not be the same as going to the French Rally, or anywhere else, it’s still something to see and do.

Rally Information:

WRC:  http://www.wrc.com

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part III) May 12, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part III)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-an

Note:  Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change.  It’s best to check just prior to going.

10-chome saw a return of large sculptures.  The first was a medium sized zoo.  It featured various animals that could be seen in Asahikawa.  They called it the Snow Festival Zoo, but in reality, it was almost an exact copy of the animals in Asahiyama Zoo.  However, it was a nice sculpture.  The main attraction has to be the Northern Animal Families.  This was sponsored by STV (Sapporo Television).  This sculpture featured three families, the Blakiston’s fish owl; the Steller’s Sea eagle; and the Ito (a type of salmon).  Unfortunately, the bird’s beauty and size overshadowed the fish, and I doubt many people recognized them.  I really enjoyed this sculpture and I feel it was the most beautiful large sculpture of the entire festival.

11-chome and 12-chome could be rolled into one block.  11-chome had an “International Gourmet Corner” and the 36th International Snow Sculpture Contest.  They had 12 entries from 12 countries.  Thailand’s “Garuda and Naga” won the competition with Lithuania’s “GLOVE” coming in second.  I agree with the winner being “Garuda and Naga”, however, I didn’t like “GLOVE”, but it was artistically pleasing compared to the others.  In 12-chome, you will be able to see various different sculptures made by volunteers and locals alike.  They tend to be simple and feature a lot of characters that are well known in Japan.  By the time you reach this area, you will be tired of sculptures and in need of a break.  I would, however, advise against going to this area at night as there aren’t enough lights to truly show these sculptures.

After you finish with Odori Park, Sapporo Dome offers something for everyone.  Outside the dome, you can do various activities such as snow rafting and tube slides.  You can also build your own snowman and make your own skis.  There are a few places to get a good beer and food and various other sculptures.  Inside the dome, you can enjoy the Snow Market, eco advertising, and various other corporate booths promoting various things.  I never made it to this area as it’s focused towards families rather than single adults, so I never even thought about heading to this spot.  If you have children, I would definitely recommend this place as it looks like a lot of fun.

The final place to visit during the Snow Festival is the Susukino Ice Festival.  The ice festival is 6 blocks of small ice sculptures.  The entrance had a sculpture of Hokkaido’s famous clock tower.  From there, you will be greeted by various peacocks, angels, and everything you can think of.  Some notable sculptures were a few bars promoting the different Japanese drinks such as Sapporo Classic (beer), and Suntory Whiskey.  While I never visited this site during the day, I’d highly recommend visiting at night as the sculptures look extremely beautiful under the street lights.

My final impression was that this is definitely a festival to visit.  I think it’s beautiful and very impressive.  Aside from the people and the cold, it’s great to go north and see the beautiful snow.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do.  That’s the problem with visiting and not living in this beautiful city.  If you do go, try to visit the festival, both in the day and at night.  You will see different sides of this festival.  Unfortunately, after a few hours, you will be sick and tired of all the snow sculptures and everything will start to look the same.  Dress very warm and do as much as you can in the short time you have at the festival.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English): http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese): http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part III of a 3 part series .  (Part I) (Part II)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part I) April 28, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ai

Note: Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change. It’s best to check just prior to going.
Every year in February, Sapporo holds its biggest festival.  The Snow Festival is by far the most famous and popular festival in Japan, during the winter.  In January, the Japanese Self Defence Force trucks in hundreds of tons of snow that will be used in snow sculptures that range in size of a one metre to the size of a small building.  All of the sculptures are located along all 12 blocks of Odori Park, which is where the main action takes place.  There is a secondary site located at Sapporo Dome.  This site is geared towards families and having fun.  A third unofficial site is located in Susukino.  This is actually the Susukino Ice Festival, and as the name implies, this festival contains nothing but ice sculptures.

The traditional starting point of the Sapporo Snow Festival would be the Sapporo TV Tower located at 1-chome of Odori Park.  Heading up the Sapporo TV Tower is something I would recommend, however, I didn’t go up as it was too busy.  From the observation deck, you’ll be granted with a beautiful view of the entire festival.  If you are in the mood, I’d also recommend a quick pint at the Otaru Beer restaurant located on the ground floor of the TV Tower.  1-chome is also the site of a small skating rink.  It’s reminiscent of Rockefeller Centre in New York, only the surrounding buildings aren’t as tall.  In 2009, they had a sculpture of Tsuyoink, which means strong ink.  It was obviously sponsored by Epson, as it’s their personal mascot.  1-chome is also the location of a small stage where they have a few concerts and lots of information for everyone.  This was one of the most crowded areas as well.

Upon entering 2-chome, I was graced with the sight of some beautiful ice sculptures.  This year, they had various tropical sea animals swimming.  They also had a sculpture to promote the Nippon Ham Fighters; Sapporo’s very own Japanese baseball team.  This section of the festival wasn’t very good.  It was very difficult to see the sculpture properly, and large ice sculptures didn’t come off well when they are as detailed as this one.  The smaller, simpler sculptures worked out better.  In my own opinion, it’s not worth the time and effort as you can’t get close enough to see the actual detail of the sculptures.

3-chome provided another dynamic to the festival.  In 3-chome, the festival had two different sculptures.  The first is a small shrine and maze for good luck.  They had a few special items if you walked the maze.  You could get a picture taken with Hiyokochan, a popular character.  I didn’t know this character at all, but they said they are popular.  The shrine is also a major place for people to pray and to bring some good luck to the festival.  Unfortunately, this attraction was closed when I visited.  The other attraction to see was the TAKA and TOSHI slide.  TAKA and TOSHI are a popular comedy duo in Japan who comes from Hokkaido.  This comedy duo designed this slide.  It was a nice and I wish I could try it, but alas, it was closed when I went.

4-chome had another set of commercialized sculptures.  Unlike 1-chome, these were more tasteful and had an actual meaning.  The first was “~Dreams~”.  This huge sculpture was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of Tokyo Disneyland.  It featured all of the major Disney characters.  Mickey, Minnie, and even Tinkerbelle were featured.  They also had a plane that had working lights to provide an interesting dynamic to the sculpture.  On the other side of the block was a huge sculpture to promote the possible Tokyo Olympics in 2016.  It featured 3 of Japan’s most recent, and famous, gold medalists from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Kousuke Kitajima was the prominent figure.  He won a lot of swimming medals and was pictured in his victory pose after winning gold.  On either side of him were Yukiko Ueno and Masae Ueno.  Yukiko was the pitcher and captain of the Japanese women’s softball team, and Masae was a Judo gold medalist.  Tokyo is currently in the running for the 2016 Olympics.  The other candidates include Chicago, USA; Madrid, Spain; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Currently, Tokyo isn’t doing well, but they do have a chance.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English):  http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese):  http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part I of a 3 part series .  (Part II) (Part III)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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