Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again"

...hopefully if all goes according to plan, this year. Maybe.

I get up early (@_@)

Actually, I get up so early it was hardly worth me going to bed…

After I got back from the pub last night, and after a much needed cup of tea, it wasn’t long before I was tucked up in bed (-_-) ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

To make sure that I didn’t oversleep, I’d set a wake up call on the hotel phone and Phil had also said that he’d also call me just to make sure.

I’d planned to get up at about 4:30am – giving me plenty of time to pack any remaining items into my case, check out of the hotel and be ready at the bus stop for the shuttle to the airport, but this morning I wake up at about 2:30am, and despite trying for about an hour to get back to sleep it just not happening. Bugger.

Rather than just lay here in bed staring at the ceiling I decide to get up and do what I had planned to do, only I do it just that little bit slower. Because I can.

I get ready, pack the remaining few things into my case, check out and wait for Phil in the lobby.

Phil has kindly offered to see me off (Go on!!! Get out of Japan!!! Grrr!!! LOL!) and true to his word here he is, albeit very bleary eyed and yawning like a thing that yawns a lot (can’t think of one…maybe a koala that’s been to an all night rave perhaps)

It’s not long before the coach arrives and we say our goodbyes. I leave Phil with the remainder of the tea bags that I brought with me (which are in a lot better condition than his crisps were!) as the driver loads my case into the side of the bus. Somehow I manage to climb aboard with my bulky (and bloody heavy! Ooof!) hand luggage in one hand (I’d bought a few books and I thought that carrying them would be the best thing to do to stop them getting damaged) and the mobile phone that I'd hired for the duration of my stay in the other just so I don’t forget to hand it in at Narita!

The bus pulls away and my heart sinks…I send one last text message from the phone to a dear friend and then erase all traces of my existence from it's memory.

The drive to Chitose is quite depressing. The skies have darkened again and I’m sad to be leaving Japan. About 15 minutes into the journey, it starts to rain.

I’ve had a great time here….I’ve met up with some old friends and made some great new ones, and now I’m heading back to the UK. Back to a place that's so technologically retarded in comparison and full of rude, uncaring people (O_o)

(I'd like to know what it is that Japanese people like about Britain, please tell me!)

We arrive at Chitose in plenty of time, and I go through all the usual airporty* stuff that you do at airports before boarding the flight to Narita.

The lack of sleep earlier this morning is beginning to take its toll and I struggle to keep my eyes open. I entertain myself by watching the stewardesses trying to sell hats and bags and general 'stuff’ from the ANA Sky Shop catalogue.

Touch down in Tokyo! Thankfully my case is put directly on the flight back to London so that’s one less thing that I have to worry about. I manage to find out where I hand back my mobile pretty easily and even find my way to the departure gate without too much hassle.

I wait in the departure lounge for the flight to London to start boarding. Unfortunately there’s a 45 minute delay. I just want to get on the flight and sleep. While I wait, I take a few photos of the planes that I can see outside (including a JAL one emblazoned with the Japanese football team Samurai Blue)

Yay! Time to board. I find my seat (it’s an exit seat by the window! Cool!) and get a copy of the Japan Times from a steward with a European accent usually reserved for the villain in a James Bond film who is sporting very similar hair to Jean Claude Van Damme.

I grip the seat as the plane gets ready for take off, picking up more speed as it hurtles along the runway. The ground disappearing beneath us as it’s up, up into the air!!! WoooHooo!

Eleven hours are spent in the usual mixture of eating, sleeping, going to the toilet, more eating, looking at your watch and realising that you still have 8 hours flying time to go etc, and then the final descent (which is a bit scary as the Millennium Dome looks like it could be far too near to the undercarriage as you fly over it) for landing at Heathrow.

Off the plane, and a long walk through the Terminal to pick up my case followed by more boring airporty stuff.

I stop before the guy at passport control:

“How are you?” he asks.

This surprises me as I thought that any communication with these very grumpy looking people was only usually done through a lot of intense staring and "move along" type hand gestures.

“Er...I’m ok! Bit tired though” I reply.

As soon as I open my mouth and he hears the London accent, he waves me through as the genuine article. Maybe he was unsure because of the tan that I'd picked up in Roppongi.

Finally, I make it to arrivals, where I’m met by my Brother, Sister in law and my Mum! (who thought that they might have missed me as they had seen a lot of Japanese people from an earlier JAL flight about half an hour previously)

In the car my mind wanders back to Japan...

The trip back home through the London traffic is surprisingly short, which is a good job really as I'm gasping for a nice cup of tea.

