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Japan current location10:08 PM Hotel Sumire, Sapporo.

Man, what a day. I briefly woke up at 5am, but went right back to sleep until about 8am. I realized at that point I needed some time to get ready, and since I was awake, I got out of bed, took a shower and repacked my bag. I let Gene sleep until 9:15am, but I woke him up at that point. After repacking everything, we left the room and went back down to the lobby. They handed me my receipt, and Gene made me ask if they had any cancellations for tonight. No dice. It・s okay, I thought, we・ll find something.

We took the subway from Kotoni back to the JR station. My aim for the day was to find a coin locker in which to put our bags, then run around a little bit and check out the sights of Sapporo while searching for a new hotel. Seemed like an easy prospect at the time. We arrived at the station and exited the subway into the Paseo underground mall. It really was like night and day; last night, it was just a bunch of metal doors. This morning, suddenly it was alive with various shops, restaurants, tea houses, and other places. Dead to bustling in just a few hours. We stopped into a panya and got breakfast. I got a ham and cheese croissant, a cheese bun, and a blueberry and grapefruit crape pastry. I really didn・t want the ham and cheese thing, but I・d already put it on my tray, so I didn・t want to put it back.

Next door was a tea shop, and Gene decided to buy Lou some really nice chamomile tea. It ended up being nearly 1100 yen, but it looked really good. We went upstairs to the coin lockers and began the search for the :big; ones, the ones that would fit my gigantic suitcase. No luck on one side of the station, so we walked across to the other side of the station. I thought I saw one - it had 600 yen in the digital readout, so I assumed it was open. No such luck, it was missing the key. We realized there was nothing that would fit my gigantic bag. Rats. We checked the map of the station and were going to try one more place, but first I went to ask the locker attendant if he knew where I could check the bag. Most stations have a place you can check oversize baggage. I tried to get his attention, and he motioned me over; he was putting a key in the 600 yen locker I looked at. Cool! We thanked him, put our stuff inside, and inserted 600 yen, unlocking the key.

With that out of the way, I really wanted coffee, so we walked back to the ground-level Paseo area where I saw a Starbucks. As we approached., we passed a gift melon stand. When you visit a person, or return from a trip, you need to bring a gift (omiyage [oh-mee-yah-gay]) for the hosting party. Since fruit is rather expensive here, gift melons have a long time ago become all the rage. There were some melons for sale on this stand for ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS. I kid you not. Also nearby were cooked and live crabs, a delicacy of Hokkaido.

Through the Paseo we walked, past many different delicious-looking restaurants. Delicious looking because they have plastic food that shows what items they have on the menu. That・s so very very cool. Inside Starbucks, I ordered a Grande latte and noticed something interesting V they don・t have Venti. They have Tall, Grande, andK SMALL. Small, Tall, Grande. Very odd, but fits with the whole little bitty drink thing. A large drink here is a medium in the US, generally. They have some pink low-cal sweetener that・s probably Splenda, it tastes way too good to be saccharin or aspartame, by the way.
We sat in Starbucks and ate our breakfast, drank coffee, and discussed our options as far as hotels go. We decided we・d stop by the Sapporo Station Hotel, where Molly and I stayed, to see about a room. It・s right outside the north gate of the station and would be really convenient.

At the hotel, we went in and asked if there were any rooms available. Nope. Totally booked. Crud. We went outside and right down the street on the other side was another nice looking hotel. I guessed it was rather expensive, but it was worth a shot. We walked to the second floor and the front desk. The man was very helpful and said that they had a twin room available. Cool. He at first told us it was 16,000 yen, which was a little pricey, but just to have a room, it was reasonable. I filled out the guest card and added Gene・s name to it since they had a spot. As I returned it to the man, he was surprised and said oh wait, is he staying as well? Somehow we thought this was odd, but of course we nodded. In that case, he went on, this is the price, and then typed out 24000 yen on the calculator! OUCH. We clarified with him what he meant, and basically the 16,000 yen price was for a single person in a twin room! Argh. We decided it was way too much money, so we told him that we・d come back if we needed it.

Our next bet was to have me stay alone, and Gene would go back on a night train. We went back into the station to the JR Midori no madoguchi and asked the information booth about it. The woman informed us that he could take a train at 10PM that would go to Aomori, and from there catch a connection to Misawa, which would arrive at 6:30am. A little early, but it was a start. Plus it was only 12000 yen, which was about what the return ticket was going to cost anyway. We had her write down the times in case we needed to buy a ticket later. We thought that if we didn・t find anywhere to stay for both of us, he could go back , and I would worry about a room on my own. It didn・t do me any good to take a night train since I would be stopping in Hakodate at like 2 in the morning!

