Monday, March 26, 2007

My first visitor!

To answer many questions - Yes, I am fine from the earthquake. I didn't feel it at all! Thank goodness!

My friend Corey that I visited in Korea is coming to my town! We will meet Tuesday night in Sendai City and spend the night there. Then, my very first visitor will come see the place I call home! So excited! =) Have a great week, everyone! I will!

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Friday marked the end of the school, I now have two weeks of spring vacation. What that translates to me is two weeks of sitting at my desk with no work to do, no classes to teach and no job expectations. When the students come back, they will be one grade higher.

This also means to me a whole new work environment. In Japan, teachers move around from school to school for most of their career. Many of us believe this is so that any one school will not have an overflow of talented, dedicated and passionate teachers. On 1:00pm on Friday, every school in the country announces to the teachers who is staying at the school and who will be moving on to their next work environment. The teachers are informed privately ahead of time but are expected to keep it a secret from everyone. They are not able to decide if they stay, leave, or where they are going to go next. The prefecture decides all these details.

1:00 on Friday, we all sat in the teacher's office. The principal of the school announces the teacher's name of who will be leaving; that teacher stands and the principal continues to inform everyone of which school they will be going to. This is the first time all the teacher's know who won't be around anymore. After the 10 minute announcement, all the teachers stand and bow to one another and walk around the room, saying their goodbye's.

Basically, if you're a young teacher - I think your first 3 or 4 years, a teacher is guaranteed to be moved around after their year completed at one school. Usually after 3 or 4 years, a teacher is able to stick around the same school for a while. I think the cap of those years is 7 or 8 years and then they will be moved to their next school as well.

My school is having a major turnover this year, 10 teachers are leaving. 10 teachers that I have worked hard with to establish comfortable relationships with. I'm pretty dissapointed with who will be leaving, honestly all 10 of them I have created decent relationships with. It was a huge blow to me, to see them all go. One of them including, Mitsue my young Japanese teacher.

On Friday night, we had a "farewell party" for all the teacher's that will head out. It was really emotional, everyone crying. Myself included feeling really emotional, I was trying not to cry. We had dinner; following dinner speeches began. One teacher that is staying presents one teacher that is leaving with flowers and gives a small speech about how they will be missed or inside jokes. Tears were shed. Then, everyone chats for a little while, taking turns going from person to person saying goodbye. After that, each teacher that is leaving gives a speech about their time spent at the school, more crying involved. Afterwards, we all went to Karaoke.

My opinion, as an outsider evaluating my life around me, is it seems so destructive to the lives of these people. Some have to move hundreds of miles in under two weeks, now bringing them even further away from their family. Then, having to re-establish yourself in a new work environment with a new town, new students, everything. Everyone was clearly upset to be leaving, I just feel the negative points to moving teachers around outdoes the positive aspects. Maybe, just because I am sad to see alot of people go, and am disappointed in how hard I worked to create relationships with them. On a positive note, I hope that my other school has a better work environment. I didn't develop relationships with any of the teacher's - so I hope that I will be able to make some with the new batch of teachers.

Monday, March 19, 2007


About a month ago, I was asked by one of my adult students to have dinner at her house. I went to her house and had a delicious meal, afterwards, she asked if I would be interested in watching her son do Kendo. Kendo is the Japanese Martial Art that is similar to fencing in our culture. I had never actually witnessed this sport in person but have always been intrigued by it, mostly because of the outfit worn by a Kendo player.

I was watching a bunch of kids under the age of 12 fight eachother with bamboo sticks, called shinai when one of the sensei's (teacher) asked if I would like to give it a shot. I agreed and went out there with the kids. I practiced whacking this stick over my sensei's head for the rest of the evening. In the end, I had felt so much stress relief that I asked if it would be okay if I came again the following week. That's how it started.

I've been going for a month now, only once a week but I am welcome to join them on any of the days that they meet. They meet Monday, Wednesday and Fridays - so last week, I went on Friday, too.

