[20th in a series of posts about a recent trip to Japan]
Having seen what Asahi had on tap, we spent our last evening in Sapporo at the block-sized Sapporo station in Odori Park, part of the Sapporo Summer Festival. What started with a small keg of beer turned into an adventure with Japanese, Koreans and even New Zealanders.
Odori Park is a long park about a block wide that stretches for 13 blocks east to west. During the beer festival, each block is devoted to one brewery: Sapporo, Kirin and Asahi are all there, as well as a station devoted to international beers (Danish, German and Italian).
At the Asahi station, you buy tickets and can pick up your beer or food items, or have them delivered by one of the Aloha-shirt-clad servers. At Sapporo, you can buy drink and food tickets at a booth or from cowboy-hatted girls (for the food) or bare-headed girls (for the beer). Thom and Todd ordered the small keg of beer and dived in. (We thought Kirin had the most impressive way of packaging their mega beers – 4” wide tubes about four feet long, carried over the shoulder by one of the beer station girls.)
After a few minutes, a member of a group of rowdy (and drunk) Japanese men just across the aisle asked where we were from. When Thom said “Amerika,” he said, “Amerika? I love Amerika!” Soon thereafter, another keg arrived at our table as his gift. Now we had two mini kegs for three people.
Two Asian men sat down next to us. When we offered them some of the beer we purchased (careful not to offend the Japanese men by serving the one they had given as a gift), one said, “We’re not Japanese.” That didn’t matter to us, of course, but they, as Koreans, are not popular among the Japanese, which they knew. Jiho and Bin turned out to be 21-year-old medical students. We ended up in wide-ranging conversations: Jiho and Thom spoke in Japanese (Jiho’s Japanese being stronger than his English) while Bin, Todd and I conversed in English. Todd was surprised when Jiho wanted to know what we liked to eat for breakfast.
Breakfast is a funny thing when you’re traveling. I’ve always found it the most difficult meal of the day, because I want familiar food first thing in the morning. Japan’s traditional fish, soup and rice meal isn’t very appealing to me, though they usually included fried eggs (on the underdone side, more like poached eggs) and miso soup, which appeals to me more – though it’s a far cry from my customary Greek yogurt and coffee.
Over the course of the evening (well into the beer), our conversations were more serious. Knowing that Thom would be only too happy to date a Japanese girl, he asked me how I would feel about it if those dates led to marriage. Fine, I said. What’s not to like? Then I asked him how his mother might feel about him marrying a girl who was not Korean. She wouldn’t like it, he said.
I was reminded of the fact that the Japanese population is over 98% ethnically Japanese. America is such a melting pot; hardly anyone is pure anything.
It was obvious that both Jiho and Bin were smart. They were also humble. Bin said that Jiho was one of the best students in the class, but Jiho shared that Bin was top of the class. They’re friendly and good communicators and I’m sure they’ll be great physicians. The two have been traveling together on vacation for several years; as a hobby, Jiho puts together clever videos that he posts on youtube (he showed us an example).
On the way back, we came across a group of New Zealanders slack-lining, a growing urban sport, in Odori Park. A flexible rubber tightrope was stretched about 18” off the ground between two trees. Johnny, a Samoan who described himself as a personal trainer who does magic shows for private parties, told me to look straight ahead, hold my hands above my head for balance and push off with one leg while the other leg perched on the slackline. The object was to balance upon it, and eventually to walk on it. I could only balance – on my best try – for about 3 seconds. Something new to aspire to!
Hungry, we walked to Tanuki Koji in search of some food, and found a place near the Dormy Inn that served HUGE bowls of ramen. At 11 p.m. Jiho and Bin headed to their hotel, and we headed off to ours.
Next: Best regional airline service ever, thanks to ANA