Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sapporo - My Second Home

Back in Sapporo, I had about a week or so to relax and recover (T-chan and L-kun stay on for another almost month after I return to cold old Adelaide). The weather in Sapporo in spring can be pretty hit and miss (mostly miss) with the snow turning dirty, and the weather turning wet (but still cold).

The snow in the mountains surrounding Sapporo is rapidly disappearing, with the signs of green very slowly appearing. Unlike in Australia where summer means brown, and winter green, it's the opposite here. Once the white blanket of snow starts to melt, it leaves a fairly desolate brown landscape as the vegetation slowly remembers summers warmth.

For me, Sapporo also means family time, and for L-kun that means parks. 

We had a look at a new garden park, Nakajima Kouen, in the city... which is one of Sapporo's date spots. At this time of year, it's pretty cold.

And about the only dates that are going on are between couples that have seen quite a few springtimes themselves.

There are however the first signs of a beautiful Sapporo spring appearing.

But the ominous vestiges of winter remain, and the ever present karasu (crow) lends an eerie punctuation to the landscape. 

Even though Sapporo is a big city (5th largest in Japan), it has been hit hard in recent years due to the slow economy... and with the recent events, times are getting tougher. There is a steady resilience to the people that is born from the cold depths of a Hokkaido winter. 

We went to Otaru on our way to Niseko... Otaru is the nearby tourist city that is especially popular with China and Korea. It's famous for it's canal system, it's glassworks and it's music boxes (and progresively for it's wine industry of all things).

And whilst it would normally be thriving with tourists, today it was like a ghost town. The tourists have stopped coming, scared off by the tainted Japan brand perhaps, but whatever the reason it spells a hard spring ahead for the city that depends on tourism... even though it's so far away from Fukushima.

Maybe a musical (belated) Christmas wish is for common sense to prevail, and for normality to be returned. 

In the 8 trips to Hokkaido that I've made, it might be surprising that I've never been to Niseko, or little Australia as it might be known. Come winter, the population is overwhelmed by Aussie skiiers. The season is still open in Niseko, though the snow quality (that is  one of the reason for it's popularty) is well and truly gone. We stayed at the Prince Hotel in Hirafu (Niseko) which has the one advantage of having not only a large public onsen, but also private onsens in the hotel rooms. A great way for a family to enjoy an onsen together (and this was our son's first experience - and he loved it).

The other advantage is some good views of Yotei, Hokkaido's Mt Fuji. Like Fuji, Yotei can be a little temperamental in showing itself... especially on a gloomy spring day. It's form however dominates the scenery for many 10's of km around. 

Whilst it's possible to climb Yotei, it's not actually a ski mountain itself, and perhaps it would take a brave person to attempt it's hazardous slopes.

We were happy enough to be a little less adventurous, taking to our sled in the pretty wet snow. Whilst the quality might not be there, it's still a fun opportunity to enjoy the snow together with our family. Something that's not so easy in Adelaide. 

We were originally going to combine the trip to Niseko with a trip to the Shakotan Peninsula - however, a high temperature with L-kun put paid to that idea. Something for next time... when the weather is nicer.

So as my days in Sapporo, and Japan, come to an end, I have to say that it's been a great trip - although it started in slightly stressful conditions. Despite the constant media attention on the negative, the great things about Japan are still there for the enjoying. I'll post more complete accounts on my other site as I get to them (I'm stilll posting about 2010, so it might take a while however).

PS - it looks like Qantas have now resumed their normal (reduced?) flights to Japan... so I should be good to go tomorrow lunchtime departing from Sapporo to Tokyo to Sydney to Adelaide. A quick hint - we discovered the joys of taking an international connecting flight (QF81) from Sydney to Adelaide which means that you don't have to clear customs in the tragedy that is Sydney International Airport.


  1. i loved that last photo! -happiness!

  2. It was a great hoot to go sledding with my son. He now loves the snow (his first experience was before he turned 1 and he was pretty wary of it then). Now he's like a duck to water.

  3. Sapporo looks really nice (and cold).

  4. Sapporo's a great city - however, April is not when it's at it's best (the snow's mostly gone, and what hasn't is very dirty) and the weather's pretty wet too. Of course, for my wife, anytime is a perfect time to return home.

    It was reasonably cold for Spring - whilst Tokyo/Kyoto were a nice 20-24degrees, Sapporo was struggling to crack the teens. It also has a cold, cold wind. Sakura should be out in about 1-2 weeks... shame to miss, but overall I'm satisfied with my cherry blossom viewing this trip.