Sapporo and Around
Surely one of the nicest cities in the world
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Sapporo is the capitol of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It is a small city but most people here agrees it is one of the nicest cites in the world - it is big enough to have plenty going on, being basically a capitol city, but is small enough to have a friendly feel, and it is possible to cycle most of it inside 15 minutes. The centre of the city is given over to a strip of open space known as Odori Park; this is the focus for many festivals which take place throughout the year. At one end, marking the zero point of the road grid system is the television tower. This is one of the oldest structures in Sapporo and is a famous land mark (although there are similar ones else where in Japan). Another famous building is the clock tower which is also old by Sapporo standards being 130 years old next year. I like this one because it is a classically Japanese tourist spot in that there is a podium to stand on so as to get the 'best' shot.
While being of similar latitude to southern France the cold ocean currents and winds make Sapporo cold in winter with much snow. This does have its benefits and Sapporo's most famous event is the snow festival. This occurs every year in February and sees the whole of the Odori Park filled with snow structures and the main street of Susukino, the main entertainment district, filled with ice sculptures.
By April the snow is starting to recede and a spectacular transformation occurs as greenery springs forth. The cool of winter quickly gives rise to a semi-tropical summer since spring and autumn often only last a meagre few weeks here.
It is May and June that Sapporo is at its best, the joy of the ending of the winter makes everyone happy and flower blossoms cover the city.
There are also many festivals starting with the University food festival and then moving into Yosakoi Soran festival, a dance event where the city is filled with colour, music and hundreds of perfectly choreographed dances. After this comes the Shrine festival with more performances and then by August we enter the month long beer festival where the city centre is converted into a large beer garden. This is kicked off with a massive firework display, the likes of which I have never seen before, with fireworks in the shapes of fruit and smiley faces and then times when the sky is totally filled with colour. I have been told it is average by Japanese standards but it is roughly infinitely more impressive than anything in the UK, something which I have come to expect of almost anything here. Any given weekend it is likely that something interesting will be going on in the city, and that, be it a school performance or a small festival, the level of professionalism will be unparalleled. Another favourite place of mine is Moerenuma Park on the outskirts of Sapporo, where artificially hills have been built along with a fountain that fires water 25m into the sky.
Sapporo is also a very fine place for food and is regarded as one of the best places in Japan for Sushi due to its proximity to the cold ocean. Raman is also famous, a noodle based dish and soup curry also finds its route here. Since Hokkaido has more space than the rest of Japan there are many cattle, so cheese, milk and beef and lamb are also popular. Like everywhere in Japan there are large numbers of restaurants everywhere serving all national cuisine and a reasonable scattering of international options. Sapporo is also famed for Sapporo Beer, which is of course also very popular.
Within a few hours of Sapporo are a number of other nice places. Slightly to the north is the town of Otaru. This used to be an important trading port with Russia and the old warehouses have signs written in both Japanese and Russian. The town is hyped to have beautiful canals; however, there is only really one short length which is worth seeing. This is very nice and is the centre point of the Otaru snow gleaming festival, where lights are put in the water and candles are placed in small snow and ice structures.
The massive amounts of geothermal activity in Japan create plentiful amounts superheated water which gives rise to one of Japans most celebrated attritions, the hot springs, or onsens. Just to the south of Sapporo is the town of Jozanki which is famous for its onsens and people from all over Japan come here to bath. There are many large hotels covering the town making it somewhat unsightly, but down by the river there is a nice walk and there are a number of hot-water footbaths which are free (although the baths themselves are very cheap). There are also lots of statues of Japanese mythical creatures; the ones in the picture are the Kappa family, who tend to be somewhat nasty.