The small boy from Babhnan was shivering, excitedly. It was the first snowfall of his life. He had seen rivers of snow in Rara, Nepal. He had also seen a little bit of snow in Xi’an, China, a reminder of the late night snowing when the temperature went sub zero long enough for snowing. But he had never seen it snowing, with the cotton like snowflakes playing with his skin. Born and brought up in the Gangetic plains, he was not likely to!
And it snowed with the sun out in full glory. Sapporo is going to be some fun, he thought. It was, when a bus driver happily handed him his cap and the driving seat for a quick picture, of course with keys taken off! He remembered their conversation for over half an hour with him knowing no Japanese and the driver knowing no English. The world is indeed beautiful.
Sapporo. The great, dry river, as per its meaning in the aboriginal Ainu people’s language. It was indeed. A river of snow, dry and chilling. And Fifth in so many things that one could be forgiven for mistaking its meaning to have something to do with the number 5! It is the fifth-largest city of Japan, on its 5th largest island Hokkaido, and northernmost. Sapporo people joke that one can see Russia from its shores on a clear day. And yeah, they perhaps can.
It is also the Alps of Asia, its unofficial winter capital. Renowned the world for its ski resorts and onsen(s)- natural hot springs, travelers seek a slice of the city throughout the year. Yet, come February and the New Chitose Airport gets really really busy with unending lines of visitors for its famed winter festival. The boy from Babhnan was a little early with winter festival still a couple of weeks away, but he could sense the city gearing up for the carnival.
The first thing that surprised him in the city was the cushioned seats in the metro, aka the subway system. He was to know why soon when he accidentally touched a bench by the footpath in subzero temperatures. He also saw the rubber tires of the trains- only one of its kind in all of Asia- this time he did not need to ask why though.
He was back in Otaru where he had seen his first snowfall, a neighboring city, and once a very important Japanese port decreed by the emperor for trade with the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The decline in the coal industry took away its financial glory but not the beauty of it. Just 25 minutes away from Sapporo by the metro, it has now emerged as a bedroom community as well with many people living there and working in the capital.
For a city of fewer than 200 years of history, it was officially established in 1868, it has a lot to offer. Including the Eiffel Tower, okay, the Sapporo TV Tower modeled on the more famous one. And Skiing resorts. Dare a little more, and natural onsen(s) are calling you across the province. High in spirits? Go to the beer museum, the city is home to Japan’s first beer, by the same name. Once warm enough, get back to Odori Park- blocks and blocks of trees gelling so well with the urban landscape. The best view, though, is reserved for the observation deck in the TV tower. Do not miss the former Hokkaido government building as well.
And museums! Of modern art. Of the island’s history. A whole village rooted in its past. Head to Hokkaido for a break from the plains. It will not disappoint you. And once settled there head to Moiwayama, or Mount Moiwa. Take the cable car or climb, like the boy did, and soak in the city views. Go there in the afternoon though, to get the best of both- day and night views. See you there, soon.