I'm not really good right now. I have a lot to learn - the proper way to sit, bow, scream, hold my shinai, perfect timing to stamp my feet and hit over the head, the Japanese commands for all of this. I guess there is that old saying, can you teach an old dog new tricks? We'll see. My sensei is a really patient man - his daughter married a man from Idaho two years ago so I think he has a little understanding with possibilities of language barrier and stuff.

I wanted to understand more about Kendo so I used trusty wikipedia.

According to that site,

The Purpose of practicing Kendo is:

To mold the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
This will make one be able:
To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

In the beginning, since I am the most recent learner of Kendo, I sit closest to the door. We meditate for a few minutes. Afterwards, we all bow to the student leader and then to our sensei's who are sitting in front of us. After that, it is about two hours of practice.

Kendo is really unique to me. You don't wear any shoes or socks, you are barefoot. You advance or retract from your opponent in a manner that makes it appear as if you are sort of hovering over the ground. During some thrusts or jabs, you are expected to let out screams and slam your foot on the ground at the same time. It's really hard to explain, so just watch this video. Focus on their footwork, it's amazing!

With that bit done, I am going to go get ready for Kendo practice! Maybe one of these days, I will get good enough to compete!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In honor of the 1/16th of my Irish heritage (or whatever really low # it is) - I taught my adult students about the holiday and then we made potato pancakes!

I really got into the spirit of things.

yes those are green pancakes!

it was hard to translate "food coloring" to people in the grocery store, glad I got it though!

more pictures to be uploaded to the internet later

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I'm into Japanese culture in my blog this past month it seems. I guess that was the purpose of my blog in the first place.
Today's lesson is the difference between a Japanese and American school system!

It's mid March, which means all my ninth graders have graduated. Last weekend was the weekend of graduation. My base school students graduated on Friday and my other Junior High School walked the stage on Saturday. I was teaching elementary on Friday, so I couldn't go see my one school, however; on Saturday, I woke up bright and early to check out my other school's graduation.

Junior High School (JHS) graduation's importance is equivalent to that of our high school graduation ceremony. In Japan, citizens only have the legal right to receive an education until the end of their ninth year in Junior High School. Throughout their last year of JHS, students are trying to decide on their next step in life - to move onto high school or to get a job. Many students are deciding which high school they want to attend. It's very similar to high school students in America deciding on whether or not they want to move onto college and then deciding on which college they would want to go.

Now, it's not as simple as choosing a high school and then going. When a high school is decided upon, the next step is having to take their entrance exam. That is what the ninth graders are preparing for all year - their entrance exams. The difficulty of the exam is dependent on what kind of high school you are trying to enter. Hence, you want to go to the best high school -you're exam will be harder. So, compare that to high school students wanting to go to Harvard - so they need to get really high scores on their SAT's. The difference here is that in America - if you want to go to Harvard, apply and then do poorly on your SAT's - you can retake them or you can go to your "back - up" choice college. Here - the student's choose one school and get one shot. If the school they chose was really difficult and they didn't pass the entrance exam - what that means to them is - sorry, you aren't going to high school. They have one school they can apply to and one exam to try for. If they do poorly, they have to wait until the following year to retake the exam.

As you can see, the school year here doesn't begin in August or September like us - it begins in April. The ninth grade students graduated so they don't come to school anymore. However, the 7th and 8th grade students still have classes for this week and all of next week. On March 23, the students will go on spring break. So, the 7th graders will leave on the 23rd and when their two week vacation is over - and they return on April 9th, they will be 8th graders. There are really no breaks here. There are - but not how we know them as breaks in America.

You probably remember leaving school in June and having months off for the summer and returning to your new grade in September. In Japan, the longest break they have is in the summer for 5 weeks. When, they return they are in the same grade. So, their grade change break is only 2 weeks long. Their winter break is also about 2-3 weeks long as well. However, during these breaks - the students still come to school. They still study and play sports and receive help from teachers. They just don't have any scheduled classes. So, essentially, breaks aren't breaks as we think of them.

