On 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
As 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.
Stepping 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.