[18th in a series of posts about a recent trip to Japan.]
After sleeping in and enjoying the large buffet breakfast at the Keio Plaza (a staple of western style hotels, with a big spread of items appealing to westerners and easterners, including a Hokkaido seafood stew, somewhat like cioppino), off we went to the Botanical Gardens on the campus of Hokkaido University, which houses (among other things) a small but interesting Ainu museum. The highlight for Thom was a 13-minute 1935 video of an Ainu bear ceremony. The park also includes a natural history museum with glass display cases holding stuffed animal and bird specimens, looking like something out of 19th century Britain, and an ethnobotanical garden featuring 2,000 plants known to or used by the Ainu.
Strolling, we walked past the red brick Old Hokkaido Government Building. For the first time, we noticed the repeated decorations of the five-pointed star. Turns out that the star, made famous as part of the Sapporo Beer logo, was the symbol of the local development agency that was responsible for starting Sapporo Beer in the 1800s and that later became the symbol for the city.
Taking a wrong turn and asking for directions to the city clock, a major landmark, a street construction worker pointed us back the way we came. Along the way, we stumbled across the Tonuki Koji shopping center. Based on the descriptions I’d read, we hadn’t planned to visit it. It sounded like another generic shopping mall. Turns out it’s a quirky, outdoor covered shopping area that spans five or six blocks, chock full of unique stores and restaurants. Tanuki is the name of a raccoon dog that is native to Japan, but it’s also a beloved symbol of mischief. A giant Macy’s Parade-style balloon in the shape of a cartoony tanuki hangs over one of the entrances to the mall. Thom stopped at a used record store, while Todd picked up some apples at a small market with a sign that read, “Ponpoko, Shamps- Élysées 7st.” I was pretty sure we weren’t on the Champs-Élysées.
Shortly after noon, we ended up on the long corridor of Odori Park, home of the summer festival – which is really the summer beer festival. Sort of a Japanese Oktoberfest. Things were just getting going as we purchased tickets for three beers at the Asahi booth, and we plopped down at one of the long, plastic covered tables. A woman a few tables away was doing portrait sketches and surreptitiously observed and sketched Thom.
We then sought and found the bus stop near the Tokyu Department Store that runs to the Sapporo Beer tasting room. Unfortunately, we got off at the Sapporo Factory, which it turns out is completely different than the Sapporo Museum and Bier Garden, but a quick taxi ride fixed the problem. (Stay on the bus for the Bier Garden.) Having read about the local specialty called “jingiskan” – a.k.a. Genghis Kan barbeque, or what we would call Mongolian barbeque — we headed to the second floor of the building adjacent to the Museum. Thom ordered a stack of onion rings, which like all fried foods in Japan, came in crispy perfection. The jingiskan is a do-it-yourself feast of thinly sliced lamb and vegetables (cabbage, onions, bean sprouts and thin slice of orange squash) that you cook on a heated, convex table-top grill. (The convex shape is a nod to a Mongolian raider’s helmet.) In deference to our vegetarian, we cooked the veggies first and then the lamb. Not exciting, but tasty, and a good compliment to the Sapporo Classic beer that we ordered.
At the hotel’s recommendation, we ate in the Susikino district, Sapporo’s answer to Tokyo’s Shibuya district and New York’s Times Square. Half blinded by the five-story-high flashing billboards, we found our restaurant on the basement floor of a high rise. Aburiya had excellent food in a traditional Japanese environment (but with a well for legs, for which Todd was grateful); the service, however, was the least friendly and least attentive that we experienced in Japan. Still, it gave us a chance to try Hokkaido’s famous “hairy crab” (a kind of “gani”). Boiled, it was served as if the top layer of exoskeleton were shaved off; thankfully, it came with crab picks so we didn’t have to rely on chopsticks to extract the sweet meat. The restaurant also serves a number of grilled items, another Hokkaido specialty, and we loved the char-grilled scallop, vegetables, grilled potato and chicken meatballs on a skewer. Thom also gave favorable reviews to the eel and sashimi.
Walking back from dinner at 9:30, we were salmon swimming upstream as people flooded out of the beer gardens, which shut down (surprisingly) at 9 p.m. on this warm Monday evening.
Next: Sculpture or Park? Moerenuma Park in Sapporo