Archives For December 2013

train trip to sapporo

December 31, 2013

waiting for the train to saporoOn Thursday, the day after the exercise ended, the two of us took the train to Sapporo. It was a totally unplanned excursion. Sapporo is the capital of the northern island of Hokkaido and is the fifth largest city in Japan as far as population. It was the host city for the 1972 Winter Olympics. Every February it hosts a snow festival.

I was tired and still suffering some effects of trying to live 14 hours outside my normal circadian rhythm. It was also a cold and partly cloudy day with snow showers, especially in Sapporo. About all I could do was a very simple six-hour visit, walking around, and not even scratching the surface within Sapporo. Yet, from what very little I did see, it was still fascinating. I would love the opportunity to go back for another day or two and really walk about the city and its outer environs.

The trip started with our walking to the local Chitose train station that was about two blocks away from the station. Chitose is full of cars, but it’s also a city built for pedestrian and bicycle use. Japan’s cities are so tightly packed that you need paperwork from the local police department saying you have space to park your car before you buy one. Chitose’s streets are always full of traffic of every variety. Chitose is the first trip I’ve ever taken where I didn’t have a rental car and really didn’t need one. And even if I had a rental, Japan drives on the wrong side of the road anyway.

waiting for the train to saporoThe ticket to Sapporo, one way, was ¥830 (a little over $8 US). There are multiple automatic ticket dispensing machines that can be selected to give you instructions in Japanese or English. As long as you have enough cash on you, you can go anywhere.

The station is a classic urban design, with the walkin entry and exit on the ground and the train platform above. Two tracks service Chitose, with a mix of high-speed trains to the airport and slower, less expensive trains to other cities. We took the less expensive train to Sapporo. The usual wait between trains is around 10-15 minutes depending on destination.

on the train to saporo with friendsThe train was clean, comfortable, and quiet, if utilitarian. It reminded me of Atlanta’s MARTA train system, down to the layout and colors. The trip to Sapporo lasted about twenty minutes.

placing a private callThe train not only traveled quietly, but the passengers were quiet. There were signs posted in English and Japanese for travelers to conduct all cellular calls in between the cars, just like this caller. Over the length of the trip he was joined by four other callers in that small area. Whether coming or going home, not once did I hear anyone break the rules with regards to cellphone use on the train. It was a wonderfully quiet and polite trip.

exiting the train in saporoAs befits its size as a major Japanese city, the train platform in Sapporo was crowded full of active people coming and going. The lower levels of the train station are jam packed with shops and stores. On the way back to Chitose we stopped off at a local Starbucks (yes, they’re here too) and warmed up with a large hot cocoa. And we did a bit of exploring, stopping in on a number of floors to just be tourists and look at the restuarants and major shopping centers. Sapporo’s train station is a big and important shopping district in its own right. I would have taken the express elevator to the observation floor (37th) in the building right next to the station, but by the time I even knew about it it was late in the day, the weather had really clouded up and there was a steady snowfall, all of which was obscuring everything.

saporo train stationoutside the saporo train stationStepping outside of the train station started our very brief, if interesting, walk about around Sapporo. Sapporo is a very young city compared to other Japanese cities such as Tokyo. When it was being planned the original city builders used a western grid system to lay it out. Sapporo reminded me a lot of Boston, especially the newly built up waterfront area where I attended the 2011 SISO conference.

I wish I’d put more time into planning my Sapporo visit, but I was so happy just to walk around and know I wasn’t stuck in the building I’d been in for all those prior twelve-hour days. Planned or not, going to Sapporo and just seeing what little I did see was more than enough. Maybe one year when I have more time I can properly plan and visit Sapporo. It would certainly be worth it.

interlude – aeon food court

December 31, 2013

raman girlsDuring the exercise I was bussed onto the post before sunup, and was bussed back to the hotel well after sundown. The best I could do was to try to make it to the Aeon food court before the food stores closed at around 8:30pm local time. This in spite of the fact that the stores said they stayed open until 9pm.

There were a number of stores in the food court: McDonalds,  Baskin-Robbins, Mr. Donut, Subway, an udon store, a raman store, and at least two sushi stores. I actually went into one of the stores with my traveling companion and watched him (and many others) enjoy eating raw fish. I declined, coward that I am.

table cleanup clothsAll the stores were served by a common eating area. The food court had an interesting requirement, at least to Western eyes like mine. There were signs in the common area that asked you politely to clean up the table you were at when you finished eating. There were several wash cloth stations in the common area that supplied pre-moistened towels for this task. I tried to remember to clean my table after I finished.

I never saw anyone else do this, but the common eating area was always clean and neat, and I never saw staff from any of the food sellers come out and clean up. I got so used to seeing a clean eating area, even the common area, that on the way back home, at a layover in Denver, someone had left a large mess of spilled popcorn and orange soda on a table in another common eating area, and I was truly shocked to see it.

baskin robins japanese styleOf all the American-Japanese cross-cultural food stores, the Baskin-Robbins was the most interesting. Every item in the store had a definite Japanese touch to it, and there were many very Japanese ice cream items. Yet I still recognized ice cream cakes, many of them with American cultural emblems on them. Here are a few that should be instantly recognizable.

snoopy + girlfriendpooh + pigletmonster uFrom top to bottom you should recognize Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh, and Sully and Mike from Monsters University. All of these are the tops of Baskin-Robbins ice cream birthday cakes.

The cultural mixing that has taken/is taking place is absolutely fascinating.