Sapporo Snow Festival

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     Last weekend we went on the Tokyo American Club’s Women’s Group Preview Tour to the Sapporo Snow Festival.  It is a festival held every year.  It actually started on Tues but we went for the preview days, less crowds and cheaper.  In the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die, it is listed as one in Japan.  The snow and ice sculptures are amazing.  We started off early Sat. morning and flew to Hokkaido, a Northern Island of Japan.  It is known for its chocolates, milk products, potatoes, corn, and ramen noodles.  We went to an indoor water park first.  It was fun sliding down slides and seeing it snow outside.  The water was really warm.  That night we went to a dinner at the Asahi Beer Garden. Asahi is a local beer and the restaraunt is attached to the factory.  It was an all you can eat BBQ. You grill your own meats, fish and vegetables at your table. The salmon, shrimp and scallops were great. The meat was lamb (but for lamb it was good).  Even kids eat cabbage, sprouts, onions, peppers, potatoes when you are grilling them at the table.  The kids had some friends on the trip too so that worked out well.  The next day we got up early enough to spend some time walking around Otari Park where  a large number of the sculptures were.  They were incredible. Some were as big as 2 story buildings.  One person was told that it  took 30 people 15 days to carve one.  Last year supposedly there was not a lot of snow and they almost had to cancel. This year there was no shortage of snow and cold weather.  Be sure to check out the pictures in the Sapporo Album to see some examples.                                                                                            After our walk we boarded the bus for lunch and onsen.  For those of you who do not know what an onsen is (I did not until Japan) it is a public bath.  EVERYONE here goes to these.  As a modest American it is very hard to do but I had to because as a stingy American, it was paid for  so I had to do it.  You go into separate sections for males and females.  You are given 2 towels.One regular and one  only about as big as a long hand towel.    You have to undress and only use the little towel.  You wash up before going in but then go into  the hot baths (kind of like large hot tub).  They are usually filled with waters from natural hot springs .There was an outdoor one too.  Yes, you walk naked (except for the little towel ) outside in the snow to get into the hot tub.  It actually was pretty cool once you were safely sunk into the water.  It was snowing on us but we were totally warm because the water was so hot.  Then when you are done you have to clean up again because you kind of smell like minerals.  It is all in the way you are brought up. The Japanese don’t even seemed bothered by the openess because they have done this since babies, but for me it was a little uncomfortable.  I am sure if everyone in the family blogged this everyone would have a different opinion on their experience.                    Anyway, next we went to the Ice Festival.  These sculptures were all made of ice.  They had slides, mazes, igloos, large rooms, etc of ice.  It was really beautiful.  It was next to a lake and we had a great sunset that night.  The kids had fun sliding down the ice slides.  You really went fast. It was fun!!!  We weren’t too cold until right at the end that day then all of a sudden once the sun went down it was COLD.  That night, once we went back to our hotel, which by the way was incredibly HOT, we went out for sushi.  We went to the other area of the snow festival and found a conveyor belt sushi restaraunt.  These are the type that you pick a plate as it goes by and you get charged by the plate.  Just imagine our stack of plates from 6 people eating sushi.  It was relatively inexpensive for how much we ate. The kids had a great time trying new types and ordering more of what they liked.  There were a lot of ice sculptures in this area too. We looked for the one by the Hartford but could not find it.
     The next day we went skiing. Lyndon skis but Michael and I  have never skied and the girls skied once about 9 years ago.  We rented equipment there. They were very organized with everything except for the fact that they did not have us down for lessons that we had signed up for.  So Lyndon went off skiing and we waited for an instructor to come.  When she finally arrived, she spoke very little English.  Now just imagine the lesson with 5 people who did not even know how to put on their skis and one woman who did not speak English.  About 15 minutes in I was already sweating.  She took us over to a little slope to teach us how to move up a hill , to come down a  hill, to fall and to get up. It was really only about 20 yards long.  It took a while because all 5 of us had to do these things one at a time and we were not always successful. Lyndon came around a few times and when she was ready to take us up on the ski lift Lyndon was there to help.  She decided to take Catherine with her, Sarah and I would be next , and Lyndon would have Emily and Michael. The problem was that she really did not tell us how to get on and off.  Catherine had the instructor to tell her, and Michael and Emily had Lyndon.  Sarah and I had NO CLUE.  Getting on was no problem but as we went up and up and up, Sarah and I were wondering what we were going to do at the top.  We decided to do our best and move out of the way if we  fell.  Well, Sarah fell off and moved to the side. They stopped the lift to be sure she did not  get hit by the next chair.  We were at the top of the mountain with the black, blue and green choices.  We chose green of course.  As we went down she was trying to keep us all together. As one would fall we waited for them, to get up and then we’d continue down.  It was taking forever.  Sarah and Catherine collided and got their skiis stuck. As she fell, Catherine twisted her knee. They had to call for the patrol because she was crying and she was afraid to stand on it. Lyndon went the rest of the way down so that he could be there with her.  Soon  we saw another skier coming fast.  We thought we’d better not move he could ski around us.  Our instructor said it was just her husband.  He had come to help her.  Can you imagine the stories they had that night. Our  instructor’s English consisted of “Open”, “more”, “keep”, “No use poles”, and “Look at me”.  I think if I ever ski again those are the only things I will remember.  Well, we continued on down.  I think it took an hour to get down the hill. That included a section where we had to cross over the other paths (kind of perpendicular to their path). That was not easy.  That is where I began saying” I feel very uncoordinated and clumsy”.  By the time we went down all the way it was almost time to go. We found Catherine at the bus with ice on her knee.  They said it was probably sprained. On the way back to the hotel, I decided every muscle was hurting. When asked how skiing was I mostly  responded ” I am not to the having fun stage yet.” I suppose I will try it again but I hope I get to the having fun stage quickly.
     We went back to hotel to pack up and leave for our flight.  At the airport we had some incredible Ramen. Mine had some corn and butter in it. We decided that butter could make anything taste better.  The bowls were HUGE. The flight was only about 1 hour 15 minutes long.   We got our luggage, our cars was outside and there was no traffic. A perfect ending to a great trip. 
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