With milk.


I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the following people who made my trip to Japan so much fun!

Phil and Christine: Thank you so much for everything! From helping me organise the trip in the first place to guiding me around Sapporo. I can’t thank you enough! Hope you enjoyed the crisps! :D

Yuki - Thank you for making that Saturday so much fun. I had a wonderful time :D I hope that we can meet again very soon…

Eriko and Naoko - Thanks for showing me the delights of drinking (and eating and more drinking!) at a Japanese style pub! See you again soon maybe!?

p.s. - Naoko. You are crazy. There's no doubt about it! ;) Email me when you get the chance!!!

Akimi – Thanks for making trips to Brian Brew so much fun! It was great chatting to you! P.S - the chips were delicious!!! :P Email me!!!

The rest of the staff at Brian Brew – Thank you!!! My favourite Japanese (Irish) pub!

The staff of the Toyoko Inn (Susukino) - Hello to all the people on the reception desk and the cleaner who wished me “Ohayo Gozaimasu” every morning! Thank you! :D

The staff of the The Tokyo Green Hotel Ochanomizu - Especially the woman on reception with the life saving paperclip! Thank you! :D

The staff of the Hotel 330 Grande Sapporo - Thank you!!! :D (You might want to think about changing the music in the lifts though…)

The people who helped me when I got lost in Tokyo – Thank you soooooo much!!!

All the ANA airport staff at Narita and Chitose - For helping me when I didn’t have a clue where I was going – Thank you so much!!! :D

The ANA air stewards and stewardesses (especially the one that had to sit opposite us on the Pikachu plane back from Tokyo! Poor you! LOL!)

The people in the little tourist information hut in Odori Park – Thank you! :D

The people of Japan who I encountered on a daily basis – Thanks! I love you all!!! Hahaha! :D

*Airporty © Colin 2006

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lovely Hall!

This morning I wake up as early as I possibly can, as it’s my last full day in Japan and I want to make the most of it. My mood, once again is as grey as the clouds outside. I really don’t want to go home, and curse myself for not booking another week at least (Although if I had booked another week, I think I still would have felt like this)


I get ready while watching the last part of Pearl Harbour which is showing on the movie channel in the hotel and resist the urge to wave my Kyokujituki flag out of the window. It must have started pretty early, as the film is two thirds of the way through already.

I spend part of the morning packing most of my stuff into my suitcase. As I’m leaving for the airport at about six in the morning tomorrow I don’t want to leave it until the last minute. Besides, it’ll give me some indication as to how much space I have left when I go for one last shopping blowout with Phil! Hahaha!

With most of the packing done, I pop out for a bite to eat and true to form, I end up once again in Odori Park to eat it!

After finishing lunch, I take a few last pictures here and take a short walk between the fountains and the TV Tower before heading back to the hotel.

I meet Phil in the lobby and we head out to Tokyu Hands. Although it's still pretty overcast, the rain is staying away.

After this morning’s packing exercise, I’m already finding it difficult to shut my flight case but seem to conveniently forget this while I’m out. I decide I can just about squeeze another couple of t shirts in there and get the ones that I didn’t get the first trip. Phil is rather taken with the Japanese pavement design one and decides to indulge. Unfortunately they don’t have his size so he opts for the next one up (the smaller one is a bit too ‘clingy’ Hahaha!)

T shirts purchased, we head upstairs. I want to get some UV reactive plastic tubing while I'm here (I have no idea what I’m going to use it for, but as it's hard to get in the UK, I thought I’d buy some just in case! LOL!)

Phil kindly asks the assistant to measure it all out as I don’t know the Japanese for “two metres of this one, this one and that one please!”

We stop off at a few more shops to get some last minute ‘essentials’ (ok, more like ‘last minute impulse purchases because I’m in Japan and it’s impossible to get it in the UK/they do have it in the UK but it’s bloody expensive’)

Back home (Whoops! Home? I mean hotel! Bit of a Freudian slip maybe??? Ha!) to drop off the t shirts, UV tubing (God know what customs will think of this if I get stopped!) Origami paper, and assorted other stuff.

I change and meet Phil for one last evening out in Sapporo. As we’re probably (alright, you know me too well by now…definitely) going to be spending a good portion of the evening in the pub, we decide to line our stomachs with a good old Freshness burger. I’d been meaning to try one of these since I got here, so now is as better time as any…

I decide to have the breakfast burger which consists of a bun full of scrambled egg with bits of meat (I hope it’s meat) inside, plus some fries, onion rings and a strawberry smoothie which is so thick it’s making my face hurt just attempting to suck it up the straw.

