Monday, 4 August 2008

札幌 Sapporo

My first longer stop in Hokkaido was in the prefecture's capital Sapporo.

札幌 Sapporo

Sapporo is a metropolis and does not lack anything compared to other big towns in Japan. But it has one thing the others do not have and that is space. Since 80%-90% of Hokkaido are still covered by forest, there is an abundance of space otherwise the most precious good in Japan. So buildings in Sapporo and other cities are usually larger than they are tall. Also for the same reasons you can find many and huge parks in the city, like the famous...

Sapporo Station

大通公園 Odori Park

In the center of Sapporo starting from Sapporo's television tower, looking similar to Tokyo Tower and thus the Eiffel Tower with an additional useful clock, starts Odori Park. It is a large park, whose name means big street. And that's what it is. The park continues like a huge street right through the city and fills it with a lot of green.

Like a real street it is intersected by other streets, so that you need to cross traffic lights in order to get from one section of the park to the next. But it is truly worth walking along the park, because every section is different and it the strode gives you a nice view on Sapporo.

札幌ビアガーデン祭り Sapporo Beer Garden Festival

I was lucky, that just when I arrived in Sapporo, I could catch the last day of the annual beer garden festival. It takes place right in Odori Park and for every section of the park, there is a different big beer brewery responsible in making ready its own unique beer garden and according show.

Asahi Brewery

Suntory Brewery

Sapporo Brewery

Kirin Brewery

every brewery had unique big beer containers for the tables

but the coolest was without doubt Kirin's

some people sat on the beer garden tables

others preferred a more picnic like approach

and each garden has its own stage

The last section of the park, much to my surprise was clad in the theme of a German beer garden, or rather the Japanese image of a German beer garden. It was called ドイツの村 the German village, and the German flag was everywhere. The also erected their own Maibaum (= may tree), a German (Bavarian) custom. where every village erects their own tree, painted white and blue and decorated with figures each may. Well and in the image of the Japanese German beer garden personnel all wears Bavarian blue and white with a stupid looking beer hat. By the way, a lot of the personnel was actually from Germany.

duh! why write welcome in English?


German personnel

German beer

the Maibaum

they even had German beer garden food

and the Japaneses' imagination of German beer garden outfits

時計台 Clock Tower

Sapporo's landmark is the clock tower. It was erected in front of the first school in Sapporo in the Meiji Period, and therefore looks like a 19th century European/American style building.

the clock tower as part of the school

For 200 Yen you can get inside. Inside you will find a museum about this first school and school life in Sapporo about 120 years ago.

a young visitor from the US

Sapporo's symbol is the red star

explanation of how a clockwork works

白い恋人チョコレート工場 Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory

Loving chocolate I always wanted to go to a chocolate factory since I was child and here I finally had the chance. And the Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory (or White Lover Chocolate Factory) is definitely one of the coolest of the world. All my imaginations from my childhood, how a chocolate factory must look like, where not only met but even surpassed.

I imagined it to be a place like in fairy tales, where the houses are made of sweets and have just the right size for children, but are too small the adults would fit it.

I imagined wonderful parks with soap bubbles floating around in the air and a clock tower which performs a play every full hour and clads the whole factory in magic.

I imagined houses growing on trees and the facade of the huge and enormous factory looking like the houses in fairy tales.

I imagined the inside looking like a palace with gigantic stairs and important people coming to try the chocolate.

notice the wonderful details,
like the wall fresco and the balloons

or this dog guarding the staircase

I imagined horses and carriages bringing people to and from the factory.

And as children like toys as much as chocolate, there also needed to be toys! A lot of toys, no all toys ever devised from ancient to most modern ones.

And as you can see the factory was just that! Also a friendly guide explained everything, you could see not only old toys but also see how the chocolate and sweet boxes and advertisements looked 100 years ago.

in this model the two ghostly children
are shown how chocolate was made earlier

You can also watch live how the factory workers supervise the factory's main product: Shiroi Koibiti White Chocolate Biscuits.

in another room, children could try to make their own chocolate

Truly a place out of dreams and a must see for everyone coming to Sapporo and loving chocolate!

