Posts Tagged ‘Sapporo’

Life Below Sapporo

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

At times the streets of Sapporo can appear to be deserted – where are all the people?  The official statics suggest that around 2 million people live in the city and yet many of them don’t appear on the streets in the city centre.

The reason for this becomes apparent when you leave the footpaths and descended below ground and down into the intricate network of Sapporo’s underground walkways.  This is where you find the crowds.

In summer, the temperatures here ease up into the hight 20′s (degrees C). During the winter months, Sapporo’s temperatures drop to below freezing and monthly snowfalls in excess of a meter are the norm.  Throughout the year locals descend underground to avoid Mother Nature but they also use the underground passageways because they are a great way to move about the city.

The intricate and extensive walkways are aligned with the subway system and are also home to hundreds of shops and restaurants.  You can get off the train, buy your morning coffee and pastry, enter your office building from below and start work.  A very comfortable way to live.

And if you think that being underground with thousands of people would be rather noisy – think again.  This is Japan.  The locals don’t “do noise” so the experience of being underground is quite serene. A bit like a cosy burrow.

When in Sapporo, get down and get moving – just like the locals.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Two Wheels and Two Legs – The Only Way To Travel

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Wearing high heels and a long dress for work today and wondering how to travel to work?  Not an issue in Sapporo – just jump on your beautifully maintained, customised bike and simply pedal away.

If you have travelled to Amsterdam you will appreciate how user friendly a city can be for cyclists.  Well, in Japan, Sapporo absolutely compares to the most bike friendly cities of Europe. Indeed, if you are not riding around Sapporo dressed in your finest outfits then you are just not cutting it!

Bikes of all shapes and sizes transit the sidewalks and cycle paths.  From bikes that have matching frame, tire and saddle colours (pink, orange, blue and yellow are among them) to bikes that are complete with two baby carriers.  Bikes for looks and bikes for practical use can be seen all around the city.

Unfortunately the Japanese cyclists in Sapporo don’t seem to care to much for their heads because non of them wear helmets – not a fashion statement in this part of Japan.  However, these two wheeled commuters do look stylish in their business suits, goth outfits and latest fashion attire.

And what do you do with your bike once you arrive at your destination?  Just put a simple lock around the rear tire.  It doesn’t have to be secured to any fixed object because crime here is so low that it would be extremely rare for someone’s bike to go missing.  Indeed, we started to wonder why anyone would lock their bike up at all.

And if you are wondering whether all of these bikes create congestion on the sidewalks it seems not.  Friendly security staff come along and carefully align them and pick up any bikes that have fallen over.  You have to love the Japanese!

Finally, if you are wondering whether it is safe to walk around with all these cyclists on the footpaths and roadways you can rest assured that you won’t get hurt.  The Sapporo cycle commuters are expert at negotiating pedestrians, other cyclists and traffic.  Indeed, we don’t even remember any bells are “excuse me’s” the whole time we were there.

If you want to join the locals on their bikes you can hire a bike from one of the bike rental shops or pick one up from the bike rental racks on the streets. Check out the Sapporo Community Bike Blog here.

And just in case you were wondering what happens to all the cyclists during the long Sapporo winter you can check out this site to see that the weather doesn’t slow the locals down! And here’s a great video to watch too.

Oh, for a bike friendly city like Sapporo.  Western cities and many Asian cities could learn a great deal from this city!

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Don’t Speak It But Love To Play It

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The excellent english jazz song being played in the Tully’s coffee shop we are sitting in causes us to tap our feet and fingers in time with the beat.  The Sapporo Jazz festival is held annually over the summer months and shops all over Hokkaido are playing great jazz numbers.

Interestingly, the majority of the jazz being played is performed by english speaking artists from around the world.  And what’s unusual about this?  Well it is a big play on the senses.  Most of the Japanese workers in the restaurants, coffee shops and department stores don’t speak a word of english yet the majority of the music (jazz or popular) being played is performed by english artists.  Either the Japanese have great taste in english styles or someone is making a lot of money out of setting up their music programs for them.

