Nori and I just got back from a really nice 5-day break where we went to Sapporo, Kiroro resort and Osaka. Since coming to Japan 5 years ago, I’ve always wanted to go experience Hokkaido, both in the winter and in the summer. And though the summer trip will have to wait for another day, the winter version just had its first installment.
After flying to Sapporo (on super cheap Peach) and checking in to our rather boring business hotel, we headed out to experience the last day of yuki matsuri, the annual snow festival of Sapporo. And though it was very crowded, it was a large enough site that one didn’t feel too claustrophobic. Yuki Matsuri is a 2 week festival celebrating all things snow, ice and (yes) Hokkaido. There was a huge ski slope, 3 and 4 story ice and snow buildings, ice and snow sculptures, ice bars and other sorts of over-the-top ice stuff. The highlights for me were the light/projection shows on those huge ice buildings. The projections made the ice buildings come alive with music, opening doors, vines racing up the technocolored ice; very interesting and very well executed.
On another street, there were the clear ice sculptures, replete with fish, crab, lobster and other randomness frozen in the sculptures themselves.
Of course, no trip to Hokkaido is complete without raving about the food eaten on said trip. I will be no exception, the food was just amazing- I thought that I had eaten sushi before; I was deliciously mistaken. The freshest fish and seafood, cheap, huge quantities. I don’t really want to get too ridiculous here, but, I have deliberately not eaten sushi since coming back because I wish to not disrespect the critters in Hokkaido nor disrupt the memories of how good it was.
Ok, on to the ski slopes. If you haven’t heard, Hokkaido probably has the best powder snow in the world; must be ridden to be believed. I am almost a complete beginner when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, but even I, in my infancy, know how amazing that powder is. There are points when you are snow boarding, flying down the mountain, and you can’t even see below your knees because you are sunk so far in the powder. You fall, and it doesn’t hurt and you don’t get wet; you just look up in sky, with the flakes falling, just happy you are experiencing it.
KiRoRo, which is about 1 1/2 away from Sapporo, is quite near Niseko, but unlike it’s bigger, more famous older brother, KiRoRo has way less people and it is a great ski mountain for beginners-tons of long “green” runs. The food was good, the view from our room was epic, and there was 3 1/2 meters of snow just everywhere. I did take one really bad hit to the head, but thanks to Jim and his recommendation to always use a helmet, I was ok. There is just something sublime about standing at the top of a mountain, strapped to a board taking in the beautiful view, flurries all around, and knowing that in a second you will be surfing down the slope. I can’t wait till I’m good enough where I won’t have to think about what I’m doing and just experience it pure and simple.
After an amazing couple of days on the mountain, we did have to get back to Matsuyama. Unfortunately, that day Osaka was getting hit by a huge snow storm, so our flight was delayed by 6 hours. Luckily, New Chitose airport (Sapporo) is really good; they have tons of excellent Hokkaido restaurants and speciality stores, chocolate museum, stuffed animal zoo and a movie theatre. So, I was able to catch a movie, have a last great sushi meal, and buy a bunch of chocolate. I can say, best airport delay I have ever had.v
We did eventually get to Osaka, and caught the last train to our great friend, Kiyo’s house, where we were sleeping that night. Even though she had a slight cough, she stayed up with us and drank a last beer and chatted with us. She is a crazy good host, and randomly enough, she is in Hokkaido now.
And though this was my first time to Hokkaido, this will surely not be my last.