開拓野村 Pioneer Village

Hokkaido is Japan's Wild West (North). Only in the last 120 years people from Japan really started settling on the island. It is too cold, the nature and forests to dense and dangerous (bears, snakes, ....) so that people long refrained from settling there. But now it people are living there normal lives. That was different for the pioneers, they had a quite different life in a daily struggle for survival. And to make the wild west scenario complete Hokkaido has ingenious people: the Ainu.

And indeed the first settlements in little villages around lakes or mountains or farm land were quite simple and plain. The first towns had some more variety like barbers or a black smith, but the houses were still plain wooden houses.

Gradually these houses were replaced by more modern houses until they became modern cities. The 開拓の村 (Kaitaku No Mura, Pioneer Village) tried to preserve some of this pioneer buildings and villages and moved them into a national park, where they can be seen today.

The open air museum contains four parts:

1. A Fishers' Lake Village

2. A Woodcutters' Mountain Village

the life of the mountain people was the most simple

I said woodcutter, but most mountain village existed because of coal mines

and the coal needed to be transported to towns by lorries

3. A Farmers Farmland Village

water mill

grain silo

cow shed

farm land

the village had one common shed with farming tools (tractors came only very late), because they were to expensive for individual possession, so they had to share them

also in the farm village they all slept in one big main building

4. A Town

town hall

doctor's clinic

magistrate's home


money lender



sleigh and

cart construction

black smith

and horse smith



and a candy shop

Significantly for all of the villages is, that its people all shared one house for living and the other for storage and tools. So every village had one big main house, were everybody slept side by side around the fireplace. Life in the villages was extremely hard and difficult, since the people were cut off from civilizations and mostly had to use improvisations of tools they needed for everyday life. Foremost the woodcutters in the mountains, who having only berries, nuts and wild deer to eat, living under constant threat of attacks by bears, had the hardest life of all. The worst however were Hokkaido's winters where the temperature drops as much as -30 degrees Celsius in the high north.

storage for rice

and tools

The town was already a good imitation of later cities, but plainer and more simple. But after a while a post office was established, railways to the coal mines and even later telegraph connections. At the same time the number of jobs increased by a barber, candy maker, doctor and the like.

you can move around the village by this train wagon pulled by a horse


the town well

Of course the town has its own school for the children.

where they are taught mathematics

martial arts

and music

like in Europe at this time, students wore this kind of uniform

Hokkaido also had one university of agriculture, intended to improve the technique in farming, dairy production and technical farming equipment.

students lodgings

They also had one martial arts Dojo.

mainly used for Kendo

It is quite cool to walk through the village, especially because you can enter every single house and explore its interior life recreated with puppets. One house for example teaches the creation of silk. Another plus point is that being located within a national park, the whole area is surrounded by woods and even the inside is really nice going along with the outline of the museum (hills leading to the mountain village, a lake in front of the fishers' village and so on).

recreated interior life

this bridge leads from the farm village to the university

and on the way to the mountain village you cross wonderful nature and then climb uphill

in the silkworm house

you can see how silk is made

記念博物館 Hokkaido History Museum

Right next to the Pioneer Village and definitely worth a visit is Hokkaido's history museum. It is one of the best history museums I have ever seen and excellently tells the history of Hokkaido in many easy to read information plates going along with countless exhibition from the time and things the plates talk off. The museum is separated by time epochs of which it makes eight.

1. Island of Hokkaido

The first section talks about the prehistoric life of Hokkaido and the long Ice Age where it was connected over a long bridge with the continent. Then it continues to first humans on the island and ends with Japan's first two time epochs the 縄文時代 Joumon Period and the 弥生時代 Yayoi Period. Being separated from the rest of Japan, the stone age (Joumon Period) took way longer on Hokkaido than on the rest of Japan, and only on the end of the Yayoi Period (Japan's Bronze and Iron Age) Bronze and Iron slowly also reached entrance into the culture of the Hokkaido people.