We wandered out of the south gate, headed for Odori Park. Sapporo is probably the easiest city to get around in. It・s laid out around a central point, Odori, which is in front of the big TV tower. From that addresses are described as points north, south, east and west of Odori, like North 12, East 2. Easy. Gene and I walked down the main road south of the station towards the park. We realized pretty quickly that banks were closed on Saturday, so I stopped in the Citibank ATM plaza about 4 or 5 blocks south of the station on the west side of the street. This was the savior location last time for Molly and me, and it was helpful now too since I was down to my last 5000 yen.

Further down the road we reached Odori, and shot a number of pictures of the flowers there. We headed back to the TV tower which sits at one end of Odori Park. Tons of people were milling about, sitting around in the grass, and feeding pigeons with corn. I had mentioned to Gene that I didn・t bring my guide book, so we crossed the street and entered the Kinokunia bookstore across the street from the TV Tower. Inside we saw that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was being heavily advertised, as it has just come out in Japanese. I know my friend Yuriko is frantically reading it right now. We took the escalator to the 2nd floor and found the English books. At first I thought it was useless; there were plenty of Lonely Planet guide books, but no Japan ones. However, a second later I noticed there was a whole section entirely devoted to English travel guides for Japan, and there was a happy, updated Lonely Planet Japan book. It ended up being 3400 yen, but I guess it・s worth it.

We headed back across the street to the TV tower and took a seat. I whipped out the cell phone and started calling hotels. This was the worst possible situation. I called 4 or 5 of them, and got the same answer every time V full, full, full. SunuvaK. I really started to get stressed! How the heck could EVERY hotel in Sapporo be completely full!?!? After a few more calls a man nearby got up and walked over. He asked me if I was looking for a hotel, and of course I said I was. He said he knew of a place which was very cheap and would most likely take foreigners, then even offered to call for me. It apparently caters to Russians (!), but on the phone heard that it would take Americans as well. It didn・t have a bath, but if we were okay with Japanese style we could probably do it. It was also pretty far out of the way, but was doable. He also said there was a capsule hotel nearby if we・d like to try it, and it was very very cheap, about the cost of my book. I said that was probably fine, but I didn・t know how to find it. He offered to take us there, so we agreed and began to walk with him down the road.

I think at this point all sorts of red flags started to go off. He seemed genuinely nice, but even so, this wasn・t starting to look good. I told Gene that we・d check the place out, but probably would just leave without making any reservations. The man said that it was a little dangerous there to hold on to your cash, and that it was a smarter thing to keep everything at the front desk. RED FLAG RED FLAG. He complimented me on my Japanese, and we discussed where I learned it from. We got to a corner I recognized; it was a corner where Molly and I had noticed a McDonalds with a really annoying ad playing two years ago. As I recall it was a hot dog or something, and they were saying :totemo light! (it・s very light!);. I told him I recognized the area, and we reached the shopping arcade as I knew we would. The capsule hotel was through a pachinko parlor and I was really not feeling good about it at all. On the other side he showed us it was on the second floor, and we took the elevator up. I was trying to find a way to say, thank you, we・ve got it from here, but he raced the counter and asked about us staying there. Fortunately for us, the woman said it was full, and so we took the elevator back to the ground floor. He started to give us options, like going to where he was staying by car, but I told him it was okay, he didn・t need to help anymore. He protested somewhat, but we told him we were really thankful and that we・d be okay. We saw him off outside the building and walked the other way. I don・t think he meant us any harm; I really think he was trying to help. Still, it was a little creepy.

We walked back down the shopping arcade a few blocks. I ducked us into a game arcade to search for DDR or Samba de Amigo, but we couldn・t find any. A woman got our attention and pointed to a sign saying an area was off limits V the print club where you get pictures stuck on little stickers. I guess it was a birthday party. As we walked further down the arcade and crossed a street, I heard a familiar tuneK it was the Cutey Honey theme, sung by none other than Koda Kumi, who had visited Austin in January for an anime convention. :OnegaiK OnegaiK; I turned and a big projection monitor was showing the video for it! I managed to get a little video of it.

