Taking advantage of the 3 day weekend, I signed up for a tour package sponsored by the Hokkaido Association of JETs (HAJET). 6 Nara JETs and I took a plane out of Osaka to New Chitose airport. The flight was about an 1 1/2 hours. When we finally started our initial descent, I looked out the window to get a good view of Sapporo (capital of Hokkaido). It was absolutely gorgeous. Snow-covered mountain ranges littered the background and there wasn't a rice field in sight. When we landed, we met up with the HAJET representatives who took us to the train station.
We finally arrived in the city proper and we were given about 6 hours to explore the city. Sapporo is a wonderful city. The 3-day weekend also coincided with one of Japan's most famous festivals, the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival). We toured around the city for a bit before heading to the Snow Festival. We saw Sapporo's famed clock tower (not that impressive) and even happened upon an extreme sports show. I don't think any of the competitors landed their tricks. Snowboarding looks hard.
Once we made it to the snow festival, I was stunned. There were dozens of snow sculptures in the park lining the streets. The sculptures varied in size, design, and theme. I saw giant robot ones, recreations of famous buildings, anime characters. It was really amazing.
There were also tons of vendors selling food and merchandise. I bought green tea-flavored beer. It wasn't that great, but it WAS green. Green beer is always cool. I also bought some cinnamon almonds. Another Nara JET bought pudding in a tube. Hokkaido is really famous for seafood (ie. crab ramen, sushi, etc). It's too bad I don't like seafood.
After the snow sculptures, we made our way to the ice sculptures. These are incredibly impressive. The detail put into the ice is simply remarkable. While the snow sculptures were grand and impressive, the ice sculptures were detailed and beautiful.
After the Snow Festival, all the JETs went to the Sapporo Brewery for a big enkai. There are three big brand names in beer in Japan: Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo. I ate copious amounts of meat, drank alcohol, and schmoozed with JETs from all over Japan.
We boarded the bus bound for Niseko RIGHT AFTER the enkai. The bus had to make numerous pit stops. The ride SHOULD have been only 2 hours. It took 4 hours. We arrived at the Freedom Inn around 2 in the morning. Bleh.
Part 2: My first skiing adventure!