As a result of this comparison of Japanese JHS to American high schools - the graduation was also quite different. When I think of graduation - I think of a really happy, proud moment. Our speeches are usually written with the idea of "we're moving ahead and we're going to accomplish many great things", etc.

The Japanese graduation was quite a somber event. The students wear their everyday uniforms, while the parents and teachers wear their best outfits. It's nice because all the students come watch the ninth graders graduate. In the front are all the graduates, behind them are their parents, behind the parents were the 7th and 8th graders. To the one side, are all the teachers and to the other side are important people like city officials, BOE people, elementary school principals, etc. The graduation proceeds with all the student's names being called as they walk up to stage to receive their diploma. One name is called, the student responds with hai or yes, walks over, bows to the people to the side (so if you are closest to teachers, you bow to them, if you are closest to the other officials, that's who you bow to). When they were on my side (teacher's side) we all bowed back. They walked in a particular march, reminding me much of how military people walk. There are always about 5 students waiting in line, perfectly spaced apart from one another. While one name is being called by the homeroom teacher, the student in the front of the line receives their diploma from the principal. The student bows to the principal with the student who is standing in line behind them. The principal then gives the diploma to the most foreward student. That student walks off stage and another name is called and then the next student receives their diploma. It goes on like this until all students have received their diploma.

All this time, you see the student's holding back as best as they can - tears. Most have already started crying at this point when they walked in. The homeroom teachers are also crying at this point, too. After all the students receive their diploma's, it's speech time. Speech time is when all the tears come trickling down. The principal gives a speech, an important official does, a student from one of the lower grades, the PTA president and the one that affects everyone the most is the speech from the graduating class president to the principal. During all these speeches, they have background music playing - as Meg says, "Full - house like." So, these speeches are different because they are more or less reflecting on their past 10 years in this school district. Not really giving motivational words as to their future. While these students are giving their emotional speeches, they have in the background emotional music. As Katie says, "to make sure everyone is crying." Oh, and throughout all this - it kind of reminds me of church. You are told to stand, to sit, to stand, to sit. I guess it was good though because a graduation ceremony in another language can get really boring, really fast. Additionally, the best outfit I had to wear was a dress that is meant for summer. The only type of sweater I had for it was also a summer sweater. I bought tights so my legs were alright, but my arms were quite cold. It was held in the gym, which is barely heated (more or less heated by body heat). So, this constant movement, warmed me up a bit.

Moving back onto the sobfest. The student who gave the speech to the principal was speaking between sobs and sniffling into the microphone for like the last 4 minutes. The principal is also up there crying their eyes out from the speech. All the teachers sitting around me were crying. It was hard for me to be on their level because I could only understand bits and pieces of the speech and really for me, I think of graduation and I think of happiness, accomplishment, celebration. I certainly don't think of graduation as a sad time. Cultural difference.

After all the speeches, the students sing. This is where it gets even worse. At this point, everyone is crying. The students are singing in front of everyone, some of them barely able to sing because they are crying so much.

Then, it's over. The end. I felt pretty cold-hearted because I think I was the only person not crying at some point. So, that my friends is how a Japanese JHS graduation ceremony works.

Dave's take on a high school graduation

Monday, March 12, 2007

I woke up in Buffalo

So, last night I went to bed in Japan...

and woke up in Buffalo, NY...

...or so I thought for a split second when I opened my door. So much for spring anytime soon!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FERRIS! I hope all is well in Romania =) Love you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hina Matsuri

March 3rd in Japan was a special day called hina matsuri  ひな まつり or the doll's festival. On this day, it is customary for Japanese families to pray for the wellness and healthy growth of their daughters. Any family that has daughter's in their household is traditionally expected to display a special platform of dolls in their household. Theses platforms are usually tiered with between three to seven layers. Covering the platform is a bright red felt. On the top tier sits dolls of an emperor(obina) and empress(mebina) wearing costumes from the imperial court during the Heian period(794-1192). Behind the emperor and empress is a gold screen.