Gene was searching for a present for Lou・s birthday, which is tomorrow. He stopped in a few places trying to find something good. We also stopped into a hotel on the arcade and asked about rooms. :Ippai desu yo.; They were full as well. This was really starting to get annoying. I finally decided I was through messing with it. :Let・s just go back to that hotel with the twin and I・ll pay for it. I don・t care about the money anymore, I just want this done,; I told Gene. We reached the western end of the arcade and turned north for the station. Along the way, I noticed a few more hotels, but decided I didn・t want to mess with it anymore, so I ignored them. Just before the station, we did try in the Washington Hotel 2, which is to the left of the station・s south entrance. Still nothing. Crud. Gene now recognizes the kanji for .entrance・ and .exit・ as evidenced by the parking garage near the station. We arrived at the hotel, and went back upstairs to the front desk. We saw the same man, and said we wanted the twin. He was about to have us fill out the form again, when another woman told him it was already taken, which he relayed to us. OH CRAP. My hair started to hurt, now what? :Shimatta!; (dang) I exclaimed, and we walked back into the first floor lobby. I pulled the guide book out and began to finish the calling list I started back at the tower. Come ON, I thought, what the hell could possibly take up every single hotel room in Sapporo??? After a few more failures, Gene said we should call the American consulate, as he said they usually have a travel agency that handles this sort of thing. WaitK travel agencyK :Gene, you・ve just given me an idea.; Back in 1998 Kelly and I didn・t know where to stay in Sapporo either, and we ended up going to a tourist information center near the Sapporo Clock Tower that got us a room at a business hotel. I checked the guide book, and it mentioned that place as well as the JR Midori no Madoguchi, where we asked about Gene・s night train.

We went back into the station, since we were right next door, and ran smack dab into a HUGE crowd of people. What theK? Everyone had their keitai (cell phones) out and were taking pictures left and right of a guy in a bear suit. Again, what theK? :It・s a baseball team,; Gene surmised, correctly. Apparently the Hakkaido Home Fighters were here in the station, and there was a gigantic line waiting for autographs. Joy. We walked around the crowd to the JR office. We explained the situation to the woman (who thankfully was not the same person we talked to last time) and she pointed us to the travel agency at the south end of the west concourse. We raced to the agency and first went to the English speaking tourist desk, but she pointed us to the normal office to the left. We got a ticket for the Domestic Travel line, and were called almost immediately. It was a simple chore to explain our situation again, and within 10 minutes, we had a reservation at the Hotel Sumire, which is only about 4 blocks from the station! It was more than last night, 17000 yen, and more than even that other hotel (for one person) but holy crap I did NOT care. Just so long as this was completely out of the way. After we paid for our ticket for the hotel (oddK) I said that Sapporo hotels seemed full, and asked why that was. She pointed out that it was a holiday on Monday (as we expected) and that it was a three day weekend. It might have been the Keiro-no-hi (respect for the aged day) but I can・t remember what she said now. If you ever find yourself in Sapporo with nowhere to stay, come here *first*.

We thanked her and decided to get our bags and go straight to the hotel. It was getting late; the last tour leaves at 3:40PM according to the Sapporo guide book I read at Kinokunia. We pushed our way past the TV cameras filming little kids with baseball uniforms on and rabid fans, then pulled our stuff out of the coin locker. At this point I realized that the line for autographs stretched all the way across the station and beyond! Wow.

We left out of the south entrance, and briefly thought about walking to the hotel, but since we were short on time took a cab. The hotel was very nice, much nicer than last night, and we quickly checked in, left our stuff, and raced back out the door. Gene caught us a cab, and within 10 minutes we were at Sapporo Beeru-en (Bier Garten). We asked at the information desk about the tour, and a man pointed us to the main red brick building. As we entered, we were asked to fill out an information card with our names and place of origin. She asked us if we wanted the 30 minute or 50 minute tour, and we told her the 50 minute, as that・s the one in which you get free beer. :Well, duh,; said Gene. The tour started, and a nice woman led the tour. It・s basically a big ad for Sapporo beer, but it is somewhat informative as well. Gene had a tape recorder with the English tour, but I tried my best to follow along in Japanese. Fortunately nobody is going to test me on it. Lou called my cell a little while into the tour, but I told her we・d call her back, since it was rather quiet in the room and Gene was all headphoned up and I couldn・t get his attention anyway.

Near the end of the tour, which documents the beer making process all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, they have this weird-o presentation/play using a static diorama and real characters projected on plates of glass to make them appear like holograms (like the old Hologram games from Sega). It・s very strange, and here, to the best of my ability, and I swear I am not making this up, is the story.

