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Why Sapporo is my favorite city in Japan

Why Sapporo is my favorite city in Japan

わや*!That was a hard decision to make Kyushu? Okinawa? South Korea? Taiwan? No… I made it to Hokkaido and have to start this article by talking about Salmon Ikura Don (raw salmon with salmon fish eggs on rice that I ate in Sapporo), in honor of the best dish I’ve ever eaten.

First, If you want to travel in Japan and don’t know where to start, I suggest you to take a look at this list: here

So…why Sapporo?
Well, my two closest Japanese friends are living there… What better reason to fly north?

First of all, I love big cities. Tokyo is massive and I enjoy it. However, I’m still a Swiss girl from the Alps… So I was actually really excited about this trip. The image I had of Sapporo is pretty similar to the one foreigners can have of Switzerland, I guess.

There are a few things you should know about Sapporo. It’s not only a beer brand, this is also the fifth largest city in Japan, and almost 2 million people live there! The 1972 Winter Olympic Games were hosted there and it’s famous for its yearly Snow Festival as well.

Now let me tell you why the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture has became my favorite city in Japan, and how I managed to escape from the real world for 4 whole days (I didn’t even realize that Google had a new logo!)

  • Incredible Atmosphere
  • I’ve lived in Canada, England, and Switzerland and have been able to travel around, including to Japan. But Sapporo has something that other cities clearly don’t have! There is still that urban vibe with areas such as Susukino, as well as a Western touch with the Former Hokkaido Government office and the area around that building.

    The enormous park around the Hokkaido University reminded me of those I could relax in when in was in Toronto. The Maryuyama Park area has many bakeries, small cafės, and restaurants. I would describe this spot as fancy but cosy at the same time.

  • Beautiful Natural Surroundings
  • It is part of the atmosphere, but it needs its own paragraph. My friend took me to Mount Moiwa and the night view was breathtaking… Sapporo is a large city, so seeing all those lights sparkling from the mountain was magical, and I will simply never forget it.
    It might seem insignificant, but the city is full of flowers and greenery, and this is what is missing in Tokyo. Almost every sidewalk has colorful flowers, and you can also find them in parks and even outside people’s front doors. It’s a small detail but it makes a big difference.
    My other friend took me to Otaru, which is by the seaside north of Sapporo. It’s a small and picturesque city intersected by a river and many small boutiques.

    Finally, wherever you are in Sapporo, if the weather isn’t foggy, you can see mountains! It really reminds me of where I am from. Now I can’t wait to go back to Hokkaido during the winter time and enjoy the snow up there!

    Mount Moiwa

  • Kind People
  • The hospitality in Japan is no secret. But in Hokkaido, I was touched by the people’s kindness, generosity, and enthusiasm. I guess life is more peaceful there, so everyone takes the time to do whatever they have to. I felt relaxed from the beginning to the end. And of course, I am so thankful to my friends who were my reason for spending my precious time there.

  • Delicious Food
  • I started with food and I am ending with food. If you do love Japanese cuisine, this is a no-brainer – you just have to go to Sapporo. Curry soup is famous there. I also had the chance to eat えび味噌ラーメン (ebi miso ramen)、うに (uni), and 鮭 いくら 丼 (salmon ikura don), which as you know tasted like heaven.
    If you like cheese and milk, you won’t be disappointed in Hokkaido – just trust the girl from Switzerland, AKA ‘cheese land.’
    Food quality isn’t a problem in Sapporo, and the prices are affordable too.

    Salmon Ikura Don

    If you want to know more about Japanese food, check out this audio lesson: The 5 most popular foods in Japan

    Before visiting this northern part of Japan, I’d heard many times that Sapporo was a great city to live in. Now I totally understand why and if you are planning to go to Japan, drop by Hokkaido, because you can find pretty good deals online to get there ;)

    * わや waya is popular slang meaning ヤバイ (yabai) in Hokkaido-ben.

    Don’t forget to discover more about Japanese culture and language on http://japanesepod101.com

    Top 5 pop culture things/icons you need to know about Japan

    Japan is a country rich in pop culture that has started to gain recognition and popularity throughout the world. As popular culture changes quickly and drastically, we focus this lesson on the most recent pop culture.

    Popular Music

    • Japan boasts the second largest music industry in the world after the United States.
    • Pop music is especially popular in Japan, although you can find all sorts of music in Japan done by Japanese artists-including rock, rap, hip-hop, reggae, and more.