The next tier displays the "ladies-in waiting" (san nin kanjo). The one is the nagae no choushi - a woman who holds sake in a cup with a long handle. The second one is called the sanpou - she is a sitting doll that holds sake'. The last lady is kuwae no choushi - also, a sake' holder. Most families can't display the following dolls that I will mention. These dolls cost a lot of money and a typical display with only the 5 dolls to this point cost about $1,000.

The next tier displays the five musicians (go-nin bayashi). There is a drum (taiko) player, a large hand drum player (ookawa), a small hand drum player (katsumi), flute player(fue), and a singer (utaikata). The next tier displays two ministers(zuishiin). The one one the right is Udaijin and younger. Whereas, the one on the left (sadaijin) is created to be older and more wiser. This is because in the Japanese court long ago, the left was considered to be superior. Other things you may find on the platforms are mandarin, cherry or peach trees.

I got to partake in a festival while teaching at Kindergarden. All the girls were dressed up in summer kimono's. They performed a song and dance for me. All the boys were wearing little bow ties. It was adorable - seriously, one of the cutest things I've seen here. I wish I had brought my camera. The song they sang is the traditional Hina Masturi song. It goes like this:

Akari o tsukemasho bonbori ni        
あから を つけましょう ぼんぼり に
ohana o agemasho momo no hana
おはな を’あげましょう もも の はな
go nin bayashi no fue taiko
五 人 ばやし の ふえ たいこ
kyo wa tanoshii hinamatsuri
きょ は たのしい ひなまつり

Let's light the lanterns
Let's set peach flowers
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a fun doll's festival.

Afterwards, we ate the traditional food that is eaten on this day. The first food was a traditional rice cake called hishimochi. It is colored red, white and green for superstitious reasons. The red is for chasing evil spirits away, the white is for purity, and the green is for health.

The second food is called arare which literally translates as "hailstones." These things were pretty nasty - they were really sweet. Again, they come in the different colors for the superstitious reason.

The last food I tried in honor of this doll festival is "sakura mochi." Mochi is usually just a bean filled rice cake. However, for this festival the mochi is dyed pink and there is a sakura (cherry blossom) leaf wrapped around it. I enjoyed the actual mochi part but the sakura leaf was extremely salty.

The doll set is usually put up in February, but is expected by tradition to have the platforms disassembled by March 4th. There is the superstition that if a family does not do this on time - their daughter will get married much later than was expected in old time Japan.

The history of this festival was adapted from China. It began during the Edo period(1603-1867). Families believed that these dolls had the power to remove bad spirits that may be associated with a daughter's poor health, beauty of opportunities to marry. The superstition is that the bad spirits would be trapped into these dolls thus protecting the daughters in the household. In old times, these dolls would be sent down on a river, carrying these bad spirirts far, far away. According to some Japanese friends, this practice is still done in certain parts of Japan. I think it is for more cultural reasons moreso than people actually believing in the spirits.

As far as Japanese people still following this ritual - it seemed it was still done with most people I asked, but it seems to be not as important. One family had 5 tiers up, another family told me they can't afford the dolls, and another family only displayed the emperor and empress because they said it takes to long to put everything up and it takes up a lot of space in their house. Other houses that I had gone into, was quite similar - instead of many tiers, I just saw a simple display somewhere in the house - recognizing there is the festival, but not actually putting too much effort into creating their platforms.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Global warming seems to be gaining more awareness worldwide. It has become a hot (no pun intended) issue this year with the crazy weather the world has experienced. It's possible that Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth has given some US citizens the reality of the situation. There are still many people that don't believe that global warming is occurring. There are others that believe it is happening but don't believe that it is happening as rapidly.

At my English Conversation Class a few weeks ago, we discussed global warming. I am always interested in how Japanese people perceive global problems and compare and contrast it to how American people think. At my class, it seemed all the members in the conversation agreed that we are experiencing global warming and that it is a bad thing. They all agree that we need to take actions to prevent the rapid increase. One thing that I told them is how I feel that Japan already takes measures to prevent it.

