Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Last weekend we took the long, lolling (LOL) ferry ride from Sendai to Hokkaido, to take a look at Sapporo's famous yuki matsuri, or snow festival. Hokkaido, being the northernmost island of Japan, really is quite cold at this time of year, and, not to disappoint, within minutes of our arrival a thick blanketing of snow started falling, adding to the already impressive drifts along the roads and footpaths.
The main draw for the yuki matsuri is the impressive array of snow and ice sculptures that the city puts together. The scale of the snow sculpures was just incredible. The above (and below) sculpture of the fox and owl was the size of a building!
Mirabel spent a lot of time taking sneaky pictures of cute Japanese kids in puffy winter clothes or being pulled on sleds. Also a very awkward-looking reindeer mascot for something-or-other.
The trip was part of a large JET-participant pilgrimage, so it was a fairly social time. The first night the lot of us went to the Sapporo Beer Garden, for a two-hour, all-you-can-eat-and-drink free-for-all. The food served at the beer garden is amusingly called Genghis Khan -- a name which in Japan seems to be more closely related to barbecued lamb than to the fearsome Mongolian warlord.
Other culinary adventures included a walk to "ramen alley", a narrow walkway lined with ramen noodle shops. Good ramen. Yup.
We also ventured out to a nearby town called Otaru. They have a festival of their own going at the same time, which involves setting a lot of pretty lanterns in the canal and around-about in snowdrifts. Very nice.
Otaru also has an amazing German-style microbrewery, where I had far and away the best Japanese beer I've ever encountered. I tried their pilsener, dunkel, and weiss, as well as a deliciously smoky special winter brew. So good I brought a pack home with me (it's sitting in the fridge as I type. So tempting!).
Below are some pictures of the wonderfully detailed ice sculptures. Some of them had real fish frozen into them! On our last night we watched a crew of bulldozers and diggers demolish the whole thing with real relish. Creation and destruction!