    Popular Movies

    • Recently, the popularity of domestic Japanese movies has been on the rise, with the annual box-office revenue for domestic movies hitting an all-time high in 2008.
    • Of the top Japanese films of 2008, the highest-grossing title was the animation film Gake no
    • Ue no Ponyo (”Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea̶ ;)
    • Hayao Miyazaki directed this movie as well as other popular animated titles such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, which was the first anime film to win an Academy Award.

    Popular Television

    • Variety shows, true to their name, feature a variety of different content-cooking segments, comedy segments, skits, and quizzes are just some of what you’ll find on a typical Japanese variety show.
    • Variety shows often feature a large panel of currently popular celebrities and sometimes a studio audience.
    • Quiz shows that feature contestants (who are almost always celebrities) answering questions on numerous subjects, such as science, history, math, the Japanese language, pop culture, and so on, also enjoy great popularity.
    • Japanese dramas are also very popular among Japanese people of all ages.
    • Many current dramas’ running in Japan are adaptations of popular movies, comics, or animated shows.

    Popular Foreigners in Japan

    •  Jero, is an African-American singer who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    • He has gained popularity singing enka, a traditional type of pop music that is especially popular among older people.

    Popular Japanese Men/Women Abroad

    • Actor Ken Watanabe became a recognized name after appearing alongside Tom Cruise in the 2003 war film The Last Samurai.
    • Issey Miyake is the most well-known Japanese designer in the world, and he is considered the first Asian designer to gain worldwide recognition.

    Popular Sports Figures

    • Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners in 2000, a move that many watched with great interest, as he was the first Japanese position player to play regularly for a Major League Baseball team.
    • Shizuka Arakawa made headlines when she received a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics, a first in the event for a Japanese skater.

    There and Back Again: an Intern’s Tale

    Emily is busy working on a secret project, so I (Ben) get to do another blog. This last weekend I climbed 富士山 (Mt. Fuji). Last Friday night, my girlfriend and I left Shinjuku on a 7:50pm bus bound for the Kawaguchiko 5th Station. The bus trip took a little over 2 hours, getting us to the trailhead a little after 10:00pm.

    We came rather prepared. Alisa (my girlfriend / hiking partner) spent a good part of the day running Fuji preparation errands. She made 14 おにぎり (onigiri) with her grandma, bought Soyjoys and Powerbars, and since we planned on hiking in the dark, she also bought two headlamps. We each were packing rain coats and heavier clothes (since it gets below freezing at the top). I carried our fluid supply of 4 liters of water and 2 liters of Aquarius (a popular Japanese sports drink). We checked our equipment, used the bathrooms (¥50), and started our ascent.

    We got out our headlamps, and Alisa put hers on, but I was thinking to myself カッコ悪い, so I just tied mine to my backpack strap. The first half hour of our hike was below the treeline. We got to the 6th Station after not too long, but from then on, the hike was a seemingly endless succession of switchbacks. The trail grew steeper, the wind picked up, the air got colder, and the traffic became denser. On top of that, the toilet price went up: ¥100. I started out in a T-shirt and shorts. I made it to 8th Station before putting on a long-sleeve shirt. It really doesn’t feel that cold as long as you keep moving, but because we stopped for short breaks every once in a while, the cold started to get to me. So, we kept climbing, and we both were feeling the cold and the altitude.

    Around the 9th Station we started to see the sky getting lighter. Worried that we wouldn’t make it to the top in time to see the sunrise, we weaved through the traffic as much as we could. I was amazed by how many people were climbing the mountain. From the 8th Station until the top, the trail was as packed as Tokyo’s rush hour trains. The pace was painstakingly slow–a twenty second wait between every two or three steps. What should have been a forty minute portion of the hike, took about three hours. Fortunately we made it to the top in time.

    Sunrise obscured by clouds (viewed from the top of Mt. Fuji)

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    Noh Pictures Please

    Hello JapanesePod101.com Community! My name is Ben Jensen, and I’m interning here at the JapanesePod101.com offices in Tokyo. Emily is a pretty busy person, so I get to make a blog appearance today.

    About two weeks ago, my girlfriend’s grandmother Mama-chan, who lives here in Tokyo, offered me a ticket to go see Noh. I’ve studied a little about Japanese culture, and I had always heard that Noh is hard to understand—even for Japanese people—and that there is very little action and very few props. Apparently it’s pretty common for audience members to fall asleep. In any case, I thought it would be worth seeing at least once, and it would be a rare opportunity, so I graciously accepted the offer.


    Hosho Nogakudo viewed from the outside.

