Japan - Sapporo

Why did I choose to go to Sapporo when travelling to it is quite a hassle and there are so many things to see in the island of Honshu where Tokyo and Kyoto are? Well, the only reason why Japan was in my head was because my cousin floated the idea of visiting it when she was here last December. I thought why not, it should be great during Sakura season. Now as I didn't know much about Japan before this trip, I also didn't know much about Sakura. I didn't know that they would bloom early in the Spring and I didn't know they would last only around 2 weeks. So it was rather sad when I found out I wouldn't be seeing any sakura. That is until I found out that sakura bloom the latest in Hokkaido. How glad I was. That's why I decided to go to Sapporo to chase for it, even though even I would admit at that time that I was crazy to do so. However, what fun would this whole thing be if I wasn't a wee bit crazy? When I started planning this, I actually put Sapporo as my first leg. It was like, get the hard one done first. The forecast was looking like it matched my arrival. Then because I have a bit of an OCD, I kinda kept on checking the forecast and they got moved back. I was still crazy and so I switched the whole plan and made Sapporo as my leg 2. So from Kyoto, I had to make the long, rather nerve wrecking trip to Narita and then take a plane to Sapporo. It's nerve wrecking, because if I had missed any of the train or something, things could be catastrophic.

I'm glad to report that the trip went all smooth and that I made it to Sapporo alright. Perhaps the rather not so nice part was that I didn't get a window seat on the Nozomi train from Kyoto to Tokyo and the train was kinda full and there's always someone who sat next to me :( In the trip, I actually saw a glorious view of Mt. Fuji. The sky was blue, the weather was great, and there's a whole sweeping village and farm below it. It was the most perfect view of Mt. Fuji that I had ever seen in this trip. Looking at it was rather surreal for me, because it's like I was sure it was Mt. Fuji, but I thought I could be so wrong as well, but then I thought there couldn't be many snow capped mountain between Kyoto and Tokyo. Unfortunately, I didn't take any picture simply because I wasn't at the window seat. It didn't occur to me to go to the side of my car and take pictures :( so it was one of those things that I had to just keep in my memory. There's a Japanese some seats away though who used his phone to take pictures of it. The sounds were rather weird to hear because of the quietness that on usually hear on a Japanese train. How about that, I just made a sentence which implies hearing silence :P

So anyway, there's nothing interesting to report on my trip to Sapporo. Again, so unlike me, I kinda drifted off after the plane took off. I actually managed to squeeze in a bit of sleep. Arriving in Sapporo, I knew I had to take the train, but I also knew that I didn't have enough money in my suica card, so first stop was to recharge it. I found the machine with the same logo as my card. Found a button for an english instruction but didn't find anything there to help me. So I quickly just asked a lady who was in the machine next to me. I asked if she spoke english. She said no. I must have looked pretty pitiful that she looked at me instead of saying sorry and quickly went away. Then I repeated "money" over and over while pointing at my card. She finally got it and tried to work the machine with me. First she pressed the english language and then she realized she couldn't understand the buttons when they're all changed in english. So I laughed and said Japanese and she laughed too, thank God. Then she pushed the buttons and the numbers appear and I got it and to tell her I got it, I pointed at the place where I knew I had to insert the money. I thanked her over and over with a big smile and then she was off on her way. I am thankful that there's someone to help me. So got my card charged and I found the train easy enough. Got off at the correct stop though I had a moment of uncertainty but all was good and I also managed to find my hotel on my own. So all was good.

Now, the night before I had to leave, I checked the sakura forecast again and darn it, the forecast was moved back again. It was still cold in Sapporo so the forecast now said that the flowers were to bloom on the date that I left Sapporo. For the record, the forecast was moved back again that the first bloom was 2 days before I left Japan and the full bloom was when I already arrived here in Singapore. Seriously I felt like I was bitch slapped by nature in Sapporo :( I felt sad and disappointed and as with everything, I got really down when things that I planned didn't go my way. I actually feel like that is what God wanted me to learn with this Sapporo leg. Sometime things just wouldn't go our way, no matter how hard we try and pray and we have to be acceptant about it. I told myself that over and over in Sapporo and may cite this Sapporo experience for times to come, but I have to admit that I don't think I fully grasped the lesson. It's just hard, you know. Anyway, I had to move ahead with the plan. Got to my room and it has the best bathroom of all my other rooms. Then I went to find my way to Odori park. When I was researching for this Sapporo leg, I actually didn't really see many interesting things to do. Perhaps because I was somewhat in the weird season to be in. If it's winter, I suppose it's great to do winter sports and such. If it's summer then the farm nearby with the lavender fields and all seem interesting. When I was there, it's in the middle of seasons changing, so it's not as interesting. Anyway, I decided that I should go to Odori park, one of the landmark of the city.

