In The Periscope — Sapporo Part 1

Sapporo-TV-Tower

A great­est Joy

One of life’s great­est joys lies in expe­ri­enc­ing new and excit­ing jour­neys that broad­en our minds. Although short vis­its to a far off land brings momen­tary joy, it’s the longer stays that help us grow as a per­son. Hav­ing trav­eled the greater por­tion of this world, I have found myself being choosy as to the loca­tion I’d rather spend my time at. Some places are very ben­e­fi­cial to a cre­ative mind and some are just plain annoy­ing or bor­ing.

Sap­poro lends itself to the lat­ter as there isn’t much to be had as far as activ­i­ties yet it is very con­ducive to achiev­ing a piece of mind. As a writer, the tran­quil ambi­ence and rou­tine day-to-day liv­ing gets my mind dream­ing of plot lines and sto­ry char­ac­ter build­ing. Slow­ly but sure­ly a sto­ry begins to take form and blos­som into an epic tale.

Come and fol­low me as I high­light a few things that might pique your inter­est and help you enjoy this lit­tle slice of heav­en in a far flung area of the world.

First Impres­sions

My first impres­sions of Hokkai­do, which is the north­ern­most island of Japan which the biggest city of Sap­poro is sit­u­at­ed, was that it was cold. Now, mind you, I was raised in the Rocky Moun­tain state of Col­orado when I was grow­ing up so it didn’t feel much dif­fer­ent than there.

The spring sea­son brings a sense of renew­al as the snow cov­ered land­scape slow­ly melts and reveals the trees and brush that had been hid­ing for many months. The Japan­ese have a pen­chant for hav­ing ‘green thumbs’ and those that have a yard with trees usu­al­ly take great care in prepar­ing them for the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures and heavy snows. Branch­es are tied up to the main trunks so the weight of the snow doesn’t dam­age them, some saplings are wrapped at the base to pro­tect them from being encased in the months long waist deep snow.

The care and lev­el of atten­tion giv­en to even the most mun­dane are what makes the Japan­ese peo­ple unique. Many times, as I walk around observ­ing the traf­fic of life, I am sur­prised by their inge­nu­ity and hum­bled by their efforts in giv­ing and receiv­ing respect. It is no won­der how a Fil­ipino film called “Kita Kita” became such a pop­u­lar hit in the Philip­pines. The mes­sage of the film per­fect­ly over­laid the pace of life and cap­tured a very con­vinc­ing and trag­ic love sto­ry. It was filmed in and around the city of Sap­poro and Otaru doc­u­ment­ing a peri­od of time set in the spring to ear­ly fall.

Although the sum­mer sea­son is the best sea­son to vis­it it’s not by far the only sea­son to take part in fes­tiv­i­ties or enjoy­ing the atmos­phere.

Team Spir­it

One of the few things from the New World that took hold here is the sport of Base­ball. It has tak­en on such a pre­em­i­nent posi­tion in the Japan psy­che and gar­nered legions of fans cheer­ing on their local pre­fec­tur­al teams.

Expe­ri­enc­ing a ball game has got to be one of the most exhil­a­rat­ing dis­plays of cama­raderie and sports­man­ship than any oth­er sport­ing event I’ve attend­ed. Team mem­bers bow in respect to their rivals and take any loss with a grain of salt and humil­i­ty, vow­ing that the next game will be bet­ter.

Sta­di­um chants of a teams logo or mot­to are very bois­ter­ous with many of the fans bat­ting plas­tic batons togeth­er and shout­ing in uni­son to cheer on their teams.

The only team for all of Hokkai­do is the Nip­pon­ham Fight­ers, spon­sored by their name­sake com­pa­ny (Nip­pon mean­ing Japan, ham is what they spe­cial­ize in) based in Sap­poro city they’ve been a force to be reck­oned with on the nation­al stage. The team has wit­nessed a huge fol­low­ing main­ly due to the mul­ti­tal­ent­ed Ohtani who can pitch with either hand and bat just as force­ful­ly, earn­ing him the title of Most Valu­able Play­er.

A beer by any oth­er name

In the late sum­mer and fall the fes­tiv­i­ties cen­ter more towards beer and har­vest fes­ti­vals. Sap­poro is home to Sap­poro Beer, known local­ly as Black Label, which is brewed by the Sap­poro Brew­ing Com­pa­ny. The fac­to­ry was based with­in city lim­its until a new­er facil­i­ty was built clos­er to the New Chi­tose Air­port. The old brew­ery was then con­vert­ed into a beer gar­den style restau­rant that spe­cial­izes in a dish unique to Hokkai­do, name­ly Jin­guskan. It is an inter­est­ing take on the name Ghenghis Khan, the 12th cen­tu­ry founder of the Mon­gol Empire who unit­ed many of the nomadic tribes in the north east­ern part of Asia. I can only assume “Jin­guskan” referred to the unique style of prepar­ing mut­ton and veg­eta­bles over a dome shaped cast iron skil­let that may have orig­i­nat­ed from the nomadic Mon­gol tribes. In any case it is a ‘must have’ cui­sine when vis­it­ing Hokkai­do.

A tour can be had of the cur­rent Sap­poro Brew­ery which also has a con­nect­ed Jin­guskan style restau­rant. The tour usu­al­ly takes less than an hour in which guests are shown the vast oper­a­tions which are most­ly auto­mat­ed. The ingre­di­ents are all local­ly sourced around the island, wheat and hops from the north­ern plains and cool fresh moun­tain water tapped from the sur­round­ing snow capped moun­tains. It is com­bined to form a dis­tinc­tive fla­vor and body that rivals oth­er com­pet­i­tive brands like Asahi and Kirin. Both brew­eries have also opened com­pet­ing Jin­guskan restau­rants in Sap­poro because it was appar­ent that the food goes very well with beer.

The oth­er cui­sine that Hokkai­do is very well known for is the very fla­vor­ful ramen. It has been my expe­ri­ence that the ramen has a rich and heavy broth which works very well in warm­ing the soul in any win­ter snow storm. Most any ramen restau­rant that one choos­es to vis­it in Japan usu­al­ly has a ramen shop spe­cif­ic way of prepar­ing their bowls. Some use thick slabs of slow cooked pork, some choose to incor­po­rate dif­fer­ent veg­eta­bles or top­pings to stand out like adding corn or slabs of but­ter. A vis­it to the small alley­ways near the Susuki­no area of Sap­poro can reveal a vast net­work of small hole-in-the-wall places that serve soupy good­ness by the bowl­fuls, so bring your appetite!

Anoth­er dish is called Oden which is a one pot win­ter dish that con­sists of veg­eta­bles like daikon, mush­rooms, boiled eggs, kon­jac, and processed fish cakes all in a light, soy fla­vored dashi broth. It is very healthy and is con­sid­ered as a great way to end a night of drink­ing to off­set the ill effects of alco­hol. It’s no won­der most Japan­ese are not obese and live longer lives with such an empha­sis on veg­eta­bles in every diet.

(To be con­tin­ued on Part II)

*pics to fol­low

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