A man from ancient Mesopotamia steps out of a building and finds a gigantic beer sitting beside him. As he・s about to take a sip, the pink Good Beer Fairy pops out of the beer and greets him and the Modern Beer Brewer who has also just stepped out of the building. As they・re discussing the merits of beer, Evil Beer Demon puffs into existence and makes good beer vanish in a whiff of smoke. :Give me back my beer!; shouts Mesopotamia Man. Evil Beer Demon is not a nice demon, so he steals the Good Beer Fairy and entraps her in a crystal ball in his Evil Beer Realm. Mesopotamia Man and Modern Beer Brewer demand beer, so Evil Beer Demon brews his own concoction, which consists of water (which bubbles and smokes evilly), hops, and barley. Evil Beer glows red and pops and fizzles. Mesopotamia Man takes a sip and nearly dies from Evil Beer Flavor. Meanwhile, Modern Beer Brewer has an idea, shakes his fist, and walks into the building. As Evil Beer Demon and Mesopotamia Man duke out words, Modern Beer Man steps into his Modern Factory and explains how Modern Technology makes beer good. He brews a new batch and the original beer mug fills back up with good, fresh, modern, technologically advanced beer. This gives Good Beer Fairy enough power to escape Evil Beer Demon・s clutches and she reappears above Good Beer. Evil Beer Demon is defeated and poofs out of existence. Good Beer Fairy returns to her home inside the beer, and Mesopotamia Man, ever so grateful to Modern Beer Brewer, takes a sip of Modern Beer and is happy again.

I shit you not.

After the Most Bizarre Beer Explanation Ever, we were shown all sorts of various Sapporo-owned drinks, including fruit drinks, coffee, various types of beer, and wines. Apparently they own Beringer wines and Sapporo Ice drinks. They were also heavily pushing an Austrailian wine called Yellowtail with a kangaroo on the label. We followed the woman back downstairs to the beer tasting area. They called out names of people who weren・t staying for the 50 minute tour, and gave each one a happy grab bag full of Sapporo paraphernalia and a free can of beer. The rest of us headed inside the tasting area where they gave us free draft beer, a small amount of the Australian wine, beer crackers and nuts, and little wheels of cheese. They let you drink as much as you want for 20 minutes for free!

The tour guide walked up to us and handed us an English card saying we had 20 minutes to try the beer. I told her I understood in Japanese, and she was like, :wow, you really understand! How long have you lived in Japan?; I thought about it, and couldn・t give her a precise answer, as actually I・ve not lived in Japan very long! I explained it was my 6th trip to Japan (it・s really my fifth, I boo booed) and that I・d lived in Japan for two months in 1994. She was very impressed. She walked off to deliver the same announcement to the other set of Americans who was on the tour with us.

I went back up to the counter for more beer a few minutes later, and I asked the tour guide ( who was standing nearby) if she lived in Sapporo, which she did. I also asked where she was from, and she said Hakodate! :I love Hakodate!; I told her. I explained I was from Austin, and she said she・s always wanted to go overseas to study English. I told her she should come to Austin, then gave her my address, phone number, and email address. She said she didn・t have email, which really surprised me in this day and age! She thanked me, told me her name was Kanazawa, and I went back to sit down. Gene had written :Mac Daddy; on my napkin, like a dork. We decided it might be fun to have someone show us around the Sapporo nightlife, so I wrote my cell phone number on a piece of paper to see if she was free tonight, but I noticed her running off somewhere. I ended up leaving the message with the other tour guides up front, as she (I think) was giving another tour and wouldn・t be back.

Gene and I bought some t-shirts at the gift shop (ouch, $24 for a Tshirt is a little pricey), but he was looking for some beer glasses they didn・t sell in sets of 6. We asked the woman if they had any, and she directed us back to the main information area out of the brewery. We headed there, but since they didn・t have any, ended up buying the set of 6 glasses to split. We weren・t sure what to do at that point; it was too early to eat dinner there, but it was too late to really go back to the hotel for a while. Finally we decided to walk to Sapporo Factory, a shopping mall located on one of the original sites of the brewery. On the way, we passed by the Fighters training building, which is next door to the brewery, and is an entire baseball mound inside a building! I guess they don・t do spring training in Florida...

About a fifteen minute walk later, we arrived at the Sapporo Factory. In front is a little park which has what is supposed to be a river running down the middle, but the water was shut off. Inside the big glass arch, we discovered Sapporo Factory proper, which is new, and quite frankly, very beautiful for a mall. It・s very modern and very well laid out. I mentioned to Gene at one point that it was just :a very nice space; and really made you want to hang around. The entrance leads way into a gigantic, multi-story enclosed area with shops on both sides. Down the middle is a nicely maintained and landscaped area, which exits to a staircase down to the bottom most level. This area is mostly restaurants, like a pastry shop and KFC. They have a huge TV up high, and apparently motion camera that move around and point at people like in a stadium. There was some promotion going on for Fall, and they had a jazz quartet playing on a stage. She saw us while she was singing in English and nodded and smiled. We wandered around for a while, really enjoying all the stores. There・s an :American; restaurant called Rocky・s which serves hamburgers and American beer and looks like it・s trying too hard. In one store, I just got the urge to see, and looked at the price tag on a pair of Levi・s 501 jeans. I about gagged. $100!!! Seriously! And I thought I overpaid at JC Penney for mine at $30.