Here are a few major differences in Japan that will help prevent global warming if implemented in America:

  1. Recycling. Japanese people recycle EVERYTHING. I mean everything. I still don't understand how to get rid of some of my “garbage.” This is to the point that at lunch time – all students clean their milk cartons, cut them with scissors and are dried out and recycled by the school. There are several different disposal bins – not just garbage cans. This allows people to recycle everywhere – at the convenient store, grocery store, at school, etc not only at their homes.

  2. Electricity. You know how anywhere public you go to – lights are on everywhere? For example, in bathrooms, changing rooms, hallways, etc. Well, in Japan, lights are turned off until you need them. Public restrooms in schools or restaurants aren't left on constantly like in America. At my gym, the exercise room and the changing room lights are off until someone goes in to use it. However, once that person is done with using it – they will most certainly turn the lights off as well. In addition to this, electric appliances are not left on, either. At school, the copy machines are left off. At the gym, all the machines are in switch off mode until someone uses them and then turns it off when finished.

  3. Transportation. People don't drive short distances. Where I live, many people use bikes. School buses are quite rare – students ride their bikes to school, some incredibly long distances. There is a good mass transportation system. Most areas have trains serving them.

  4. Water. Toilet bowls use less water than the toilet bowls in America.

These are just a few examples of how I perceive Japan to be more environmentally friendly in a way that could help global warming if America used some of these ideas.

Global warming in the news:

Tokyo sees no snow this year

Going Green?

Al Gore's Suggestions on how to help

Wikipedia on Global Warming

After all that environmental propaganda, allow me to inform you of my latest nature adventures. The first one reveals the benefits of global warming. This benefit is none other than a beautiful hike in February. Granted, I am more south than New York State, but even the locals in this area claim that this year is incredibly warm compared to the past. Therefore, in February I rewarded my eyes by going on a hike in an area called Ohtakamori. The weather graced us with clear, blue skies, perfect hiking temperature and sun the whole way through. I had done part of this hike in September; however, this time around, we went all the way around the peninsula. I feasted on beautiful colors of the ocean, blue-greens, high cliffs where the island meets the ocean, and my favorite part – a bamboo forest! The hike was an interesting one- at
first, hiking up a hill to get the views followed by nature trails with a few uphills and downhills following the ocean, a walk past men mending fishing ships, through a small fishing village into the bamboo forest followed by a dirty beach up some more nature trails and back to the car on the side of the road for about 20 minutes. And of course, followed by an onsen.

The next adventure is from last weekend – we went SNOW MONSTER HUNTING! Brian, Meg, Katie and I headed down South to our friend Maria's place. She lives close (I envy her) to a quasi national park named Zao. We got down there Saturday night but headed to Zao the following day. We went to the “other side” of the park which brings us to our neighboring prefecture of Yamagata Ken. Yamagata Ken reminds me a lot of the Adirondacks. Large, beautiful mountains covered in coniferous trees and snow. I miss the mountains.

We found ourselves in a ski town and stopped to get directions from the information center. We took a gondola up to the top of this mountain to find our snow monsters.

You're probably thinking to yourself, “What in the world are snow monsters?”

Snow monsters areeeee.....

In winter, on top of mountains, it snows sooooooo fast and it's soooooo cold that the trees up there become completely covered in snow. Ideally, you wouldn't be able to see that there is a tree that exists underneath all that snow. Therefore, you would have all these trees, covered in snow – but what it looks like to you as an optical illusion is nothing other than a snow monster – or if your imagination isn't up to par- a towering mound of snow.

With it being March and with the weather being unseasonably warm – we weren't sure if there would be much of any snow monsters left. We were in luck, we got to see our snow monsters! While, most weren't covered entirely in snow – it was still an amazing thing to witness.

