I arrived in Japan a couple of days ago for the start of an epic 18 day adventure across Japan. I wasn't ready for the weather. I knew it would be cold but I didn't know it would be this cold. I easily forget the bite of a snowy winter when I live in toasty east-coast Australia.
My first destination was Furano in Hokkaido (the north island). To get there I had to travel through Sapporo, which is one of the larger cities in Japan, but not very old. We walked out of the train station in Sapporo and had to throw on all of our snow gear to deal with the cold but the locals seemed happy enough walking around in short skirts and t-shirts.
We couldn't seem to work out what the locals ate for breakfast, so on the first we found a tiny curry shop in Sapporo and had curry for breakfast. I paid for that one a little while later. Justin continued his Japan holiday tradition and had beer with breakfast. The restaurant was tiny and traditional. You walked into the store and were greeted with a friendly ohiyo gozaimasu!. The lady was very polite and I had a chance to practice my Japanese on a real-life person for the first time. She seemed to understand what I was saying so mission accomplished!
We had a bit of time to kill in Sapporo because the trains to Furano were cancelled because of heavy snow (which was a good sign for our upcoming snowboarding adventures) so we went and explored Susukino district where all the shops and restaurants are. We found a shop ran by an old man that stocked swords, shuriken, BB guns and a whole lot of inappropriate paraphernalia that wouldn't be able to leave Japan. Alas, I walked out of there with a blunt, metal shuriken for ¥1000. Hopefully I can get it back into Australia.
We traveled to Furano and met up with the rest of the guys staying at the house and went out for dinner at a restaurant named Sai that had a bbq grill in the centre of each table for cooking your own food. We had deer, pork, beef and what I'm assuming was intestines. Two bottles of sake later and much meat consumed we ventured out to the local bar called Bridge Bar.
Bridge Bar is run by an American fellow named Bill who was kind enough to translate a few things for us and just help us out with Japanese culture in general. It's called Bridge Bar because he encourages western tourists and local japanese people to 'bridge the language barrier' and hang out and talk. Bill runs english classes for locals and hosts dinners for his students and tourists.
The next day, with a mild hangover, we set out to snowboard on the slopes of Furano. I've only been snowboarding a couple of times so my levels of suck are quite high. Nevertheless, we went to the topmost peak of the mountain to start off with. Probably a bad idea. The slopes were extreme steep but we managed to make our way down. The course is huge. It took us a while to get down the roughly 3km run. We spent the day here trying out various courses and going to the other side of the mountain and back via chair lift and snowboard.
We split up the day with some food from the restaurant at the foot of the mountain. I had a delicious ramen noodle soup with egg, beef and seaweed in a chicken broth. It warmed me up and gave me the energy to make my way back out to the mountain for some more awful snowboarding attempts and many falls. While we were there the mountain was covered with children from local schools who appear to do snowboarding and skiing as a school sport. It was amazing watching little kids blaze past me on their skis whilst I was fumbling around on the ground struggling to stand up from my last fall.
For dinner we found a local sushi train restaurant called Topical Sushi (I'm fairly sure it's meant to say 'Tropical' seeing as the whole restaurant had a tropical theme and branding). They had great sushi and a great atmosphere. They didn't speak much english and there seemed to be more westerners at the restaurant than they were used to. Most of the ordering consisted of a 'sumimasen' and just pointing at something. I had a lot of food, various fish sushi, sweet potato balls on a stick, octopus and a tasty coffee jelly with coffee ice cream for dessert.
After that, we tried to push on to Bridge Bar but snowboarding all day had made us weary. I tried an american micro-brewery amber ale and cider then we head home to finish off the night.
One thing I noticed since being here was the proliferation of vending machines. They're on every corner and sell the craziest drinks I've ever seen — Beer, corn soup, hot chocolate, coffee, green tea, milkshakes. I'm slowly making my way through all the different drinks but most seem to taste like ass.
All in all, it's been a great trip so far and very eye opening. I've probably learned more Japanese in the last couple of days than in the past year (which isn't much anyway). I've felt more comfortable here than in America a couple of years ago, even though I don't speak Japanese. Today I'm heading out on my own to explore the rest of Hokkaido and Kyoto. My first stop is to an onsen (a natural hot spring bath) near Furano then I'll make my way back to Sapporo to find my hostel and hopefully I'll be able to pick up a copy of the latest Shonen Jump weekly manga magazine so I can read Naruto in it's natural habitat.