final sapporo walk-about

After lunch we walked a bit around the streets of Sapporo just to see the sights. For me it was a time of quiet introspection, looking for the small treasures rather than the larger-than-life monuments. Our general target for the walk was the Botanic Garden at Hokkaido University.

landscape in saporoAs this was mid-December and Sapporo is as far north as Buffalo NY, the gardens were in their quiescent state (obvsiously), and closed to the public, even during the day. In spite of this I still found a quiet beauty in the grounds. The part of the Gardens that were open were the greenhouses. We paid ¥100 to walk through the greenhouses, where I managed to find a few personal photographic gems even in the winter.

the greenhouse roofvioletredfrozen in timethe stonesthe promise of springAfter spending time in the greenhouse and around the outside, we slowly headed back towards the train station and the trip back to Chitose. It was getting towards sunset (4pm), the wind was picking up, and the flurries were growing heavier.

saporo streetback wayhallway in saporo

As we walked back we also walked into a number of the public buildings. This long hallway immediately caught my fancy. The architect built it with lights buried in the floor and lit in such a way that it looked like the light was coming from the slits in the wall and falling on the floor. It looked like a set from a science fiction film.

We finished our exploration of Sapporo with a stop at a local Starbucks and each had a large hot cocoa. On the way back to the train platform I happened to spot this young woman using some public art as a texting rest stop.

sitting and textingWhen we got back to Chitose we stopped off at a local 7-11 (yes, they have those all over the place, too) so that my business partner could withdraw some cash from the local ATM.
oh thank heavenOnce again I marveled at the intersection of Japanese and American pop culture.

train trip to sapporo

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.