The day was really warm – so we got to take our time looking around without being too cold. The summit of the mountain was a hazy fog, so we couldn't really see much of what was around – nothing but the towering snow monsters. Just imagine dozens upon dozens of looming snow things around you! We played with the monsters for about two hours before heading back down. It was a successful trip.

Click on the crazy gaijin (foreigners) for all the pictures to Ohtakamori

Click on the mountains to view all the Snow Monster Pictures

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Sapporo Snow Festival

This blog's adventure takes place in Sapporo, with a population of 1.85 million people weighing in as Japan's 5th largest city.

This history of Sapporo from Lonely Planet,
This bustling metropolis was once nothing but a quiet hunting and fishing town in the Ishikari Plain of Hokkaido, settled by the Ainu. They were left alone until 1821, when the Tokugawa Shogunate created an official trading post in what would eventually become Sapporo. The city was declared the capital of Hokkaido in 1868, and its growth was carefully planned. In 1880, Japan's third major railway was constructed which linked Sapporo and the port city of Otaru.
In the 20th century, Sapporo emerged as a major producer of agricultural products. Sapporo Beer, the country's first, was founded in 1876 and quickly became synonymous with the city itself. In 1972 Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics, and it continues to attract visitors from around the world.

Welcome to the 58th Annual Sapporo Snow Festival!

A few weekends ago, myself and a massive amount of teachers invaded the Northern island of Japan, Hokkaido and most noteably - the city of Sapporo. The reason? HUGE snow statues.
This trip was sponsored by our prefectural social network.

After work on Thursday, Akira, Brian, Meg & I headed to Sendai for a nomihodai - that is - an all you can drink for two hours deal. There were 48 teachers in all who went on this trip. Most of us met up before the overnight bus ride to help the ride go by a bit faster by having an all you can drink for two hours.

Following the nomihodai, we all headed onto the bus that would take us up North. I didn't fall asleep on the bus - as I am unskilled in that "sleeping in moving things" area. Following the 5 hour bus ride, we had to sit around in a ferry terminal that would transport us from tohoku - the northern area of Japan - to Hokkaido. I fell asleep on the hard floor for a few hours before we actually got onto the ferry.

Our scary amount of foreigners were given this large area split up into four spots to call home for the next 8 hours. At first, I explored with Dave & Hashmatt before taking my place on the ground and sleeping some more. The exploration was not much - finding a pathetic game room, seeing off the mainland, finding the vending machines of food, and not too much more after that. After getting in a few more hours of sleep, I helped pass the time by reading and playing some catch phrase - a game that made me think of my freshmen year of college. Eventually, we reached Hokkaido. After reaching dry land - we were now on the island of Hokkaido; but not quite yet to Sapporo. It was less than two hours on another bus and we finally reached Sapporo! A rushed getting ready time before our first night out. The first dinner was paid for - and lucky for me! it was a lamb grilling event called Ghengis Khan BBQ held at the Sapporo Beer Factory. I only ate vegetables but still had a good time as it was all you could drink as well. I think the fun part of this lamb eating event was wearing bibs and playing janken or "rock, paper, scissors" to see who drinks.

After dinner and drinking, it was time to go to the bars! We went to a place called, yes, no lie - Club Booty. I have to tell you now - that Japan has a lot of different beers - but my favorite beer is definitely Sapporo beer. I was pretty excited to be drinking my favorite beer in the city that brews it. Unfortuntely, in this night - I ended up with stitches.

But no worries! I am a trooper! I still went to go see the Snow Festival! Okay! Onto the history of the snow festival!

The Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's largest winter events, is attracting a growing number of visitors from Japan and abroad. Over two million people came to the annual event last year (2006) to see the hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures which lined Odori Park, the main street in susukino and Satorando. The figures, large and small, turn Sapporo into a winter dreamland of crystal and white for seven days every February.