There are sakura trees lining Odori Park so during flowering season, it must be rather cool. It's not a park per se. It's being cut off by streets. It's more like smaller sections of green area and from one end to the other, the whole thing is called Odori park, but to go from one section to another, you have to cross streets. It's quite a long walk from Sapporo station to Odori Park. It's a straight walk though. On one end of the park, there's the Sapporo TV Tower which was renovated when I was there, seriously it's being covered by some sort of net. I was like, of course, my luck. Not that I wanted to go up there but it's just I felt it's another thing to ruin an already bad situation :( I don't think I bothered to go to the other end. I did find Sapporo clock tower. I didn't go in, because even from the outside it wasn't interesting. Then I stood and see some of the fountains. I couldn't remember how many there were. From my pictures, I seem to have only taken pictures from 2 different fountains.

Then I started to take many pictures of the buildings nearby with the empty branches. They made for pretty nice pictures actually. There was this tree with a white flowering flower, but I'm pretty sure it's not sakura. I'm not sure what that is. I sat underneath it, taking its pictures and feeling rather gloomy. I tried, I really did, to lift my spirit, after all I was in Japan. Anyways, with nothing much to be seen, I headed back to find dinner and called it the day.

The next day, I decided to proceed with the plan. First was to visit Hokkaido Shrine. Nearby there's Maruyama Park with the many cherry blossom trees. So you understand why I wanted to visit it. Of course when I was there, it was empty branches all around. Sigh :( Anyway, I got quite confused in trying to buy the day pass but I finally got it and I found the shrine easy enough. It was rather simple. There's nothing interesting here. I did see koinobori here, big ones. They are these carps wind socks which was hung on the flag pole to celebrate children's day. I suggest you click on the links because I think the word wind socks is not very explanatory, at least for me. Being that I was all gloomy and in need to let go, I decided to pray, so that's the second shrine I prayed in. I did the water purification, so this can be said as the first Shinto shrine where I prayed in a correct way. The compound really has nothing special in it. Here's one of the buildings in the compound.

With nothing much to do there, I decided to see the ema being hung. So it turns out ema is the name for the wooden wishing tablet, which I had been calling wishing tablet. The nosey me was looking if some of them were written in a language I can understand. By that, I mean English or perhaps French and Italian. I never expected to find an Indonesian one, but lo and behold.

It's in Indonesian! It's kinda the only one written in Indonesian I'd seen. Well I saw another one in Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, but the way it was written it could be in Malay instead of Indonesian, or it could be written by some non-Jakartan Indonesian. Anyways, I was happy seeing this wish. It's from Sheila and she hoped that she could open an animal hospital in Surabaya and continue her studies to master or PhD in animal behaviour. I remember thinking that I hope Sheila got her wishes. I saw it as a sign to write my own ema. It's never something that came across my mind, but looking at it, I was thinking maybe I should. On my way to the counter, I saw that there's a box for the fortune papers in english! I saw that even more as a sign that I had to try that. You have to put 100 yen in the slot next to it and then you put your hand in the box and take a piece of paper, like you're trying to win a lucky draw. Noone was watching if anyone put the required money, but you know if you want to not get seriously bad luck, I say be sincere and honest in doing this. I put my hand deep and drew a paper. I opened it and it read "There can be seen a shadow by the moon above the top of a tree. And it can be seen in different ways, according to each man's mind". There's a summary that said my fortune is good luck, and there are 1 sentence each on topics like wish, missing thing, travel, business, love. etc. Actually the one liner wasn't that encouraging, but overall I think it kinda spoke to me about having to look at situations in a different light. Since it wasn't bad, I decided to keep the paper instead of tying it in up in the shrine. Then I proceeded to get an ema for my own. It cost 500 yen, except for a bigger one which cost 800 yen. The process of telling the girl at the counter was difficult, because she didn't speak english and I wanted one with a particular snake picture. There's one which is a teddy bear, but I thought that's too modern (you can see a glimpse of it in the picture above) so I chose this snake which I don't actually know what it means actually :( Anyway, what's written behind it is too personal for me to share here :P

Other than that, I also saw a procession of Shinto priests going into the building behind where people usually pray. Inside the building there are many people who were sitting down. It's like they're attending a mass or church service. The window was dark that I couldn't see much, but I heard there's music and it was pretty nice and from what I saw, there were 2 girls in Shinto outfit who seemed to be dancing, pretty interesting and traditional.