Next it’s off to Brian Brew! (No surprise there I hear you say) for a drink or two (or maybe three or four)

We sit and talk, discussing the high points (Oooh lots of them! Too many to mention) and low points (No milk for tea in Mc Donald’s Bah!) of my time in Japan.

We talk to Akimi (most of what I say I suspect, is incoherent rubbish. That’s what three Moscow mules do to you. Sorry Akimi! Hahaha!) and eat chips.

As much as I would like to stay here until they kick us out, I do have an early flight tomorrow, so we decide to have one last drink (or two!) and I make the very sensible decision (:O Gasp I hear you say!) and go for a plain and simple cola. Akimi looks shocked that I don’t order something vodka based. I tell that that I was tempted to ask for a cup of tea to which she replies "I would refuse to serve you if you did!" Hahaha!

Akimi suggests that we go to Bar Jersey in the Tanukikoji shopping arcade (she probably wants to us to go so she can preserve her sanity, but as I’ve had too much to drink already and I having too much fun being cheeky to her we decided to stay put)

All to soon the time comes for us to leave Brian Brew :(

I say goodbye to Akimi and leave with a promise that she’ll take me clubbing at Precious Hall (Phil and I have trouble remembering the name…Lovely Hall? Nice Hall? No that’s not right…) the next time I return to Sapporo.

On the way back to my hotel, Phil and I check the time of the Shuttle bus to Chitose Airport (which stops very near the hotel) before leaving me to wobble up to the reception desk with a huge stupid grin on my face.

As I enter the lift, my stupid grin turns upside down as I suddenly remember again that I’ve got to get up early.

(>_<) Bah!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sergeant Frog!

It's the last few days before I head back home and I’m really starting to get p*ssed off now.

I decide to spend a good part of this morning in Odori Park and the surrounding area to the North. I’m hoping to take to take a few final photos and do a bit of scouting around in preparation for my return trip (hopefully sooner rather than later!) The weather is overcast, but at least it’s not raining.

I noticed on an earlier trip (to my disappointment) that the area North of the park is nowhere near as lively as the area South, but I thought I’d have another look around as I may have missed something interesting before…

Stopping off for another cup of tea in Mc Donald’s, and accepting yet another packet of free tissues (That must be about the 20th packet that I've picked up while I've been here) from a smiling (but rather bored looking) girl I head back to the park to sit down and have some lunch.

As I wait at the crossing, a coach stops almost opposite me. A young girl of about 12 years old sitting on the back seat looking out of the window suddenly notices the strange Western man (me!) outside smiles and starts to wave. I laugh and wave back. Her head disappears into the dark interior only to return 5 seconds later with various other heads and arms smiling and waving! The traffic lights change and the coach moves off. Little arms still swaying in the rear window as it drives off into the distance.

(I did have an earlier encounter with a group of high school kids earlier in the week as I was walking through Odori Park. As they approached, one of the girls said “hello hello” to me. “Hi” I replied as I passed, causing simultaneous bowing of heads and lots of giggling amongst them!)

After another nice relaxing lunch in the park, I head back to the Donki Shop to try and find the movies I was looking for yesterday. Trying to remember where the DVD/Music section was from when I went there with Yuki, I accidentally stumble upon the section full of Japanese capsule toys.

After about half an hour searching through all of the neatly bagged figures, I take several to the till, before heading off to find the section that I actually came in here to look for. Once again, as with the shop I looked in the day before, even finding the section that I need to start searching in is nigh on impossible, so I resign myself to failure and decide to look for the movie on the internet when I get back to the UK.

As I was nearing the end of my time in Japan and I’d managed to accumulate an humongous amount of small change, I thought I’d try to lighten the load rattling around in my pockets by spending it. Now, I’m pretty sure that Mr Japanese shopkeeper will be most annoyed to find out that I’m going to pay for something that’s worth 10,000 Yen all in 100 Yen coins, so I decide to go into the arcade nearby and dispose of some in the UFO grabber machines.

Locating one containing a prize that I want to win, I stick my money in the slot.