    So last Friday, I left work just before 5:00pm and rode the Tokyo Metro to Suidobashi Station. From the station, it was a quick walk to the theater, 宝生能楽堂 (Hosho Nogakudo). The doors opened at 5:30, I went in, and found my seat right away. I asked a lady nearby if she knew whether or not pictures were OK. Side note: when you ask a Japanese person a question, if they don’t know the answer, they’ll likely go find an answer for you. So, I unintentionally sent her on an errand to find out if pictures are allowed during Noh. The answer? No. I was a little disappointed, but I was permitted to take pictures of the stage prior to the performance.
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    The Top 25

    Hello Readers!

    It is with excitement and sadness that I’ve made it through SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese and JapanesePod101.com survival phrases! I’m excited that I’ve completed all of the lessons and have learned a ton of Japanese in the process, yet I’m sad that this is the end of the line for my survival phrase blogs. It’s been a rapid pace, perhaps faster than what I would have done otherwise, but I was excited to get these blogs out to you, the readers, so I worked hard to learn and reflect, to help you out and keep you more informed. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing my experience with you. If nothing else, hopefully you learned something about Japanese culture that you hadn’t known before.

    Emily in front of Meiji Jinja

    Jumping for joy, SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese and JapanesePod101.com survival phrases helped me navigate as a regular here in Tokyo! [Photo by Alex Montalvo]

    Today, I completed lessons 51-60 in SurvivalPhrases.com and lesson 50 in JapanesePod101.com. The topics covered included talking about what you like and don’t like, a list of adjectives, talking about time for the opening and closing of businesses each day, saying congratulations, or “omedeto gozaimasu“, and more!

    Instead of writing in response to these categories as I usually do, I thought I would instead address some of the key phrases and words taken from the lessons as a whole. In other words, these are the ones, in my opinion, that you absolutely must know before you get here! Hopefully this will be of good assistance to you.

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    Staying Healthy in Tokyo

    Hi Readers!

    I’m nearing the end of my survival phrase Japanese training. Today I did lessons 46-50 on SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese, and 32 and 33 on JapanesePod101.com survival phrases. A lot of today’s lessons dealt with allergies and being sick. I can speak about a few things related to this.

    Disney Sea on a Rainy Day

    Disney Sea- Alex and Mickey

    These photos were taken at Tokyo Disney Sea. It poured all day! With weather like this, it’s important to try to keep from getting sick! [Photos courtesy of Alex Montalvo]

    Fortunately, I have not been sick in Japan to the point that I have needed to take any drugs (prescription or over-the-counter), so I cannot tell you about any experiences spent in a doctor’s office or pharmacy. I can however say something that has interested me and the group I’ve traveled here with.

    If you’ve been to Japan, you may already know about this, and if not, you may have seen it on TV, but not understood it. Often, walking around the streets of Tokyo, I see men and women wearing face masks, like the ones you see dentists wearing. At first I didn’t understand why, and thought maybe they didn’t want to be around the public catching things from other people. I thought it acted like a shield to stay healthy. I later found out that the opposite is true.

    If you’ve been following the blog, I hope that I’ve done a good job thus far telling you just how polite and caring the Japanese people are, wearing the face mask is only an exemplification of this. The reverse is true in that the face masks are worn when the wearer is sick. Instead of spreading his or her sickness throughout, they try to keep it contained by wearing a cotton mask. While this isn’t necessarily related to sickness, it probably also helps that before every meal here in Tokyo, a warm hand towel is given to the diner to wipe his or her hands clean.

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    No Meat?

    Thanks for stopping by again readers!

    Today I did lessons 44 and 45 from SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese and lessons 46 and 47 from JapanesePod101.com survival phrases. The JapanesePod101 lessons dealt mainly with currency exchange. Since, I’ve already written a blog talking about money here in Japan, instead I’m going to blog with reference to the SurvivalPhrases lessons. They dealt with eating habits.

    Korean Dining

    This photo is of two guys in my group eating Korean food. In this setting, everything was cooked in the pot in front of them. This is one example of the many varieties of ways to eat the different foods here in Tokyo. [Photo by Emily Carsch]

    In Japan, fish and meat are staple items in the diet. This is no different than in most countries, but in the US for example, many people are choosing to become vegetarians. This is virtually unknown here in Japan, making it difficult for a bejitarian, or vegetarian, to get around. It seems to me that a lot of Japanese don’t fully understand the concept of being a saishoku shugi sha, also vegetarian. If one were to order a vegetarian dish, he or she would likely still see something not appropriate for that lifestyle on their plate.

