Yesterday I flew from Nagasaki to the city of Sapporo up north in Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan’s last frontier.  I first flew to Tokyo and then caught a connection on to Sapporo New Chitose Airport.  I was dreading the day of flying, but the Japanese move things along very quickly and the day wasn’t as much of a hassle as I was expecting.  They called to board the plane fifteen minutes before the flight, and I was away from the gate within ten minutes after that.  Very efficient.  When I landed in Sapporo, I took the train to Sapporo Station and walked to my ryokan.  The first thing I noticed about Sapporo is how nice the climate was.  It was around ten degrees cooler than Honshu and Kyushu and there was no humidity.  The buildings are all very modern and the city is unbelievably clean.  Also the trees around the city are very similar to those you would find in any US city.  Immediately, I was very attracted to how pleasant the city was.  My ryokan was sandwiched by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government building and the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens, making it a little hard to fin.  But after some wandering, I found it all right.  Once I got to the hotel, I had a quick dinner and then went to bed.

This morning at breakfast, I tried natto for the first time.  Natto is a Japanese delicacy which suits only a very specialized pallete.  Natto is fermented soybeans, aka its soybeans put in a mixture of stuff and left to rot for a while.  The smell of natto is awful and I found the taste to be just as bad.  But many Japanese love it.  Near the end of breakfast, an American walked in who was wearing a Carnegie Mellon hat.  Since I was wearing my Case class shirt, we talked for a while.  He was a computer engineer who had family in Hokkaido and was here visiting for the first time in a while.

When breakfast was done, I met my guide.  He was an older man in his sixties.  Our first stop were the Botanical Gardens and the Prefectural Government building which were just blocks from the hotel.  When we stepped outside, the weather was gorgeous unlike some previous days in Kyushu.  I was extremely happy because Sapporo was beautiful.

You might notice that the gardens look like something you might find in America and very unlike typical Japanese gardens found in the rest of the country.  This is because when Hokkaido was being settled by the Japanese at the very beginning of the Meiji Period, the government brought several American agricultural experts to Hokkaido to develop the island for comfortable living for the Japanese.  Previously, only the Ainu people lived in Hokkaido and the climate was not particularly appealing for those living on Honshu.   The Americans who came over, brought many different species of plants and trees which which were suited for the cooler climate.  Because of this, the flora in Hokkaido is very similar to that of America.

The next stop was the old Hokkaido Prefectural Government building.  This building also looks very Western.  Its red brick and green steeples stand out against the backdrop of the modern city of Sapporo.  The building is no longer used for governmental purposes but is now a museum of the history of Hokkaido.  Hokkaido, as a Japanese prefecture, is only about 150 years old, but the Ainu people who inhabited it before have a long and interesting history which some of the rooms display.

Next, we went to Hokkaido Shrine.  The gardens surrounding the shrine were very calm and very reminiscent of home.  The tall pine and maple trees reminded me a lot of Dearborn.  This shrine, like most things on Hokkaido, is relatively modern.  It is the most important shrine for those living in Sapporo and the surrounding areas.  This shrine is a popular visiting place on New Years for those wishing for good luck for the ensuing year.  When we were there, there was an actual wedding in the process. I had seen other traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies at shrines in their early stages, but never one that was actually going on.

Hokkaido Jingu is dedicated to the kami of the frontier and there is a large sculpture dedicated to him at the shrine’s entrance.

With that, my tour of the city was over and I went back to my hotel.  Since the tour was only a half day and it was only around 12:30 when I got back, I scoured my guide book looking for something to do.  Hokkaido is host to many of the most scenic places in Japan, but because the prefecture is the largest (Japan’s Alaska), it takes a lot of time to get to those places.  I found that as much as I would have loved to go on an adventure in the wilderness outside of the city, I was pretty much confined to Sapporo and its immediate environs.  Both guide books said that the Sapporo Brewing Company was a must see in Sapporo, not only for the beer, but also because the campus and the gardens around it are nice to walk through.

The brewery was about a half hour walk from my hotel.  When I made it there, the gardens did jump out at me.  The park was filled with people just sitting taking in the view.  On the campus, there is both a Sapporo Brewery Museum and a beer garden.  I took the free tour of the beer museum, which was actually somewhat interesting.  In the company’s early beginnings, it was government sponsored as part of the development of the Hokkaido Prefecture.  It was apparently an important part of the development, as Emperor Meiji made a trip to the brewery from Tokyo to see the beer making process.  The chair he sat on during his visit is preserved as a treasure of the museum.

Soon after, it was privatized into the company it is today.  After the explanation of the history, the bottom floor is all about tasting the beer.  I got a few samples before heading off.

Tomorrow I go to Toya a little further south in Hokkaido.  See you soon!

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