Snow and Seafood in Sapporo
My friend and I- two girls from the balmy southern island of Kyushu, where I was a Coordinator for International Relations on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program- arrived in Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido three days before the start of the city’s annual Snow Festival (Yukimatsuri) in early February.
This early arrival itinerary, recommended by a well-traveled friend, was definitely the smartest way to plan our trip. In the days leading up to the official start of the festival, we had the chance to witness snow and ice sculptors putting the finishing touches on their breathtaking works of chilly art. Our very first evening in town, we spectated in amazement as the Self Defense Force worked on scaffolds across a fifty foot-tall mass of snow to craft the epic centerpiece of the festival. Another perk to arriving early was that, for the most part, we were able to avoid the incredible crowds that flock to the festival (some two million people over seven days) and enjoy views of the sculptures largely unobstructed.
Although many people might visit Hokkaido in the winter time to enjoy winter sports in the famous powder snow, or relax in snow-encircled hot springs, we went with a mission- to take in all the artistic marvels of the Snow Festival itself, and to sample every Hokkaido specialty we could get our hands on.
Indeed, devouring Hokkaido was our own winter sport- we tackled rich, warming bowls of miso ramen with butter and corn near Sapporo’s famous Ramen Yokocho, spicy soup curry and “Ghengis Khan” (thin slices of grilled lamb) in the nightlife neighborhood of Susukino, rice bowls laden with the freshest of raw seafood (kaisendon) at the Sapporo Street Market (Jogai Ichiba), and endless crab legs and Sapporo label beer at the Sapporo Beer Garden. A recommendation to prospective travelers: book your table at the beer garden well before your trip, as it fills up quickly with tour reservations, and is an experience you probably won’t want to miss!
Prior to dining at the Beer Garden, we took a tour of the adjacent Sapporo Beer Museum, where we learned about the history of the Sapporo beer company, the beer-brewing process, and how to pour the perfect glass of Sapporo Black label. Another tasty tour we enjoyed was that at Shiroi Koibito Park, where Sapporo’s famous and beloved souvenir cookie is manufactured. At the end of the tour, overlooking the snow-covered mountains right in the city, we sipped on creamy hot chocolate (yes, chocolate- not cocoa!) splashed with Grand Marnier and felt warm all over.
At the end of every day, weary from shivering and exploring, I remember taking a particular pleasure in a long soak in a very hot bath. Although I had been skeptical at first about taking a vacation to such a wintry locale, I have nothing but unforgettable memories of my time in Sapporo. If you have a chance, definitely pay a visit to the Snow Festival- your soul and your belly will thank you for it.
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