The first couple of attempts are pretty pathetic, the mechanical claw just nudging the toy like a surly cat playing with a dead gerbil. I stick a few more coins in and with a sharp eye to line up the claw with the toy and a bit of luck I claim my first prize! (Not sure what the Japanese name for the character is, but here he’s known as Sergeant Frog!) This run of luck continues for the next twenty minutes or so until I’ve accumulated a small haul of about fourteen prizes. Three Sergeant Frog characters, seven cute squishy dolphin (at least I think they’re supposed to be) toys in various colours and four assorted robots)

Just as I start to look around for the next machine to play, I notice that the arcade has become very crowded. I think school has finished for the day as the place is suddenly filled with dozens of high school girls all heading for the Purikura machines. I think this is a good time to leave before I drown in a sea of high pitched giggles and crêpes…

The rest of the afternoon is spent just wandering around and taking a last look at some of my favourite parts of the city.

Back to the hotel to have a bit of a rest and a cup of tea. This evening I’m going to meet up with Eriko and Naoko again.

I meet Eriko in the hotel lobby (I’m slightly late because I was engrossed in a Japanese drama on the TV! Hahaha! Sorry Eriko!) and we head off to a tiny bar in the Tanukikoji shopping arcade. When I say tiny I really mean it. It’s probably one of the smallest places that I’ve seen. It’s also very empty as there is only one other customer in here. The centre piece of its cosy interior design style is a pigs leg in cling film in a kind of vice like contraption lovingly displayed on the bar!

We have one drink here before heading off to meet Naoko in one of the underground walkways underneath the arcade and then make our way onto the second and final place for the evening.

This is a more traditional looking place with small booths containing a low table and even lower chairs. We leave our shoes outside and settle down.

Eriko and Naoko explain some of the items on the menu and decide to order a few different dishes so I can try some things that I've never tried before.

We order some drinks and I opt for a rum and coke. Ten minutes later the rum and coke arrives. Unfortunately the rum and coke is missing a vital ingredient, namely the rum!

We drink, eat and chat. The evening has been a lot of fun and I’m glad I was able to meet some great new friends while I was here! :D

Unfortunately, time flies and it’s soon time to go. Eriko and Naoko point me in the direction of my hotel (hey, Sapporo looks so different at night. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) and disappear in to the night.

Back in my room I make a cup of tea and switch on the TV…

One more day to go.



Sunday, May 28, 2006


This morning starts with another AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

It’s getting closer and closer to the time that I have to go back home and I don’t want to go :’(

I leave the hotel and go for a walk. Almost immediately it starts to rain, making my melancholy even worse (Apparently the word ‘melancholy’ comes from the Greek word melancholia. Melan = black and chole = bile. The condition was once thought to be due to an excess of black bile in the body. Er…nice!)

Anyway, I continue my exploration of Sapporo, stopping for a cup of tea at Mc Donald’s which I purchase with the usual “point and ask in bad Japanese” method that’s proved very successful on previous occasions.

I was on the look out for the Japanese science fiction film “Zeiram” while I was here (this is a live action version of a popular anime) so I also stop to look around a large book and DVD store just north of Odori Park. This place isn’t that big, but it’s well stocked, with shelves jam packed with a huge amount of stuff. It’s almost impossible to find anything as it is, but with all the signs being in Japanese too (as it would be) I decide to give up my quest and try somewhere else.

The sky turns a dirty grey outside and the rain has really started to come down now, but luckily I make it to the Tanukikoji shopping arcade just in time (It’s become almost like a second hotel the amount of time I’ve walked along it! If it wasn’t for the fact that the seating is all padlocked in the ‘up’ position every night, it would be easier for me to sleep here!) The forecast says that it’s likely to rain the rest of the time that I’m in Sapporo, and I think that they could be right. All I have to do now is make it from the arcade back to my hotel without getting too soaked.

Back at the hotel, I squelch up to the reception desk, collect my key and go to my room to change and have a bite to eat. I watch a bit of TV while eating. It’s quite addictive actually, even though I can’t understand anything that anybody is saying.

Afternoon arrives and I meet with Phil and Christine again and head up towards the shopping arcades in Sapporo Station. It’s still raining quite heavily but luckily I remember to wear my coat this time. Unluckily though it’s also turned quite windy so the hood spends most of the time not actually on my head.

We’ve come to a place called Village Vanguard which is located within a huge shop called Loft. It’s mostly kitsch that’s on sale here, but they do have a few nice items as well (including a book of cut out Japanese street scenes!)

With a few minor purchases made (some stickers!) we take a look around some of the other (mostly clothes) shops. You may be surprised to learn that I didn’t buy any t shirts Gasp!!!

Shopping done, Phil and Christine head back home while I go back to the hotel to dry off for a second time in one day. It's a good job that I packed more than enough clothes for my trip as otherwise I would of had to consider using the trouser press in my room to help dry out some clothes!