Hokkaido even today is a dense sea of trees

first human dwellings looked like that

2. Ainu Culture

The ingenious people of Hokkaido and North Japan were distinctly different from the rest of Japan. They were evolutionary apt for living in regions with temperatures of up to -20 degrees, by having more fur than hair on their body and a white skin, similar to the Eskimo.

They developed their own independent language and culture, which is very similar to the native American culture. They lived in harmony with nature and took and gave back. Whenever they had to kill an animal for food or defense, they would pray for its soul in a ceremony (especially for bears).

typical winter food

Ainu clothing

Ainu tools

they had very simple ships

bears earned high respect among the Ainu

also their houses very plain
and could not really hold the cold winter out

Later they started trade and cultural exchange with people from southern Japan, China and Russia (Siberia).

a ship trading with the Ainu

and an Ainu trading ship

a sample of Ainu the language

3. Age Of "Ezo"

Although the real settling in Hokkaido was not more than 120 years ago, first Japanese settlers invaded the island already in the Mid Ages and settled in southern Hokkaido, were the climate was warmer than in the north.

By that they drove the Ainu back from Northern Japan and Southern Hokkaido into the North and East of the Island. Those first settlers called their new home Ezo.

The Ainu picked up farming techniques from the Japanese

In 17th century Matsumae, a mighty Samurai clan took possession of Ezo and started forcing local Ainu tribes under their predominance. They still let them life their lives, but forbade them trading with anyone but themselves and kept them separated in special regions.

the Mastumae forced the Ainu

to accept their leadership

4. The Early Modern Age

1855 with the proceeding opening of Japan, Hakodate 函館, Ezo's biggest city and dwelling place of the Matsumae Clan, was together with other port cities, forced to open its port to the world. Then after the successful revolution in 1869 Meiji Japan strove to modernize Japan and compete with the western world. For this they also desired to develop Hokkaido The first tasks was to protect the immigrants in the island and actively creating industries on Hokkaido to make it self sufficient.

the British vessel, that forced Hakodate to open its ports

5. Progression Of Colonization

To reach the development of Hokkaido the government greatly advertised for people to settle in Hokkaido. The peak of immigrants was reached from 1900 till the end of World War I. With every new settler more of Hokkaido was being claimed by the Japanese and more territory lost for the Ainu.

advertising for moving to Hokkaido for coal mining

the settlers who heeded the call had a rough pioneer life

6. From Recession To World War II

After World War I, were Japan successfully fought on the side of the Allied Forces, new industries and technology rapidly came up and progressed the modernization of Hokkaido. This allowed to finally expand the territory on Hokkaido into the far east, leaving no more space for the Ainu. The Ainu were those forced to live in the territory claimed by Japanese. However they were segregated by for example having to use separate schools and not being allowed to mix with Japanese. They were also forced to speak Japanese and assimilate the Japanese culture and life.

farming tools improved in this period

first telegraph lines were erected in Hokkaido

and for a first time houses were upgraded with ovens for the winter

settling continued

During World War II Japan's focus point of development moved away from Hokkaido to Manchuria, the Philippines among other conquered areas. Settlers and support were sent there and Hokkaido largely forgotten. However at the loosing end of the war, Hokkaido became more and more a refugee for people fleeing from the bombings and the atrocities of war. So that Hokkaido ran into a huge problem of Food Supply, which was barely solved with bad planning of the government to turn everyone into emergency farmers and quickly develop more farmland, a plan the for the greatest part failed.

then the war was started, and Hokkaido in between

support our troops with coal

and food

7. The Postwar Period

Because of the ongoing food shortages the post World War II time was a time of social and economic confusion and conflict. Many farmers started uprisings against the government, who always fought them down.