After that I proceeded to my next destination of Moerenuma Park. Got to the correct subway station and found the bus terminal easy enough. Then I had difficulty understanding the bus timetable since it's all in Japanese. I thought there should be one bus coming soon, but it has an asterisk on it, which I didn't understand why. After having to wait there long and wondered why my supposed bus never came, I deduced perhaps it's the schedule for summer :( There are 2 buses that can be taken to the park, but darn it their frequency is rather bad, around 40 minutes or so. So I waited awhile in that little quiet bus terminal. There were people, but they're Japanese senior citizens so I doubt I could engage in a conversation in english. Anyway, finally the bus came and I boarded. Was totally confused and was just relying that I would know where to stop because everything is in Japanese :( It reached a point where I was the only person in the bus and the bus instead of passing through the park as I had researched on, stopped on a bus depot, I think. The bus driver in Japanese asked me to get down. What?!?! I pointed my Sapporo guide and told him in english that I wanted to go to Moerenuma Park. Pretty sure he understood me but that didn't magically make him able to speak in english and bottomline, I had to get down and I concluded I had to walk. Which direction not sure. He pointed a general direction, a direction the bus should have gone I think if it hadn't turned right to the bus depot. So I got down and started walking. Darn it!!! Reached for my ipod and plugged in and the first song that came out was Tout Va Bien from Pascal Paridot. Darn, you just can't help grinning at the irony of the situation. There you are in the middle of nowhere and to be honest for the first time in this trip, I thought about that fact that I was in a middle of nowhere, didn't know if I get to reach my destination, or if I would find my way back to the hotel, to Sapporo city centre which at that point in time seemed like a whole different world (there's no high rise buildings in that area, traffic was very light, and it seemed that there's no taxi around), and yet a song that came was saying everything is alright. I mean it's a song which literally says everything goes well, the birds are singing, the sun is shining. The irony or mockery of it made me smiled so wide which may make people who saw me think I was crazy but darn I felt it's all too funny. Thank God that after some time, my walking straight brought me to see the top of a glass pyramid which I knew meant that I was reaching the park, yay!!! So tout va bien indeed and God really don't let me down.

So I kinda reached the entrance of the park. It's free by the way. Saw the map and saw that I would pass a bicycle rental before reaching the pyramid. That didn't happen. I did cross a rather big bridge in which underneath it, run a river. Nothing fancy about the view, but you can kinda see snow-capped mountains in the distance. There's a man there fishing in the picture below.

So I reached the pyramid and didn't even pass the bicycle rental, sigh! I didn't understand it, but since I was there I just went into the pyramid. It's hot inside it. Not sure why. Could it be all the glass windows retain the heat? Took some pictures of it and saw a map and saw that the bicycle rental was near the parking space before the bridge. Aarrrghhh!!! Now I was already quite tired with the walking, but I thought since I didn't manage to cycle in Kyoto, let's just do it here, especially since the park seems to be interesting.

So I walked back, crossed the bridge, went to the parking lot and did see that the white structure there is the bicycle rental. They should have put bigger sign or something!!! Rental is 200 yen for 2 hours and that's the minimum, for extra hour is 100 yen. Was given a bicycle and the auntie there was trying to communicate the fountain show timing which was to be soon. Tried to disengage the bicycle from the parking position, but I couldn't and the uncle had to show me that I had to switch the little handle thing by the wheel. Pretty embarrassed about it, but hey it's been years since I last cycled. Was also embarrassed that I wasn't looking steady when I cycled away that I quickly cycled away lest they're having second thought about giving the bicycle to this girl who didn't seem to be able to cycle. I can cycle, it's just it's been a long time and I didn't realize how easily I can be swayed.

I had a map this time around, but me as always really just went on my way, so I just cycled and turned when I wanted to turn. Found myself in one of the kids' play area and a young japanese couple approached me and asked if I they could see my map. They speak very little english and it was quite funny when we're trying to figure out the map to get them to the fountain. At one point, I told them to hold the map while I was taking picture. Then I suggested that they asked the tour guide coming behind us (he's holding the pointer thingy with a group of people with him) and they understood me, after I pointed behind :D Anyway, they're very cute. The girl gave me an awkward handshake to thank me. Then I made my way to not sure where, but I realized that I too better get to the fountain. Was a bit lost myself that I could only see the fountain shot up high from behind trees. When I arrived, it was just a small little water thingy but then it became really cool. The little mass of water started oscillating (for lack of a better word) and created some sort of wave which grew more aggressive to fill the basin. It took some time to fill the basin, and when it's filled, they're immediately was drawn again to clear the water out of the basin and that's pretty much the end of the fountain show thingy.