Evening arrives. I get ready and wait for Phil and Christine down in the hotel lobby. Using the free connection to the internet to check my emails, I kill some time until they arrive. At the same time as they walk up to the front of the hotel, the screen on the computer that I’m using freezes, leaving my personal emails for the whole of the world (well, anyone that’s in the hotel lobby. Let’s not get too dramatic here!) to see. I’m sure you’ve all experienced those occasions where the quicker you try to do something, the longer it takes to do. This is one of those occasions and it seems like an eternity before I can regain control of the computer and shut down my email, leaving poor Phil and Christine huddled together under the umbrella outside (it’s still raining quite heavily) while I do.

Giving my apologies while explaining the reason why I was standing in the hotel lobby shaking my fist at the computer while they look at me bemused from the other side of the glass, we all head off for yakiniku at Nankouen (Minami-6 branch!) about 10 minutes down the road. Although it is only a short distance away, the wind is driving the rain almost horizontally into us, so by the time we get there we’re pretty wet.

We sit down, order drinks and wait. Phil explains the principal of yakiniku to me (Order meat. Cook meat. Dunk (hopefully) cooked meat into the provided dipping sauce. Eat) while the waiter fires up the grill in the middle of the table (providing us with a welcome source of heat) He takes our food order and disappears out the back, returning a few minutes later with our drinks.

The meat arrives. Plate after plate of (thinly sliced) meat. It’s a meat parade!!! YAY! All kinds are here. Some with a marinade, some without. It’s a meat feast! A vegetarian’s nightmare! It’s also the best thing I’ve had to eat while I’ve been here!

I try some Kimchee. It’s a kind of Korean side dish made from cabbage, cucumbers, or radish roots seasoned with a Kimchee salted sauce, and then fermented or pickled in brine. A bit like sauerkraut.

It’s hot. It’s very hot…I like spicy things, but this I’m not too keen on...

We eat, drink (in my case, mostly to get rid of the taste of the Kimchee that’s still on my tongue. Yeuch! XP) and chat.

With enough meat consumed to equate to an animal the size of a large sofa, we head off into the night, past the slightly car park-esque looking entrance to the hostess bar next door (The only difference being is that car parks don’t have large pictures of young, very glamorous looking ladies with huge eyelashes in strange poses up on the wall. Not the ones in the UK at least)

Outside, we say our goodbyes and head off in our separate directions. I reach the hotel and collect my (already waiting! Hahaha!) key from reception, my shoes making a noise like a sea lion with bad colic on the highly polished floor as I head for my room to dry off for the forth and final time of the day.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Kagi ni – zero – ku, kudasai!


It’s the Last Saturday in Japan. Bugger.

Since returning from Tokyo, time is going fast. Too fast.

I go through the usual routine:

Cup of tea


More tea

Watch cartoons

Get ready

Time for more tea?

Nope, I'd better head off downstairs to meet Phil and Christine.

This morning we’re all off to the Hokkaido Shrine (Hokkaido Jingu) which is sort of situated within Maruyama park.

Stopping off to pick up some lunch in a convenience store on the way, we jump on a train for the short journey.

We reach the Shrine just in time to catch the last part of a traditional Shinto Wedding. It's a bit strange standing here watching people that I don't know and I feel that somehow I'm intruding, but no one appears to mind.

Wedding over, we take a look around the shrine then find a quiet spot to sit down to have lunch. As we sit down, a huge crow lands and decides to take up residence near us. Eyeing up our lunch, he craftily makes his way towards where we're sitting only to be chased away by Christine.

A few minutes later he tries again, slowly edging his way towards us, only to be chased away again by Phil. This continues for about 10 or 15 minutes before he finally gives up and disappears (the crow, not Phil)

With lunch finished we head up towards Maruyama itself. “Aha!” I think to myself “A nice gentle climb up to the top of a small hill” (O_o)

I’m not even a quarter of the way up Maruyama and already I’m exhausted. Christine and Phil power ahead while I stop and take a rest using the excuse that I’m taking pictures of the many (well about 83 in total) Jizo-san that are scattered along the trail.

As we continue our trek to the summit, we encounter a few other climbers heading in the opposite direction, greeting each of them with a cheery “konnichiwa!” and as we pass and greet each other, I’m also trying not to accidentally stumble over the edge as parts of the path are quite narrow. I can trip up on completely flat floors so this is dangerous ground for me…

Finally, after what seems like forever we reach the top and look out over Sapporo in all of it’s um…… er……“Sapporoness” (Sorry, couldn’t think of a better word – Suggestions gratefully received in the comments section! LOL!)