However along with the rest of the nation starting 1960 the economy quickly rose to never known peaks the the life of all people was improved enormously. For a first time luxurious life was also possible in Hokkaido, and many people build modern houses with central heating.

heating improved together with

general housing

the first passenger trains were opened

and luxury came with children's toys

home electronics

and skiing as past time activity

also the farming tools were modernized

8. Tomorrow's Hokkaido

Almost 90% of Hokkaido is still unclaimed nature. And for the most parts, the Japanese like to keep it that way and turned large areas into protected national parks. However the development and progress of life will not stop. More and better roads will be created. The sparse train net will be expanded. New settlements will be started by the courageous pioneers of tomorrow.

百年記念公園 100 Years Memorial Park

The real settlement in Hokkaido now lies 120 years in the past. 20 years ago the new capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo, decided to turn a huge area into a national park and dedicate one area inside to 100 years of settling in Hokkaido honoring the past 100 years of settlers.

This park is yet another part of the the same national park that hosts the pioneer village and the history museum. So you should go there after seeing the other two (since the park has no opening hours).

The memorial park, no the whole national park and even the city nearby is dominated by the exactly 100 meters high 記念タワー Memorial Tower. Created completely of Iron it towers as a huge dark threatening monolith over the trees. It looks like I always imagined Sauron's black tower from the book The Lord Of The Rings. And no matter where I was, I could no stop staring and marveling at it. There really is a magic to it, I am sure of it.

can you see Sauron's eye in between the top pillars?

If you be there between 9 and 17:00, you can also go inside the tower and climb half of it's height to a observation platform. I happened to arrive their after six o'clock, but sine the sun was already setting and it was meaningless to go on, I simply decided to erect my tent right next to the tower not directly seen from the walking path.

view from the observatory in the tower

Therefore the guard on duty only noticed me in the morning and woke me up with a very careful questioning "ohayou gozaimasu" (Good Morning). I responded "ohayou gozaimasu" and opened the zipper of my tent putting my head outside. The guard was frightened to see a foreigner and started stuttering in Japanese:
"e-to. koko ha tento wo haru koto ga chotto, e-" (Erecting a tent here is, ahm). I quickly replied in Japanese
"ah gomennasai, wakarimasen deshita. (I am sorry, I didn't know).
Then he replied really relieved "nihongo ha hontou ni jouzu n desuga..., tento ha chotto..." (Your Japanese is really good, but... about the tent)
"Hai hai, sugu ni nidsukuri shimashou! shinpai shinaide kudasai!" (Yes, I will quickly pack it together, worry not good sir!).

there is one single way inside, for the courageous

Later I met him again, when I finished packing the tent and waited on a bench till the clock would strike nine. The he greatly relived even sat next to me and spent almost the next hour of his duty talking to me in fascination and we became friends. We talked until his duty called and the first visitor of the day parked in front of the park around half to nine. Japanese guards and police are really cool. ^_^

actually the memorial park is more than just the tower,
but everything else looks plain compared to the monolith

On a side notice, of course the national park around the pioneer village, museum and 100 years memorial park is also quite worth seeing. Starting from the tower there are a couple of really nice walking trails that lead through the forests and let you enjoy a nice view on the untouched nature.

札幌大学 Sapporo University

When I was traveling back I crossed Sapporo a second time. I was very lucky because when I was hitchhiking for Sapporo two students of Sapporo University stopped and picked me up. We found liking each other and diverged over several Anime and Manga topics. When we reached the outskirts, they asked me where I was intending to lodge. I answered tent or manga cafe. Recognizing my financial situation and lack of need for comfort they offered me to sleep in the university. One of them was a PHD student of ecology and said in the ecology lab, there is a nice couch where I shall find a comfortable sleep. I gladly accepted.

two couches and a chair = comfy bed

CSIAM Control Strategy of Intrusive Alien Mammals

Arriving we all found our stomaches empty and the same student decided to use the ecology budget on some important inter cultural exchange and invited me, the other student and one girl which still was working in the lab for dinner ^_^. Later they showed me the couch and even allowed me to use the computers inside for internet surfing and writing mails.

Thus I even was allowed to see Sapporo University from the inside and outside, meet some more friends and have one more good sleep in Hokkaido's capital.


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