|A street in Sapporo, near Odori Park|
The main reason I wanted to visit Sapporo was for the Snow Festival, or Yuki Matsuri. It's held every year, and ice and snow sculptures are built by teams from around the world, and inexplicably, by the Japanese Self-Defense Force (their, er, army), who also truck in loads of snow for the production. At least, that's the main reason I wanted to go at this particular time of year - mostly, I just wanted to go see snow. I'd also heard, from both my foreign co-workers and my Japanese clients, that Sapporo was some mythical wonderland of food: miso ramen! Jingisu-kan! Crab! Fish! Sushi! Soup curry! Everything seems to come with an extra layer of butter and/or friedness, or is loaded with yuzu, or is just generally delicious. I haven't sampled all the delights of Sapporo cooking just yet, but I think the highlist is either the aforementioned jingisu-kan - or Genghis Khan, a lamb dish named after, well, him, that you barbecue on a metal dome in the middle of your table - or possibly the menu at Kushidori, a Sapporo chain restaurant that specialises in skewered meats (and a little bit of skewered veg - their ginkgo nuts are great).
Oh, and the beer. I'm a huge fan of Japanese beer. I wouldn't quite leap to saying it's the best beer in the world - I have perhaps had better beers in the Czech Republic, or from various microbreweries, and so on. However, Japanese beer, for me, has one huge advantage: it doesn't give me an automatic hangover. It must be something to do with what it's brewed from in comparison to Western beers, but most alcohol (especially red wine - I think it's the tannin) gives me terrible headaches the next day. Not Japanese beer. Plus, it's light and smooth, and generally goes well as a complement to Japanse food. But I'm digressing - beer in Sapporo. Sapporo is, after all, one Japan's major breweries (the others, I guess, being Asahi, Yebisu, Kirin and possibly Suntory, though I always think of them as more in the spirits line of work. For relaxing times...). Beer, and of course Sapporo beer, originated here in Hokkaido, during the Meiji period [I might make a bigger post about this particular subject later - it's quite fascinating, especially in how the fate of the company is tied up with Japan's colonial past and the post-war deconstruction of large Japanese companies by the US military administration]. So, one of my big goals was visiting...
|The Sapporo Beer Museum|
|Early Japanese beers - from left to right, Yebisu, Sapporo and Asahi|
Next time: the Snow Festival itself, and Otaru, a small port city northwest of Sapporo.