The cherry blossom reappeared again as we descended form Mount Asahidake and headed for the main city of Hokkaido, Sapporo. On the outskirts, we stopped to visit the Hokkaido village and museum. This is a collection of building of different styles and uses, all rebuilt here to demonstrate Hokkaido’s past. As most buildings in Japan were built from wood in the past, not many really old ones survive.
The village has farms, fishermen’s homes, shops, schools and some government buildings. The agricultural college established in 1876 was important to the farming community and to the overall development of Hokkaido. Dr William Clark, the President of Massachusetts Agricultural College was invited to Sapporo and became the first president of the college. Though he only stayed a year, he is quoted in many places for his maxim “Boys be ambitious”. No girls were admitted to the college, but I did find a great picture of a group of them in skiing bloomers in another school building. The famous clock tower in the centre of Sapporo is also from the college. The village contains examples of old farm machinery, all geared to rice production. The fishing family’s home showed how wealthy fishing communities were and how close knit. Several families lived in the one home. Their storehouses certainly has plenty of sake and rice in them.
The museum is very modern and traces the history of the Ainu people who were the first dwellers in Hokkaido. Some of their culture is present still today and the videos of women playing their special musical instruments were interesting to see, especially the bone mouth card. It also has Jomon pottery from 1000 BC, so called due to the cord impressions in the clay, some great skeletons of mammoths and very early skates.
Sapporo itself, is a very young city set out in grid-like fashion with several notable landmarks, like the Panasonic tower, the TV tower, the clock tower, the station and the big wheel, making it very easy to find your way about. It has trams as well as subways and buses but we did all our exploring on foot. Lots of the locals use bikes. There are plenty of covered shopping malls – essential when they get so much snow in the winter. We sought out a Hokkaido based company 43d which specialises in clothes for wet and wintry weather and then looked at their competitors in the mall next to the converted brewery.
Our hotel was in the Susukino district which has over 3500 restaurants to choose from! We were there two nights and had two very different meals – one in an old storehouse or kura where we cooked our own meat on a little bbq at our table. Lamb is very popular on Hokkaido and it was delicious. As was the beef which you wrapped in large lettuce leaves. The second night we had another okinymiayki – the noodle pancake with cabbage and egg, cooked on a hot griddle in front of you. One with shrimp and squid and one with pork and green onions. Not very healthy, when you see how much oil they put on the noodles, but very tasty and fun to watch and to eat, especially with sake. It is served in glasses that are filled to the brim so they overflow into boxes.
The city looks very different at night and even although it was raining, we still went up in the big wheel to see it all from the air. The wheel is actually on the 7th floor of a shopping and restaurant complex, complete with ten pin bowling alley, so we had to have a quick game. We also tried and failed to make an origami crane. We went into one of the megastores whose marketing symbol ironically is a penguin. My despair for our planet and the real penguins on it grew as I looked at the nonsense for sale. Do we really need flipflops in the shape of water melons or carp or the awful gents y-fronts? Floors and floors of ‘stuff’ and all of it will quickly end up as rubbish. And sadly every country now has these temples to consumerism.
On a lighter note, we spotted Marilyn Munro and a pink Statue of Liberty. Sapporo certainly has many different sights to offer its visitors!