“I think we can get a bit closer to the edge” says Phil, but as it’s quite windy here at the summit I’m quite happy to stay where I am and cling to some handy rocks, wedging myself in as I take some pictures of the city sprawl in front of me.

There’s a slight haze over the city, and it’s actually a lot bigger than I thought it was. The view is definitely worth the effort of the climb.

We spend some time gazing out into the distance, with Phil pointing out some of the main architectural delights of the city (including the Sapporo dome, the TV tower and his flat)

Full to the brim of “Sapporoness” we head back down the other side of Maruyama and yes, although it’s a quicker journey it’s also a bit more hazardous as sometimes its quite difficult to stop once the momentum of going down a steep slope kicks in.

We reach the bottom (in one piece – Yay!) and head off to our second destination for the day - The Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. Some of the artwork was amazing, some of it was not so amazing, but hey! That’s modern art for you! You need to check it out for yourselves :D

One quick trip around the Museum (and the gift shop!) later, we head back in the direction of our respective homes/hotel as we're off out again later for a meal.

Back at the hotel. Time for the “ordeal of the key” (O_o)

In preparation for this momentous task, on the way back from the Museum Phil teaches me how to ask for the key to my room in Japanese and I think I can just about manage remember it.

I walk up to the reception desk, full of confidence, take a deep breath and ask the yellow uniformed girl behind the desk “Kagi ni – zero – ku kudasai” A huge beaming smile breaks out across her face as she hands me my key immediately (I think she was holding it in her hand) I’m stunned…

It turns out that because I’ve asked for the key so many times, they now recognise me and know which key it is off by heart, so as soon as they see me enter the hotel they already have it in hand by the time I reach the desk!

Evening comes and I meet Phil and Christine again as we’re off to meet another one of Phil’s friends Miwako (Hello Miwako!) at Kopitiam which is located in the Tanukikoji shopping arcade. Kopitiam is a very loud and vibrant Singapore bar restaurant type place which is perfect for an evening of fun, but not so perfect for people who want to sit and have a conversation. It becomes very apparent how difficult especially as Miwako also finds my London accent hard to understand.

Despite the odd blip in conversation, a good time is had by all. We leave Kopitiam and head our own separate ways.

As it’s still relatively early, I decide to take a walk around the brightly lit streets of Susukino before grabbing tomorrows breakfast at a convenience store and making my way back to the hotel, smiling to myself as I know that my key will probably already be waiting for my return…


Friday, May 26, 2006

Riot Police Vs Extremists!

Friday morning!

I get up and potter about, taking my time getting ready for the day ahead.

It’s so nice to be able to get up and not have to hurry. Back at home in the UK it’s always a rush to get up, eat breakfast, get ready and go to work (even though I still always end up being late Hahaha!) so I’m going to enjoy the more relaxed slower pace while I’m here.

I take a long time
(ooh, at least 10 seconds) carefully weighing up all the options for today before finally deciding on shopping (You can read me like a book can't you?) :D

I head out into the lovely Sapporo morning and aim for Tokyu Hands. I’ve passed this place on a few occasions on previous shopping excursions, and decided that it needed some serious time devoted to it at a later date. Well, it’s a later date and I’m here itching to do some serious damage to my finances. Maybe.

It doesn’t take long after I enter before I notice a display of t shirts. I spend half an hour or so trying to decide which ones I like the best (Oooh, that's nice...but then again I like that one…aaarrrggghhh!!! Now…do I get it in black or dark blue???…Gah!!!)

I finally decide on one which has an silhouetted picture of a riot police officer indulging in some “crowd control” with a truncheon and bearing the slogan “Riot Police Vs Extremists” and a rather nice Japanese pavement design.

The rest of the morning is spent just wandering around Tokyou Hands with it's many floors of “stuff”

I could spend a huge amount of money here, but luckily common sense prevails and reminds me that I still have to take this all back to the UK.

Limiting myself to some nicely designed greetings cards and stationary from the huge selection on the top floor, I bid farewell to one of my favourite shops and decide to get some lunch.

I head up to Odori Park, stopping en route to pick up a sandwich and a large bag of pizza flavoured crisps (with bits of real cheese!) at a convenience store and get a drink from one of the many dispensing machines that can be found everywhere. I eat lunch in Odori. This is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places in Sapporo. It’s a nice way to spend some time, just sitting there watching the world go by. As the weather is good, people appear to be very relaxed and happy which is always nice to see.

Lunch finished, I head once again to shopping area to explore some more.

