Japan, May 2014: Day Six

Our final day in Sapporo started with a croissant donut in Mister Donut. Sitting watching the traffic go by, despite the miserable weather, we were determined to make it a memorable 24hrs.

The first stop was a mall situated on our street. The malls are completely different to those in the UK. Rather than being a corporate template of all the usual high street shops, these are more like independent department stores.

Ten floors later we decided daylight and fresh air was in order. We headed in the direction of Odori Park. The park runs through the centre of the city and acts as a focal point for Sapporo’s outdoor entertainment. Odori Park hosts the famous Snow Festival and various concerts. Today it was the turn of the Sapporo Wine Festival. One block of the park was transformed into a mini market with food and drink stalls surrounding sheltered seating. Not one to drink, we opted for some beef (maybe pork?) and chicken yakitori (skewered and grilled).

We wandered down to the opposite end of the park and caught the elevator to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower. Ninety or so meters above the ground, the clouds had finally lifted to reveal the surrounding areas. Despite her fear of heights, Emma clung on to the internal structure and took photos. We could almost see the top of Mt. Moiwa through the cloud now and the Ski Jump was in full view.

One thing we’ve noticed in recent days is that our English has become hilariously appalling. Living in Somerset means we’ve been exposed to some funky variations like “Where’s it to?”, when asking someone where something is – but our language has de-evolved further to a point where even I don’t know what I say sometimes. Writing this is challenging enough. Don’t think that it’s because our English words are slowly being replaced by their Japanese equivalents, they’re not. But I do think the limited Japanese we are picking up is pushing out the English we used to know. Asking “How high is that?”, instead of “How much?”, is quite frankly baffling. Maybe we’re just saying “Hai” so much, it’s now ingrained in every sentence? Further study is needed into this phenomenon.

After the Tower, we headed up town, via the famous Clock Tower, to another mall that houses Bic Camera – it’s like Currys/PCWorld on steroids. Hungry and tired, we sought out food in the form of Ramen. Fortunately, on the 10th floor of Bic Camera was Sapporo Ramen Republic; a ‘theme park’ of restaurants from around the area serving their specialities… No roller coasters here – just big bowls of comfort food.

Full of noodles and soup, we spent the next few hours wandering the maze of technology on the floors below… The amusement/arcade floor also housed a Pet Shop. Apparently a hedgehog is a popular pet here in Sapporo and along side ferrets, dogs and cats, you could buy your very own spikey little friend. We came away without an animal this time, but there’s no way I’m leaving Emma unsupervised in the next one.

Bic Camera has everything; homeware, sporting goods (more golf stuff than in any golf shop we’ve ever been in), kids toys and of course cameras. Unfortunately we are on a ‘no buy’ policy until we’re back in Tokyo as we’d only have to carry it around with us. Exhausted from our walk, we managed to find some massage chairs and duly sat for a relaxing rub down. Around 10 seconds into the ‘massage’ we realised this wasn’t going to be as pleasant as previously hoped. Ten minutes of what can only be described as ‘assault’ ensued; I’m not sure whether it was so invigorating that it genuinely relieved us of our previous aches, or just gave us so much new pain we forgot about everything else.

Rather than walk, we decided to catch the subway back to the hotel for a little rest. The heavens had opened by now, so it was time to take to subterranean Sapporo. We ventured out later that evening in the search for dinner as the rain had stopped and the clouds lifted. We found ourselves at the Norbesa building just down the street. Located on the roof, 7 floors above street level is the Noria Ferris wheel. The night time view of Sapporo is stunning and once we’d got to the top of the wheel, Emma was able to open her eyes and enjoy it too.

The ride was swift and we explored the rest of the Norbesa building on the way back down. We stumbled across a book/collectables store called Mandarake. Inside was a library of manga (comic books) and collectables dolls/statues of all shapes and sizes. Emma has been on about Blythe Dolls for as long as I can remember and this was the first time she’d seen them in the flesh. Retailing for anywhere between £10-£1000+, we were both happy when she found a secondhand one (in perfect condition and small enough to be carried on our travels) for just £6. I stumbled across an Issue #1 of my favourite anime (cartoon TV show) Initial D, again for a bargain price.

Happy with our purchases, we left and went in the search of dinner. There are so many restaurants it’s hard to choose where to eat; however, any that have a sign with ‘English Menu Available’ definitely jump to the top of the list. We saw such a sign and ventured down into the basement of a building within a shopping arcade. You would walk straight past if you weren’t paying attention and once downstairs we were greeted enthusiastically, so gave it a chance.

I’d love to tell you the name of the place, but I can’t. Once seated, with a camping stove in the middle of the table, we were given the menu. However, despite the English translation, we were still no wiser as to what we were ordering. As it turns out, we were ordering Chanko Nabe, a kind of hot pot dish cooked at the table. We opted for the “West side” meal as it was meat rather than fish. Soon enough, a bowl of fresh veg and meat arrived and we started putting it in… This was apparently the wrong thing to do! The waiter then jumped in and proceeded to lay everything in the boiling broth – presumably in a particular sequence we’d completely ignored. Once back on track, the beef, chicken, pork balls, scallops, some kind of fish and the rest of the veg bubbled away until it was ready to eat.

It was delicious, despite finding some unusual stuff hidden within (it may have been cheese, it may have been the also advertised, collagen?!?) we’d definitely have it again. After a quick stop at the local Don Quijote and picking up another Mister Donut, we returned to the hotel to pack for the morning’s journey to Tokyo.

As I write this now, we are just entering the tunnel between Hokkaido and Honshu. Emma is reading the most bizarre magazine about wild cats (not lions and tigers, just normal cats with eye infections and stuff). I found it in a combini outside the station, it profiles wild cats and tells you how they behave and what they get up to. It’s like OK, Now or any of the other trashy tabloid mags – except this features cats found in the street. In many ways it is superior to tabloid mags!