My knee is really starting to hurt where Jasper nailed it the other night when he was chasing his soccer ball. Ugh. As we walked past the Victorinox store, a saleswoman saw us, and mouthed :hello; to me and smiled. I said hi back, and she said something else I couldn・t make out. Ah the wonders of standing out in a crowd. They have a lot of camping and outdoors stores in here, which is expected since one of the major travel things in Hokkaido is camping. Fishing is big too, as they had a fly fishing demonstration video going on in front of one store as well. After visiting all four floors of the mall, we finally decided it was time to head back to Sapporo Beeruen for dinner. One of the major reasons we came to Sapporo was to have dinner there!

We walked slowly back to the factory; I was getting tired, having lugged around my backpack all day. As we arrived, we noticed it was much busier, and we ended up with about a 30 minute wait for a table. I really started to fall asleep while we were waiting! They called our number earlier than expected, and we were directed to go to the left building, third floor. We rode the elevator to the top, and were ushered to a two person table off to the side, along with several other pairs of people. It took us a while to get their attention somehow, but when we did, we ordered King Viking Genghis Khan, or rather the Seafood and Lamb JiK Ji-something.(oh crud, forgot!) It・s cool, because it・s all you can eat and drink for 100 minutes. I did this last time with Molly, although we had trouble getting them to not charge her for it as she is a vegetarian and wouldn・t be eating the lamb. As they took our order, they turned on a stove on the table that housed a cast-iron domed skillet in the shape of Hokkaido. They sell these in the gift shop for about 5300 yen.

The food arrived a few minutes later, and consisted of sliced lamb (mutton I think actually), shrimp, scallops, sliced squid, salmon, onions, pumpkin, bean sprouts and cabbage. You grill this on the skillet at your table, then dip it in a sauce and eat away. They also provided big beer steins full of fresh-from-the-factory Sapporo beer, and damn it・s good. Gene and I cooked away, stuffing our faces and gulping down beer. Each time we ran out, they provided us with a new one, whether meat, veggies, or beer. Gene insisted we could make it 100 minutes, but I was skeptical, having done this before! During the meal, two women appeared in miniskirt dresses that said :Love Beer?; on them and challenged the crowd to Jan-ken-pon (which is paper-rock-scissors). Each time they played, anyone who beat them stayed standing, and if they won 4 in a row, got some kind of goodie bag. :Fools,; said Gene. :They・re wasting valuable eating time.; I agreed and bit into a scallop which I・d carefully grilled. After about an hour of this, we were getting saturated with mutton and tipsy from the beer. Gene started to see that it just wasn・t possible to eat like we were for 100 minutes and still be alive at the end. We finally just asked for a few more scallops, as they were extra tender, and called it quits. We did order one more stein full of beer, though, before our 100 minutes were up.

This gargantuan, gluttonous meal cost us each a hair over 4000 yen each, and that, quite frankly, is a bargain! We both agreed it was worth every penny and more. As we meandered our way down the stairs, we decided to take a cab to the TV tower to snap some photos at night. I had my tripod on me (again, I・m really glad I bought it) and when we arrived, I started taking all sorts of pictures, likely because of all the beer. We walked through the park, and saw a number of kids practicing dance moves. This has been a common theme in Sapporo, every time I・ve been here. One set of three girls were impressively excellent, and I even recorded some video of them. We walked a little further down the park, then decided to return to the road leading to the station and walk down just for kicks. It was a really nice night, about 68 degrees and only slightly cloudy, and the streets were not very busy. We got close to the station, realized we・d missed our hotel・s street, and turned around. We stopped into a 7-11 for some water, and I couldn・t resist buying a pre-packaged bubble tea ( in 150ml cup) with pearls in it! A few quick checks of the map later, we returned to Hotel Sumire, at N2E2, and stumbled our way into the room. No wireless networks around, so I・m sure you・re all chomping at the bit for some logs and photos!

The toilet in our room, by the way, has a heated seat, built in bidet, and runs water when you sit down, presumably to cover to noise of someone peeing.

--Hik





 
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