After that I just cycled around. I did see the map to make sure I see all the things there but either I couldn't find them or they're under renovation or something else (some of the things weren't clear for me, like the beach) I may miss them. By the way, the park was designed by a famous architect, Isamu Noguchi, whom I've never heard of before this. I was interested in visiting it because it's listed as one of the things to see in Sapporo. Also when I saw the mountain picture, I was thinking it's like where Teletubbies live! This is one side of the mountain. You can take the stairs to go up there, which of course I didn't. By the way, my bike fell when I was taking this picture. I think it could be the wind, or because my bag was too heavy in the basket and it tilted the whole bicycle, or I didn't flip the handle on the wheel thingy when I parked it. Thank God noone was there and it seemed the bicycle wasn't in any damage. Sorry auntie and uncle!

This other side of the mountain seems to provide an easier way to reach the top which I again didn't take. I don't think the bicycle is allowed up there. You can see a bit of the pyramid on the right. Seriously, doesn't this mountain make you think of the telettubies? I think the view could be pretty awesome from the top. I saw some people on its peak.

Anyways, I just cycled around which is not as easy as I thought it would be. It wasn't a breeze because there are a few strong wind and cycling against the wind was hard for me!!! I also realized that man, I was so bad in steering. I did manage to ride with only 1 hand though. I was thinking that I shouldn't be allowed to drive. It's by God's grace that I didn't fall and there weren't many people that I didn't hit anyone. I found the kids' play area, there are a few of them with interesting things like blocks, another pyramid, slide, etc. I found this swing and I just had to stop and have a few swing on it. I couldn't remember when I was last on a swing, so it was like something that I had to do. Felt happy to be doing that. Sapporo didn't live up to what I expected it to be, but at that moment, I was thinking that this was that happy moment that Sapporo gave me - I got to play like a child.

In another I found a slide and seesaws. I saw this boy playing on the slide and I felt like I wanted to play too. When I saw his mother getting on it as well, I went up and down the slides a few times as well. Each time with a big smile and happiness in my heart. I was most probably in kindergarten the last time I was in a slide. By the way, look at the ladders to the slide. I actually got a bit nervous going up and yet the boy without hesitation just stretched his little legs to climb all the way up. I'm not sure it's very safe for kids, but there were the boy's mother and grandmother there. He seemed to take pleasure in seeing me trying out the slides as well :) There were some seesaws in front of the slide but I couldn't find anyone to play it with me, so I just looked at them longingly.

After that, I decided to call it the day, especially since my watch was showing that I had spent close to 3 hours since I rented the bicycle. Went back to the bicycle rental and the auntie quickly pointed out the bus schedule to me. Darn it, lesson learnt, there's a bus schedule. As mentioned before, the buses don't run very frequently so it's a good idea to note their time to arrange the time for catching them. I didn't know all that. She kindly pointed the bus stop in the map and then offered to write down the timing. I must have confused her, because I told her that I couldn't take the bus she told me since I was late. It turned out for some reason my watch went to a different timezone. I found out when I tried to pay the extra money for the bicycle and she refused it since I was like only around 10 minutes late (I thought I was near to one hour late). So then I realized I may have confused her about the bus timing. Anyway, I was in english and she's in japanese so the confusion may not be that bad since all can be attributed to language barrier. I thanked her profusely since she was so nice. Then as I walked away, she was calling for me in japanese which I think means "wait". Turned out she wanted to give me a candy. How sweet and nice!!! This time I said thank you with a bow :P She seriously made me warm and fuzzy inside. It made me think that it's perhaps one of those times when people are really nice to you because you're alone.

Anyway, made my way to the bus stop, but then when I reached the main road, I wasn't sure which way I was to go. Left or right? I didn't memorize the map, thinking it would be visible straightaway when I reached the main road. Stupid me. I started walking left and after some time, I think it was wrong, so I headed back and then after some walking I did found the bus stop not far from the entrance. Stupid me! Then I realized there's a little sheltered area to wait for the bus. Not very clean, but I supposed it helps when it's raining or snowing. The bus came and it was a straightforward right back to the bus station, thank God. There were a little japanese boy and girl (I think maybe 7-8 years old) going home from school. They're so cute together. The girl alighted first and the boy started collecting ticket with each stop, I think it annoyed the bus driver. I was thinking how interesting that their parents let them take the bus on their own.

After I reached the station, I decided to head to Odori park again before calling it the day. The trees were as bare as the day before :( Heard some Indonesians and asked the Indonesian tourists to take my picture while I offered to take theirs. And so it was, my Sapporo leg. It wasn't as perfect as I would have liked it, but it had its nice moment I have to say. Moerenuma Park did give me some happiness. For pictures from Sapporo, you can go here. Off to Tokyo next.

:) eKa @ 10:52:00 PM •

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