As I wait to cross the road between blocks in the Tanukikoji shopping arcade. I hear a siren in the distance. Now, if you are ever in the UK and you’re at a road crossing and hear a siren, I recommend that you stop and wait for whichever emergency vehicle it is to pass. They have an alarming tendency to run people over.

With this at the back of my mind, I stop and wait for the Ambulance to pass, thinking how brave (or stupid) the people who have decided to risk crossing are.

Just as the Ambulance reaches the crossing, I notice the guy in the passenger seat turning towards me and another woman (who has also decided to play it safe and wait) bowing and mouthing the words “arigato gozaimasu” as they pass! It may have been my imagination, but they even appear to slow down as they reach us so they can do it! LOL!

(I love the way that emergency vehicles in Japan always have someone informing the public that “This is the Police/Ambulance/Fire Engine, Please move out of the way” through a loud speaker as they speed along! – I’ve seen a solo Police officer do this while driving, which was funny as she wouldn’t have had full control of the car or have been paying close attention to the road!)

I locate the Hysterical Glamour store in one of the quieter streets. This is a rather trendy and fashionable place to be buying clothes from, so I’m not sure if I’m going to be cutting edge enough to warrant a look inside!

With this in mind, I try to be all cool and sophisticated as I wander from rail to rail, not noticing the raised lighting in the centre of the floor. My foot catches the edge and I stumble, not enough to fall ove completely, but just enough for me to get embarrassed and for the assistant to politely stifle a laugh.

After a quick exit from the shop, I wander around a bit more, this time to the north of Odori Park. I take a few photographs of anything that interests me (buildings, signs and even a lamp post)

As I wander, I begin to notice strange little things...Things that probably most people who live here take for granted.

Things like: Why is it that no matter what time you go out, morning, afternoon or evening there are high school girls wandering around? (O_o)

The little speakers that shout out adverts to passers by which are almost impossible to understand (even if I could speak fluent Japanese, It’s hard to hear them over the noise of the traffic)

The noise that indicates that it’s safe to cross the road is different when going from East to West than it is when going from North to South…(people of Sapporo listen next time you go out, you'll know what I mean)

Anyway…back to the hotel it is, and it’s time to go through the routine of trying to retrieve my key.

Once again I go through about three levels of authority before being able to collect my key. I head upstairs for a cup of tea and get ready for the evening.

Evening arrives and I’m off with Phil to meet Eriko, a friend of his at Brian Brew (Going to Brian Brew??? Surely not!??? LOL!)

We meet Eriko outside and take up position on some of the comfy seats upstairs, chatting and drinking as most people usually do when sitting in a pub. I say hi to Akimi who is serving some very noisy people who are sitting in the corner. A little while later we’re joined by Naoko, a friend of Eriko. A bit more chatting and a bit more drinking later, Phil has to leave, so Eriko and Naoko decide to take me onto a Japanese style pub for something to eat. Oh yeah, and more drinking…

After lots of eating and drinking (I think you can probably write the rest of this yourself now) We head out into the lively Sapporo streets, Eriko and Naoko kindly pointing me in the direction of my hotel.

I go up to the counter to collect my key. Yes, there’s the usual hassle, but I don’t mind. I had a good evening…I stumble back to my room for some much needed sleep.


Thursday, May 25, 2006


This morning I get up at about 10:00am. I think that the hectic Tokyo schedule has tired me out, so I take my time in getting ready for the day of exploring ahead. I have breakfast while watching a Korean drama on TV (At least I think it is...there seems to be a lot of crying involved, and Phil told me that’s generally a good way of distinguishing between Korean and Japanese drama) and then head out to Nakajima Park (which is near the first hotel that I stayed at) to take some pictures of the cherry blossom before it all finally disappears.

I reach the park, enter the gates and start to walk around. The first thing I notice is how huge it is (It’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be. For some reason I imagined it to be a small place with a bit of grass and a couple of trees. And maybe a squirrel eating a nut)

The park is really beautiful (but then, all Japanese parks seem to be) and I spend quite a bit of time just sitting by the boating lake and enjoying the sunshine. As I walk around taking pictures, an elderly Japanese gentleman offers to take a photo of me standing in front of Hoheikan (a white painted Western style wooden building that the Meiji Government constructed as a hotel in 1880) which I accept. I also get to practice speaking some Japanese by thanking him and saying goodbye. He didn’t laugh at my attempt, so I think my pronunciation was ok.

After leaving Nakajima, I have a quick scout around the immediate area before I head back up towards the centre of Sapporo (There’s shopping to be done don’t you know!)

