Just 3 weeks after arriving home from my road trip and I was getting on a plane to Japan for a winter season in the legendary powder of Hokkaido.
I had booked myself into a programme with We Are Sno. Unlike a holiday you have to go through a simple telephone interview process to make sure that the people they have on the programme are there for the right reasons, ie to be instructors and not just for partying. Initially I was placed on the Canada programme because the Japanese one was full, but a few weeks later I was told that a space had openened up for me so I switched over.
I managed to persuade Adam to come with me for this 5 months trip, but by the time he had made a decision, We Are Sno were full so he ended up on a similar programme with EA.
We took a Japan Airways flight through BA, so the Japanese experience started on the flight. All of the instructions on the plane were bilingual and the meals were Japanese. In Tokyo airport too everything was translated, but with the added excitement of electronic toilets. There was then an hour and a half flight to Sapporro, where we shared the flight almost entirely with local japanese people and there was much less translation availaable.
As it was such a long journey we decided to get the same flight, but Adam’s programme started a coupple of days early which gave me a chance to spend a couple of days in Sapporo before my transfer to the resort.
I figured out how to book my bag into storage and get a train ticket into town feeling really proud of myself even though it was mostly involved chosing the english language option. Half of the challenge is finding that button and figuring out how to get money into these machines. I also suceeded in getting a coke from a vending machine, although it was the funniest dumpy little bottle, which turned out to be the perfect size for one of my many jacket pockets.
The Japanese have a reputation of being an incredibly polite and orderly society so I found getting on and off the train a bit confusing. The locations of the carriage doors are marked on the platform so people queue up nice and neatly and you can make sure you’re not going to accidentally get in a first class carriage, but then when the train arrived the queue system was no longer in play and everyone was pushing forward just like you would find in London. Luckily the train hasn’t been that busy so I managed to get a seat regardless, but it took me by suprise.
I made it to Sapporo town centre at lunch time, so after a brief wander around, I decided to try and find some food. I discovered a shopping centre that had a food court on the top floor and headed up. After spending 15minutes wandering around using the google translate app to try and read the menus, I decided that I couldn’t tell what was beef and what was offal, so I chickened out and went down a floor to the Brooklyn Parlour, which is affiliated with Brooklyn Brewery and had a bilingual burger menu.
After lunch I went for a wander around the University campus. It was really nice here with loads of trees and open green space, which had a more traditional charm than the grey grid system I had seen on the other side of the railway. Being the end of November, the trees were still red and the leaves mid falling, but there was also snow on the ground, which was a befuddling combination, when in the UK snow doesn’t fall until late into winter when the trees are definately dormant.
By 3pm I was getting tired and as I still had another hour to wait until the hostel check-in opened, I took myself to a coffee shop to read a book and warm back up again. While sat in the coffee shop I nearly fell aleep, having failed miserably to sleep on the flights I was about 6hr out of sync so it felt like 2am.
I had read before arriving about the slipper etiquette in Japan, which was lucky as this was being implemented in the hostel. I quite like the sunken area to define where outdoor shoes must be removed, which seems to be a common feature. I went to bed pretty much immediately, and slept through until 5am, only stirring when the others in the dormotory came in during the evening.
When I woke up in the morning I decided it would be a good idea to check my course manual. As my phone had now updated to local time and date, I realised that I had got my pick up time wrong by 24hours! I needed to find somewhere to stay in Sapporro for another night as the hostel was already fully booked. Luckily the hostel had wifi so I managed to find somewhere online, but it took a suprisingly long time because Trivago was sending me to book via another search engine and I had to try 3 hotels before I found one that actually had any free rooms that night.
Overnight it had snowed really heavily, so I took a slightly meandering route through town to my hotel, going around the University Botanical Gardens, which was closed but still looked pretty through the fence. My hand luggage backpack was actually pretty heavy so I went to leave my bag there and see if they could ring the airport luggage desk to extend my bags stay. Unfortunately the hotel staff didn’t really understand what I was trying to ask, so I took the train back to the airport to sort it out myself in person.
Having not had any breakfast, I decided to have lunch at the airport and spent a bit of time having a proper look around. I had a lovely sizzly kebab meal and went exploring, only to discover that the airport is everything you would expect from Japan. Not only was there a Pokemon shop, there was also Hello Kitty world, a chocolate factory and a fish market selling massive crabs and live lobsters. Who wouldn’t want a crab to take up 60% of their hand luggage?! (The answer is everyone- can you imagine the smell?!)
By the time I returned to Sapporro it was nearly dark again, but on my walk to the hotel I found a Christmas Market. I was curious what this would consist of given that Christmas is not a big deal in Japan, so I actually think the stuff that was on sale was a bit classier. The stall holders seemed to be predominantly from Russia and Poland, with a few food stalls from Germany. The Umpa band was an additional suprise. After hanging around there a little while, I was getting pretty tired despite trying really hard to get my body clock to be in line with the new time zone, so once back at the hotel I put on the TV to see if it’s as bizarre as the internet makes it seem. I ended up watching a cooking programme, where they found a trapezoidal fish, chopped its belly off and stuffed it, before reassembling and putting it in the microwave. As someone who doesn’t like seafood anyway, it made me feel slightly sick. I tried searching what type of fish it was, but the only type I can see that is close to the right shape is a puffer fish, which is highly poisonous and theres only one chef in the world qualified to prepare it, so I hope it wasn’t that.
The next morning, I went wandering through the covered market area, I found a coffee shop that seemed to do some kind of breakfast. I opted for what looked like scrambled egg on toast. They have really thick cut white bread here, and it arrived already covered in lovely melted butter, with the cold egg in a seperate cup to the side. I was a little unsure that it actually was egg so was a bit tentative, but actually once it was on the toast it warmed up a bit and was a bit more appetizing. It seems like they had puréed the yolk and then finely cut the white of a boiled egg rather than making scrambled egg like we have at home.
A few doors down I found a hippy kind of international shop so I went in curious to see what they sold. I found everything from Mexican wrestling masks to handmade soaps, as well as a whole shelf full of texidermy and bottles of fluids that contained snakes with scorpions in their mouths. I find all that kind of thing pretty creepy, but I guess it can’t be that popular for it to have been on the sale
That afternoon I headed back to the airport to meet the rest of the crew.