The festival began in 1950 when senior high school students of the city made six snow statues in Odori Park. In 1955, the Self Defense Force joined in and built massive snow statues as well. The Festival has grown from these humble beginnings to become the biggest and most well-known of Hokkaido's winter events and a snow festival of international caliber.
I am a "city overlook" kind of traveler. When my Australia travel buddy - Ferris & I would travel in Australia and New Zealand it seemed every city had that "must see" view spot. Well, so does Japan. Before viewing any type of Snow Statues we decided to go up the Sapporo TV Tower that vaguely represents what the Eiffel tower looks likes. You can get 90 meter panoramic views from the top (that's 295 feet) . Below is a shot of what Sapporo looks like.

I loved Sapporo. It had a really good vibe to it. The whole area reminded me a lot and I mean ALOT of home. The city reminded me of Montreal - and I LOVE Montreal, the mountainous terrain reminded me of the Adirondack Mountains. The city seemed more "Western" than that of any other city I've been to in Japan (that's not speaking for a lot at the moment). There was just something about Sapporo.

Then it was onto the Snow Festival! We got back down from the TV tower and began our walk. It was really crowded but still quite awe inspiring. I posted some of the larger snow statues below. We walked around the main street - Odori Street to view the sculptures. Since I don't feel like thinking - let's just say it was "pretty cool".

Following the couple hour stroll to view these statues, we went to the shopping district. We checked out the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade and walked a bit through the Pole Town & Aurora Town underground shopping mall. It was a full day outdoors and it was great to be outdoors.

Sapporo is on the same latitude line as New York(NY) basically. Imagine Sapporo weather to be the same as NY weather. Along with the rest of the world, the weather in Sapporo has been strange. That means, we still got to see the snow statues - but there wasn't too much snow on the ground and it made for decent walking weather - I don't think I was ever too cold walking. That evening - since I was in no condition to go drinking again - Meg & I went to see Marie Antoinette.

The next day - we rented a car to get out of the city and see some of the wilderness that Hokkaido is probably best known for. Akira, being the awesome man that he is - took care of it for us - we rented a huge, white 9 person van to go out and see Hokkaido! You're probably thinking we're crazy for wanting to be out in a car again after how much traveling it took for us to actually get into Sapporo.

Once we left the city, we finally got to see SNOW again.
I love mountains! I love snow covered mountains!
It was great and relieving to be amongst snow again. The crunchity crunch of packing snow underneath my feet. The first time I have worn boots this year! Bundling up to stay warm! Blasting heat in the car. Again, mountains made me very nostalgic of the Adirondacks. We made a pit stop to take some pictures, whereby, Akira and drunk Brian played in the snow. (I don't think Brian was sober at all this whole day).

Our final destination was a small quaint town called Otaru. We had lunch there, where Brian was dared the equivalent of about $10 USD to snort curry powder. Maybe it was because he had been drunk all day or just really wanted the money - but he did it. We all had curry for lunch. After that we walked around on the snow fallen ground being refreshed by new snow that was falling, stopping only briefly into some Japanese culture shops to warm up our cold bodies. Otaru is known for it's glass blowing - and the last of our time in Otaru was spent watching Akira make Katie a bead at a very crowded glass shop. On the way back, we tried finding an onsen but it was too late.

Instead, we went to Moiwa -yama Ropeway. This ropeway offers panoramic views of Sapporo at 531m (1742 feet). You first take a gondola up to almost the top, then you get into this really cool caterpillar - car thing. Lucky for us, we got the inside car and weren't stuck on the sled seats that were attached to the back of it. It seemed really romantic; but WAY too cold to be on the top of the mountain, moving at night in winter.
We reached the top where we had the opportunity to view the Sapporo view by night. It was frigid but well worth the coldness endured to see. None of my pictures turned out though, sorry.

The next morning we headed back to the reality - by ending our travels - and going back to Miyagi via busses, ferries and a car ride back home.

I intend to live in Sapporo during the summer for a Japanese language school. I hope so, it looks like there is some good hiking there.

All the pictures from this trip.

Dave's take on this trip