We haven’t seen any live jazz during this visit to Hokkaido however it is something we will put on our travel agenda for a future trip to Japan. The line up of artists at the Sapporo Jazz (Ezo Groove) festival is excellent and a weekend visit from Hong Kong would be worth the effort.

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Time Keeping

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Not sure what time it is? What do you do if your watch is a little slow?  There’s an easy fix.  Check the departure time of the JR (Japan Rail) Hokkaido train you are sitting on and when it pulls out of the station reset your watch.  The trains in Japan arrive and depart as though they are linked to premium made Swiss clocks.

The Japanese are renown for their efficiency and one of the most tangible examples of this is JR Hokkaido.  If you are from a country where the arrival and departure times of public transport are “flexible” then you had best not rely on getting to the station a few minutes late in Japan – the train wont be there.

And what about the standard of the carriages?  Both subway and intercity trains are superb.  On the intercity trains even the most basic seats can be likened to a premium economy seat in a modern airliner – lots of leg room, in seat power, a huge dining tray and a seat that lays back far enough for you to get a very comfortable sleep.

We bought a 7 day, unlimited rail pass for our time in Hokkaido.  We were able to purchase the pass on arrival at Hokkaido’s New Chitose airport. We used it daily to travel all over Hokkaido.  For just over $40USD a day we enjoyed the luxury of the excellent trains and the efficiency of Japan Rail.

If you are going to be visiting Hokkaido and don’t want to spend your time driving or on buses then pick up a JR Hokkaido rail pass and experience train travel at its best.

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Art In The Park

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Obscured by the dangling branches of a weeping willow tree the local artists sits on the sloping banks of one of Nakajima Park’s beautiful ponds.  The large brimmed hat she is wearing fends off the midday sun and allows her eyes to remain shaded whilst she captures the summer scene before here.

Not far from the bridge we are standing on a gentleman is sitting on a park bench under the shade of a huge deciduous tree playing a pan flute.  The beautiful sound that he produces reaches to the far corners of the park.  He offers up his talents for no gain other than the enjoyment he gets from making the atmosphere here even more serene.

Young lovers in brightly coloured rowing boats court and laugh as their wooden vessels move across the shallow waters of the lake. The girls relax under wide brimmed hats while they allow their suitors to negotiate the overhanging willows that line the banks of the lake.

In a rose garden not far from the lake a young female model is rolling around on the lush clover filled lawn posing and smiling for three amature photographers.  She is obviously enjoying the beautiful warm sun and the view of the rose beds that surround her.

We follow the gently flowing waters of the stream that boarders the park and make our way to the Horohirabashi subway station for the next leg of our adventure.

Nakajima Park is not a large park however it offers visitors many visual and aural gems.  Make sure you put it on your list of places to visit when you are in Sapporo.

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Milliners Delight

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Big ones and small ones.  Tight and bright.  Loose and lairy. Practical and ridiculous or just downright puzzling.  These are just some of the descriptions for the hats that people choose to wear here in Sapporo.

The capital of Hokkaido is a milliner’s heaven.  The locals here are conformists on so many levels but when it comes to hats they are very individual.  Hats and bikes are the two ways that “Hokkaidoites” express themselves publicly and they go to great lengths to select head coverings that reflect their personalities.

It seems that every second shop sells hats and none of them are alike.  Indeed, choosing a hat here is like trying to find a needle in a hay stack.  However, it is a lot of fun trying them on and parading oneself like a Milan fashion model in front of the full length mirrors!

Need to cover you head when hiking?  Want that next best thing to wear to the horse races?  After a little something to look like Peter Sellers in the Inspector Clouseau movie?  Well, you will find it all here in Sapporo.  Just be ready to be overwhelmed by the variety of options on offer.  And make sure you have a whole lot of fun in the process!

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