Feeling a strange urge to return, I go back to the Tanukikoji shopping arcade, start at one end and work my way along to the other. I stop off at a shop that I’d noticed before I went to Tokyo (mainly because it had an armband with a swastika on display in the window. Not the sort of thing that you usually see in a shopping arcade) I go in and have a look around. It’s a strange mixture of plastic mecha kits, tacky gifts, weapons, model railway accessories and…and…do my eyes deceive me??? No! It is!!! Japanese flags! Yay! (for those of you that read my other blog you would probably know that one of the things that I wanted to track down while I was here was a Japanese Naval flag (or Kyokujituki to give its official name)

I head back towards my hotel (with an excited spring in my step! LOL!) and go to Matsuya which is just across the road for lunch. This is the same place that Phil and I had lunch at on the first day in Tokyo, so I’m familiar with the routine of choosing from the selection of dishes displayed on the ticket dispensing machine, putting the money in the slot and then handing the resulting ticket in at the counter. I sit down and once again practice my chopstick skills by eating the fried egg that’s comfortably sitting on top of my meal only to look up and notice that a young girl sitting across form me is eating the exact same thing but using a fork! Hahaha! Time to feel very smug indeed!

With lunch finished, I start round two of shopping, walking up and down each street in the main shopping area in turn, taking a look in any shop that catches my eye. I stop for a cup of tea in Mc Donald’s, successfully ordering a cup of tea (When I say order, I mean I point at the picture of a cup of tea that’s on the very handy menu and say “kore kudasai” LOL!) The only complaint that I have with Japan is that they only serve cream with hot drinks (tea and coffee) and as I usually take semi skimmed milk (healthy me! LOL!) back in the UK it takes a bit of getting used to.

Tea break over and done with I recommence shopping. I discover ‘Central’ a huge shop full of stationary, art supplies, greeting cards and a multitude of other stuff. I’m in heaven!!! Why can’t shops of this kind back in the UK be as good as this??? Two hours and a much lighter wallet later, I head back to the hotel with a small mountain worth of Origami paper, stickers, greeting cards and stationary (I resisted the temptation of the blue bubble wrap. It was difficult, but I was strong!!!)

With weary legs I return to the hotel, walk up to the reception desk and ask for the key.The young receptionist in a yellow uniform gives me a nervous smile followed by a slightly confused look. “One minute please” she says and disappears. She returns with a slightly older woman who is wearing a pink uniform. Once again I ask for the key to room 209…The pink suited receptionist also gives me a nervous smile followed by a slightly confused look. “One minute please” she says and also disappears, while the yellow suited one quietly moves to the side (probably to breath a sigh of relief that she’s managed to pass the problem onto someone else!) She returns with an even older blue suited woman. Once again I ask for the key and without hesitation the picks the key up from the shelf behind and hands it to me.“Phew!” I think to myself “That was fun” (O_o)

I return to my room, check out the new stuff that I've just bought, make myself a cup of tea, watch some TV and relax...

Evening time arrives and I decide to go to Brians Brew for dinner. After a twenty minute walk around trying to find it (it’s actually only five minutes from my hotel) I call Phil to ask directions. Just as he’s explaining how to get there, I find it by accident.

I locate a nice cosy spot at the end of the bar, perch myself atop one of the barstools and order a Moscow Mule and something to eat.

While waiting, an American guy comes in with some friends. I recognise him from an earlier visit, and apparently it’s his Birthday.

So much for the nice quiet evening at the pub.


About twenty minutes, one Moscow Mule and a portion of fish and chips later, a mysterious figure enters the pub and disappears into the kitchen. After a bit of frenetic activity behind the scenes, it's revealed that the mysterious figure is a belly dancer, hired to perform for the American guy.

She shimmies into the centre of the pub, wearing full Turkish costume and begins to dance. It’s a good job that belly dancing doesn’t require a lot of space, as there isn’t any since more of the American guys friends have since turned up, intent on having a party.

With song one over, the dancer whips out some tiny finger tip cymbals and begins to dance once again, “tinging” in time to the second tune that's started to play.

Unfortunately, this is a very long song which seems to go on forever, and about a third of the way through her “tinging” gets decidedly wobbly and she looses the beat.

Despite that, she gets a rousing reception with lots of applause, and then disappears as quick as she arrived.

I decide on one last drink, say a quick hi to Akimi (who has appeared from somewhere out the back) and head back to the hotel. Luckily I’m better at finding my way from pub to hotel than from hotel to pub.

It must be the vodka that’s honed my sense of direction…