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2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part I) April 28, 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 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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Sakura April 21, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sakura” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Late March into mid-April is the Sakura season in Japan.  Every year, within a two week window, the cherry blossoms start to bloom turning Japan into a sea of pink.  It marks the true start to spring.  If you plan your trip to coincide with this season, you will not be disappointed.  You’ll be able to experience a unique Japan that very few tourists will ever experience.

Many people wonder what is so special about the cherry blossoms.  It isn’t, necessarily, only the fact that they are beautiful, but also some of the history of the cherry blossoms with Japan.  It has been part of their culture for centuries, if not millenia.  There is a fairy tale saying that there is a body buried underneath each cherry tree.  Cherry trees are the only trees in Japan that have flowers that bloom before leaves are grown.  While I cannot verify this claim, it does help promote the tale.  This also brings a feeling that cherry trees are somewhat magical and it can bring about powers to many people.  It is very common to see cherry trees planted within temple grounds, parks, along rivers, and almost everywhere else a tree can be planted.

The most popular thing to do in Japan during the sakura season is to go to a hanami.  In fact, many Japanese people don’t say “sakura season” but rather “hanami season”.  Literally translated, this means flower watching season, or more specifically watching the cherry blossoms.  On weekends, it’s common to see families enjoying a nice stroll in the park or along the river enjoying the beautiful cherry trees.  You can see many friends playing Frisbee or just having a nice time talking to one another.  It’s a great time to have a picnic.  These usually involve bentos (Japanese style packed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls with some type of filling and seaweed wrapped around it).  When the sun goes down, things can change dramatically.  Often, there are many floodlights that are turned on to make the pink blossoms stand out even more.  It can create very surreal experience.  It is also when all of the office workers come out to party.

Hanami parties are very common for offices and friends.  For the two weeks that the cherry blossoms are blooming, almost every office in Japan will have their own hanami party.  While this is probably declining in recent years, it’s still a popular tradition among the older companies.  Being the end of the fiscal year for most companies, and the start for most new recruits, it’s the final menial task for new recruits who are about to enter their second year with a company.  They have one, and only one mission.  Find a nice spot in a park, a park that has been decided by the office, and start camping out there from the mid-afternoon.  The spaces under the cherry trees, themselves, are often taken by noon, and some workers must camp out there all day.  It’s a long and boring task that essentially involves unfurling a large blue tarp, making sure it’s secure, and then sleeping all day.  They can also play games on their phone or whatever electronics they have.  Once their co-workers finish for the day, they can start to party.  Generally, it’s a loud, crowded, and jovial event.  If you are weary of such crowds, it’s best to avoid the parks at night, but there are a few places you can visit that are still nice, and not too bad.

In Tokyo, there are several great places to visit.  Ueno Park is one of the most famous places in the north.  The entire park is lined with cherry blossoms, but unfortunately, the entire park is paved, so there is very few, if any, grassy areas to sit, eat, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.  It’s also one of the most crowded areas in this season.  Another area is Kudanshita.  It is an area north of the Imperial Palace.  There are many areas here that can be enjoyed, along with almost any other place around the Imperial Palace.  Yasukuni Shrine is another famous, if not controversial, place to visit.  There are many cherry trees within the shrine and along the streets surrounding this shrine.  It’s a beautiful place.  Shinjuku Gyoen is also highly recommended, as is Shiba Park at the foot of Tokyo Tower.  The Sumida River and Meguro River is also famous and worth a visit if you have the time; and you aren’t tired of looking at cherry blossoms.

If you need to get out of Tokyo, Kyoto is always highly recommended.  The cherry blossoms are always nice, but I have not had the chance to see them.  I would also recommend visiting Himeji.  It becomes more beautiful with all the pink blossoms providing a new look to the castle.  It’s somewhat rare to see the white castle framed with cherry blossoms.  The park in front of the castle is also very nice and extremely popular for locals to enjoy the weekend.  If you get a chance, I’d also highly recommend visiting Himeji during this season as well.

The cherry blossom season is a beautiful time to visit.  Just remember that you have to be very lucky to get your timing right.  Pick a few weeks to visit and cross your fingers.

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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