Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the biggest tourist draws for the island of Hokkaido, which is the large island just to the north of Honshu, the main island. Hokkaido is the largest producer of milk (and dairy products) in Japan, but is probably more well known for the beer. That's right, Sapporo beer is from the island of Hokkaido, from the town of Sapporo. Other than the beer, Sapporo is most well known for it's annual snow festival. Each year about 2 million tourists show up for a week outside in the freezing cold to see amazing snow and ice sculptures. Since we are not the far from Sapporo, we decided to go on a trip, with a group from the base, to see why all the hype is about. We were not disappointed! I look forward to sharing the experience with everyone over my next few posts.
There are a few ways to get there from where we live, but we went on a group tour (to maximize ease of travel and avoid getting lost!) so the only option we had was by taking the ferry. There is an overnight ferry, but this trip used the ferry during the day.
I will mention this was no short ferry. It was about 8 hours. I get motion sickness just thinking about boats so I was smart enough to get the patch (scopolamine) to help with this. Thankfully it worked!
We were placed in a good sized room with all the members from our group. We all picked out little areas and set up camp there. We didn't bring pillows or sleeping bags, but some did. For the most part we were comfortable just laying on the ground with a few cushions.
For lunch Ryan and I both had salads, which we bought at a convenience store before boarding the ferry. The salad was really good. I don't know why we were both so surprised, but we were, and will probably try this salad again.
As it turned out there were hot vending machines on the boat, but we had already brought lunch with us, so we didn't need to play with these machines, although I could not resist taking some pictures.
I also couldn't resist investigating what would come out of the machine, so I tried the French fries.
Not too bad! A little soggy, but I have definitely had worse.
Once the ferry reached Hokkaido, we boarded the bus and headed for Sapporo. Our first stop was at Sapporo Beer Garden. Not only can you enjoy delicious Sapporo beer here, but they serve an all you can eat Genghis Khan meal, which is lamb served raw that you cook on a special grill.
These are some pictures outside in the area around the beer garden and the old historical buildings here.
Here we are entering the beer hall.
At the table we found a plate of seafood,
and the lamb meat.
The lamb was all you can eat, but the seafood was a one time only deal. Since I don't eat meat, Ryan let me take most of it, although I did share the fish with him since he doesn't eat the shrimp, scallops or squid. So it worked out well!
Here is the special grill for cooking. They gave us bibs to wear because there was a lot of meat splatter going on. I grilled my food without using any fat since the fat was from an animal, and my fish stuck a little but it wasn't too bad.
Here are my scallops and the salmon cooking. Hokkaido is also known for their seafood, especially crab (I will get to crab later on in the vacation!), although much of Japan really is known for their seafood too. That's what happens when you live on an island!
The beer was all you can drink too, but I had enough after trying 2 beers. The beer was amazing here!
Here I am ready to enjoy the meal. You can see my seafood and some kabocha are cooking up.
We were also served rice with the meal.
Then it was Ryan's turn. Sorry for all those who are non-meat eaters (like me), but I did take some pictures of Ryan cooking up the lamb. This is a specialty for this restaurant, and in other places nearby.
Everyone said that this was wonderful and really enjoyed it.
After dinner we hit up the souvenir shop and looked around a little more.
I love this picture of this building. It's a little blurry, but you can still see how neat this historical building looks at night.
This snow sculpture was too cute!
After dinner the bus dropped us at the hotel and we get ourselves situated and ready to brave the cold. We were only a few blocks from the ice sculpture area, so we headed there first. It was late and dark si we didn't want to walk all the way to the snow sculptures just yet.
This is the view from the intersection where the ice sculptures started. Yes, there is a McDonald's right there.
Here is what the street looked like with all the ice sculptures lined up. They lined the street on both sides.
This is a peacock. It's a little hard to tell at first.
Check out the beautiful swans! They really had some of the most intricate ice sculptures I have ever seen.
This is an ice bar. They were serving hot sake, hot wine and hot coffee.
This was probably my favorite ice sculpture. I love dragons, and this looked more like crystal than ice.
More of the ice bar area.
This is an owl, or at least I think it's an owl!
Yes, those are real crabs and fish frozen inside. I am assuming they were not frozen alive.
The Lion King, which was a big theme there because it was playing at the theater there.
This is ramen alley. Ramen is another major specialty from Sapporo. While ramen is popular all over Japan, Sapporo has their own version, which is unique to this region, and is replicated in some other cities because it is so popular. Ramen alley is a small alley way lined with ramen shops. Some can fill up fast and have people lined up waiting.
After walking around for a bit, we decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest for the next day. Well, we almost made it back to the hotel without any extra stops, but the word "cheesecake" caught our attention and we just had to go in. Like I mentioned before, Hokkaido is known for it's dairy, so the cheesecake had to be something really special. In fact, the next day we travelled to a near by city and saw a similar cheesecake known as double fromage, and while this cake was not called double fromage, after looking at it online, it really must be the same thing (the double fromage is described online as a no bake cheesecake of mascarpone on top of a baked cheesecake).
So which did we pick to try? The chocolate! They were all out of the plain, so we had no choice, but I was all for the chocolate anyway.
It was amazing! So good, not overly sweet, and very, very creamy! It was awesome.
That was it for the traveling to Sapporo and the first night. We were there for 2 more full days so stay tuned for 2 more posts on the side trip to a near by town and the massive snow sculptures in the main park area.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever tried Sapporo beer? Do you have a local brewery in your town? Have you ever been to a festival with ice sculptures? If you could make an ice sculpture of anything, what would it be?