Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Sapporo Snow Festival

COLD!!! That describes a snow festival. Cold enough outside to keep large blocks of ice frozen for weeks. The 61st annual Sapporo Snow Festival ran from Feb. 5th to Feb 11. We arrived on the 4th, so we saw the works in progress.

Our day began early. A taxi picked us up at 5:10, (the bus doesn't run that early). So... train to airport, Tokyo Int'l to Sapporo, then a train to the city.

We started with a walk down this street, where teams were sculpting blocks of ice with chain saws, and chisels. There were fish and a mermaid with very intricate gills and scales.

The artists did amazing things. This street was all ice sculptures and as we walked, we got to a park area that was filled with snow sculptures.
This palace is one of them. Didn't I say it was amazing?

There's a Disneyland in Japan, so I guess that the 20 foot Mickey and Minnie was sponsored by them.

There were several other very impressive sculptures close by, and then we reached a spot where 3-man teams from around the world were creating pieces from 15-foot cubes of packed snow. One team was from Portland, Oregon. We talked to them about Brian and Portland. Their block of snow hadn't taken shape yet, but we promised to come back on Saturday to see it.

Mickey and Minnie are universal.

At some point, we stopped for a hot chinese lunch, and were warm for the time it took to eat. After almost 5 hours of touring, we got back to our hotel around 4:30. It has several restaurants for dinner, but we usually like to find some little hole-in-the-wall place that has really great food for very little yen.

It didn't matter, by 5:30 we were both asleep. Remember, we got up way before dawn, traveled half way across Japan and trudged around in a blizzard for hours.

The next day... Friday was the official start of SnowFest, but it was also our only full day in Sapporo. We called some new friends that we met only once, at a barbeque at Yokota Air Base in early January. Allan found out that they would be in Sapporo when we were there, so we planned to get together.

They joined us for a trip to Otaru, a small town 25 minutes away by train.

Otaru is famous for blown glass, and I got to make a cup. I'll explain the procedure... first they put a tiny bit of molten glass onto the tip of a 'blowing tube'. You blow it up a little bit - just enough to make a cavity. Then, they dip it again (left photo) and you blow it up to size. The next step it to flatten the bottom (right photo) with a paddle. The tube is constantly rotated while all this is happening, otherwise the molten glass would simply drip onto the floor.

Another tube is attached to the flattened bottom, and you make a indention around what will be the top, and tap the blowing tube to break away the glass. If you tap too hard, as I did, it breaks the glass. After the whole thing was heated again, Issey cut away the broken part with a pair of scissors (right photo).

Then we used very large tongs to open up and shape the top (still rotating). Issey put on the handle and my initial. Voila... here's the finished cup, a little shorter than planned, but beautiful none the less!

That's not all we did in Otaru. We shopped in glass shops (what else?), ate sushi and drank sake and beer. And we attended the official opening of the Otaru Snow Festival, complete with acappella gospel music (truth is stranger... ). After all the usual tourists stuff, we got the train back to Sapporo. At the Sapporo station, there are hundreds of shops and restaurants, so as you'd expect, we shopped and ate, including decadent desserts - American desserts, (because Japanese desserts are barely sweet and have very little goo).

Breakfast was included with our room. On Friday, we had the English breakfast and planned to try the Japanese breakfast Saturday. We thought better of that plan, because the English breakfast included rice, miso soup and tofu. If that's English, we didn't want to find out what the Japanese breakfast was.

We had a short day, but we toured the area where teams were still working on sculpting blocks of packed ice for judging on Monday. The Netherlands had a unique idea. With saws, they were cutting their block into 9-10 inch cubes, then wrapping the cubes with ribbon and giving them away as gifts. Though they tried, they were unsuccessful in getting me to accept a big block of compacted snow to carry around. A big mug of cocoa would have been nice though.

Since you can get canned hot cocoa from a machine, along with coffee, hot tea, cold drinks and watered-down bourbon, that idea wouldn't have had the same uniqueness.

Allan noticed the StingRay Bar sign across from our hotel. But I wondered how many men have the chutzpah to get a tattoo from this place.

We came close to being snowed in, but the snowplows cleared the runway, so our plane left 30 minutes late and made up some time in the air. We had Sunday to relax and get ready for the week. I did lesson plans for my Monday and Tuesday English students, and Allan prepared for the week by watching 5 hours of television.

I'm not sure what my next adventure will be. I'm going to Kyoto with Brian next month. I hope it will be a fun story.

No comments:

Post a Comment