    In today’s SurvivalPhrases lessons, I learned how to say things like, “niku wa tabemasen“, I don’t eat meat. I personally love meat, but I have friends on my trip here in Japan with me that do not eat it, so I can fortunately teach them how to communicate that at restaurants now. As more and more people are taking a vegetarian approach to dishes (or so it seems), this lesson has become increasingly relevant, and is a great one to check out if you’re a vegetarian!

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    A Development for the Future

    Konichiwa Readers!

    Today I did a bunch of lessons from JapanesePod101.com survival phrases and SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese. Respectively, lessons covered 41-45 and lessons 39-43. The lessons while teaching new phrases and words, covered much of the same areas I’ve already blogged on (restaurants, shopping, etc.). One of the lessons that was different however was one about going to the movie theater.

    Mori Tower, Roppongi Hills

    Observation Floor Love Seats

    At the top is a photo of Mori Tower, the center structure of the Roppongi Hills development. Below is an area on the observation deck, floor 53, of Mori Tower. The seats are able to detect how close you’re sitting to the person next to you. The closer, the warmer the color. The further away, the cooler the color. They really are love seats. [Photos by Emily Carsch]

    Here in Tokyo, going to the movies is very expensive. I have not been yet, but have heard it is around 2000 yen just for a ticket. When I’ve inquired about it with locals, many say that they rarely go to the theaters for this reason. I can’t imagine how much concessions cost if a ticket is already 2000 yen. Needless to say, I have yet to attend a movie here in Japan.

    Last night I walked by the movie theater in Roppongi Hills and saw that most of the movies playing were ones produced in the US. One of the current large features playing is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls (2008). Its release date here in Tokyo was June 21st. It opened in the United States on May 30th. This movie, that has a lot of international recognition, was released a month later here than in the US.

    Ironman (2008 ) on the other hand, another summer blockbuster that was released in the US in early May, is not opening here in Tokyo until the end of September. Most all of the movies to my knowledge are shown in English and are given Japanese subtitles. With that said, I’m not sure what the deal with international release dates is; there is clearly a discrepancy between these two examples.

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    “Nikai te wo Tataite”

    Hello fellow JapanesePod101.com Users!

    Today’s title means, “clap your hands twice!” (thanks for your help with that Ben!) This is a reference to practices performed at a Buddhist jinja, or shrine. This should give you a hint for today’s topic.

    Ueno Koen Shrine

    Meiji Shrine

    At the top is a photo of one of the many shrines found in Ueno Park. Below is a photo of the Meiji Shrine. The Honden is visible just through the large entryway. [Photos by Emily Carsch]

    I did quite a few podcasts this morning! Covered in JapanesePod101.com’s Survival Phrases were lessons 37-40 and in SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese I covered lessons 35-38. While these podcasts touched on many subjects, the one I’m going to address today is shrines.

    Here in Tokyo, there are shrines and temples everywhere! On my first day in Japan, I went to Harajuku to see the Meiji-Jinga, or Meiji Shrine. It’s a huge area filled with gardens, walkways, streams, and areas for different activities and events.

    Because it was already close to night, I didn’t have much time to spend, so I went straight to the shrine itself. It was really beautiful and looked exactly like it was from a Japanese postcard or travel book. We walked around the perimeter a bit before actually approaching the main building of the shrine, or the honden.

    The small group I had gone with approached with me. We were all cautious, not really knowing what to do, as none of us are Buddhist, or so I thought. One of the girls in my program started whispering to us exactly what was going on with the clapping and bowing. She told us she was Buddhist and taught us the entire premise of the actions we saw happening before us.

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    Love of the Game

    Hey Bloggers!

    Today, I listened to podcasts 34 and 35 from JapanesePod101.com Survival Phrases. I followed it up with lessons 33 and 34 from SurvivalPhrases.com Japanese. In today’s blog, I’m going to touch on two different things, as the lessons were a bit scattered and touched on different things themselves.

    The first thing to address is taking photographs. A couple weekends ago, I went to Ueno, an area of Tokyo full of museums, shrines, parks, and even a zoo. It’s more of a traditional area, but it’s lovely and a lot of fun. Walking along the sidewalk, there were huge hydrangeas in full bloom. It was gorgeous!


    This is a photograph of the Hydrangeas I was talking about. How perfect are they?! [Photo by Emily Carsch]

    I was there with one of the guys in the group that came to Japan with me. We wanted to take a picture of the two of us in front of the flowers, so we struggled to hold out our arms as far as we could and get a self-shot photo of the two of us. As you could guess, it really wasn’t working.

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