A greatest Joy
One of life’s greatest joys lies in experiencing new and exciting journeys that broaden our minds. Although short visits to a far off land brings momentary joy, it’s the longer stays that help us grow as a person. Having traveled the greater portion of this world, I have found myself being choosy as to the location I’d rather spend my time at. Some places are very beneficial to a creative mind and some are just plain annoying or boring.
Sapporo lends itself to the latter as there isn’t much to be had as far as activities yet it is very conducive to achieving a piece of mind. As a writer, the tranquil ambience and routine day-to-day living gets my mind dreaming of plot lines and story character building. Slowly but surely a story begins to take form and blossom into an epic tale.
Come and follow me as I highlight a few things that might pique your interest and help you enjoy this little slice of heaven in a far flung area of the world.
My first impressions of Hokkaido, which is the northernmost island of Japan which the biggest city of Sapporo is situated, was that it was cold. Now, mind you, I was raised in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado when I was growing up so it didn’t feel much different than there.
The spring season brings a sense of renewal as the snow covered landscape slowly melts and reveals the trees and brush that had been hiding for many months. The Japanese have a penchant for having ‘green thumbs’ and those that have a yard with trees usually take great care in preparing them for the freezing temperatures and heavy snows. Branches are tied up to the main trunks so the weight of the snow doesn’t damage them, some saplings are wrapped at the base to protect them from being encased in the months long waist deep snow.
The care and level of attention given to even the most mundane are what makes the Japanese people unique. Many times, as I walk around observing the traffic of life, I am surprised by their ingenuity and humbled by their efforts in giving and receiving respect. It is no wonder how a Filipino film called “Kita Kita” became such a popular hit in the Philippines. The message of the film perfectly overlaid the pace of life and captured a very convincing and tragic love story. It was filmed in and around the city of Sapporo and Otaru documenting a period of time set in the spring to early fall.
Although the summer season is the best season to visit it’s not by far the only season to take part in festivities or enjoying the atmosphere.
One of the few things from the New World that took hold here is the sport of Baseball. It has taken on such a preeminent position in the Japan psyche and garnered legions of fans cheering on their local prefectural teams.
Experiencing a ball game has got to be one of the most exhilarating displays of camaraderie and sportsmanship than any other sporting event I’ve attended. Team members bow in respect to their rivals and take any loss with a grain of salt and humility, vowing that the next game will be better.
Stadium chants of a teams logo or motto are very boisterous with many of the fans batting plastic batons together and shouting in unison to cheer on their teams.
The only team for all of Hokkaido is the Nipponham Fighters, sponsored by their namesake company (Nippon meaning Japan, ham is what they specialize in) based in Sapporo city they’ve been a force to be reckoned with on the national stage. The team has witnessed a huge following mainly due to the multitalented Ohtani who can pitch with either hand and bat just as forcefully, earning him the title of Most Valuable Player.
A beer by any other name
In the late summer and fall the festivities center more towards beer and harvest festivals. Sapporo is home to Sapporo Beer, known locally as Black Label, which is brewed by the Sapporo Brewing Company. The factory was based within city limits until a newer facility was built closer to the New Chitose Airport. The old brewery was then converted into a beer garden style restaurant that specializes in a dish unique to Hokkaido, namely Jinguskan. It is an interesting take on the name Ghenghis Khan, the 12th century founder of the Mongol Empire who united many of the nomadic tribes in the north eastern part of Asia. I can only assume “Jinguskan” referred to the unique style of preparing mutton and vegetables over a dome shaped cast iron skillet that may have originated from the nomadic Mongol tribes. In any case it is a ‘must have’ cuisine when visiting Hokkaido.
A tour can be had of the current Sapporo Brewery which also has a connected Jinguskan style restaurant. The tour usually takes less than an hour in which guests are shown the vast operations which are mostly automated. The ingredients are all locally sourced around the island, wheat and hops from the northern plains and cool fresh mountain water tapped from the surrounding snow capped mountains. It is combined to form a distinctive flavor and body that rivals other competitive brands like Asahi and Kirin. Both breweries have also opened competing Jinguskan restaurants in Sapporo because it was apparent that the food goes very well with beer.
The other cuisine that Hokkaido is very well known for is the very flavorful ramen. It has been my experience that the ramen has a rich and heavy broth which works very well in warming the soul in any winter snow storm. Most any ramen restaurant that one chooses to visit in Japan usually has a ramen shop specific way of preparing their bowls. Some use thick slabs of slow cooked pork, some choose to incorporate different vegetables or toppings to stand out like adding corn or slabs of butter. A visit to the small alleyways near the Susukino area of Sapporo can reveal a vast network of small hole-in-the-wall places that serve soupy goodness by the bowlfuls, so bring your appetite!
Another dish is called Oden which is a one pot winter dish that consists of vegetables like daikon, mushrooms, boiled eggs, konjac, and processed fish cakes all in a light, soy flavored dashi broth. It is very healthy and is considered as a great way to end a night of drinking to offset the ill effects of alcohol. It’s no wonder most Japanese are not obese and live longer lives with such an emphasis on vegetables in every diet.
(To be continued on Part II)
*pics to follow