Friday, February 10, 2006

Quite The Appropriate Name

Now that I think about it, I actually went back to the U.S. for a little while today. More on that later.

Friday was a day off for Starfish High. Something about the anniversary of the founding of the school or something equally important.

Whatever the reason, it meant that I didn't have to go to work today. So I made some plans to hoof it on up to Sapporo for the Snow Festival. It's only a week long, and I didn't want to bother with big crowds on the weekend. I'm not a big fan of really big groups, especially large masses, so I went up today.

Up at 5:30 and out of bed. I had some other stuff to do in Sapporo besides the Snow Festival, so I wanted to get up there as early as possible. I made it over to Washibetsu Station and caught the 7 AM express to Sapporo. It was a pretty uneventful train ride, the only really exciting thing being that I was reading Alan Moore's "V For Vendetta". Wow. Heavy duty stuff. Dystopian future. Totalitarian society. Creating chaos out of order. Taking it to the system. Stickin' it to Da Man. There's a movie being made of this book, and it sounds like it could be pretty dang good. I'm stoked.

Thing #1 To Do In Sapporo: Get out to the gymnasium in Toyohira-ku to watch the girls' basketball team. Our girls' basketball team made it to the All-Hokkaido Basketball Tournament for the "new" teams. Usually, in the fall, following the major basketball tournaments (heck, all sports tournaments), the third-year students quit so they can focus on their studies to pass entrance exams. Unless a player is exceptionally good, or as in Starfish High's case, there aren't enough members to be particularly picky, first and second-year students don't play in any official games until the "new" team games, or shinjin-sen, start. Our girls' team has five first-year students and one second-year student. Only six players, but they still made it to the All-Hokkaido tournament.

I had mentioned in a class that since school was off on Friday, I was going up to Sapporo for the Snow Festival. One of the players, who was in that class, said, "Please come and watch us play, and cheer for us!" Well, she said it in Japanese, but that's what she meant. I said I would, and then after finding out that the gym was pretty far away from any station that I could get to, I debated not going. Even Mr. Nakajima, our resident mafia-man/basketball coach, told me that there was no way we would be able to win our first game. In fact, he said, it would be a blowout. So I was leaning toward not going, but when I saw them off on Thursday, I implied that I might not go, and the team laid the heaviest guilt trip on me that I have ever had lain on me. "Alright then, you guys. I'll be there. Good luck!"

So I took the Toho Subway line to Fukuzumi, the last station on the line, and then caught a taxi from there to the gym.

The game was, as Mr. Nakajima said, a blowout, although we did hold them to less than 100 points. They tried hard, but they were outmatched. The other team was the third- or fourth-best team in Hokkaido, after all. The girls gave me a hard time for not cheering. (I tend to be, shall we say, a bit vocal at games.) I cheered a bit, but the atmosphere in the gym did not lend itself much to my normal decibel level.

Then it was back to Fukuzumi Station, and over to Susukino, for...

Thing #2 To Do In Sapporo: Check out the ice sculptures in Susukino. It's another part of the Snow Festival, only with...ice. The sculptures were pretty impressive, and it looked like there were a couple of bars built out of ice that people could go to at night. Crazy stuff. I would have been more impressed, but when the ice is covered with snow, as in the copious amounts falling all day long, it tends to take away from the impact of the sculptures themselves.

One classic sign, in front of an ice sculpture of the different kinds of delicious tasting food available in Hokkaido, translated the title of the sculpture as "The Teste of Hokkaido". I don't know about you, but picturing this island with a giant ball was not the image I wanted to come away from the Ice Sculpture area with.

I made sure to stop by Ittetsu and grab a bowl of that life-changing ramen before I headed onward. It was cold outside and I needed something to warm me up. That and I hadn't had anything for breakfast, so I was feeling a bit hungry. Ya know, just a bit. Then it was on to...

Thing #3 To Do In Sapporo: Get over to Odori Park and check out the Snow Festival. Wow. This was some impressive stuff. HUGE snow sculptures all over the place. The whole area stretched from the TV Tower on 1st Street all the way out to the Hokkaido Records building on 11th Street. They had some smaller stuff as well. There was an ice sculpture of Angkor Wat. There was a snow sculpture based on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. There was this pretty cool eagle carved by a group of people from Oregon (yay!). There was even a life-sized replica of Kinkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto (which, while cool to see, is a tad over-rated...I prefer Ginkaku-ji Temple - not nearly as gaudy). 11 city blocks worth of snow sculptures. Fun stuff. Plus, it was funny to see people sweeping snow off of snow sculptures. What with all the snow that was falling all day, I found that the naming of the festival was pretty spot-on.

Plus, there were live musical performances going on, souvenir booths, information booths, and food stands. I went to the crab food stand and bought some crab legs. Mmmm-mmm good.

With sightseeing and gastrointestinal needs sated, I headed on to...

Thing #4 To Do In Sapporo: Head out to Maruyama Park and find the Consulate General of the United States in Sapporo. At the party on the USS Blue Ridge on Monday, I ran into the Sapporo Consul, Mr. Hugues P. Ogier. Very nice guy, he is. I told him that I was planning on coming up on Friday and wanted to come by the Consulate. He said it should be okay, but call ahead just in case. I did. It was a very confusing phone call. I don't think the staff realized that I was a teacher at Starfish High, not a student. I was told to call student services the next day. I didn't. I looked up the location of the Consulate. Armed with this information, I headed out there.

The web page said that I should leave the Maruyama Park Station from Exit #3, but on my way out, the information signs said Exit #1 was the way to go. Memo to myself: Listen to the dang U.S. Consulate web page in the future. Yep. I took Exit #1 and proceeded to get lost. After wandering around for about twenty minutes or so, I stopped in a convenience store and got directions.

After successfully finding the Consulate, I went in. Only after checking in my cell phone and camera, running my bags through an X-ray machine and going through a metal detector. But once I passed through all of the checkpoints, I was shown in to the Consulate.

American soil.

So technically, I was home for about an hour on Friday afternoon. Cool.

I met up with Consul Ogier, who gave me a tour of the facilities and introduced me to the staff. Pretty cool place. They are finishing up a bunch of rebuilding, updating security and other stuff. Blastproof glass on the windows, that sort of thing. I offered my services for anytime the Navy would be coming through Muroran, and asked that they consider Starfish High again when activities were scheduled in town. My offer was happily accepted, and then it was time for me to take off again. The Consul is a busy guy, after all. But it was a really neat experience to look around up there.

So I went back out, collected my things, and left. Now, this next one wasn't a necessity, but since it was close to the Consulate, and I had some time, I walked through Maruyama Park over to Hokkaido Jingu. The park was nice and quiet, except for one tree that was full of crows. Kinda creepy. LOTS of snow. The shrine is really big, and the location is perfect. To give you an idea of just how cold things are up here, check out this photo. This is the purification water area at Hokkaido Jingu. It may not be that easy to see, but even with the water flowing the all the time, the whole thing is frozen over. Here's what you do at this purification area. You take the scoop on the top of the tank, fill it with water, pour water on your left hand, then your right, then pour some water into your left hand and rinse your mouth out with that water. Don't drink it! Swish it around, then spit it out. Not back into the tank! Onto the ground. That was some cold water. My hands started to go numb about 0.59 seconds after the water hit them. Brrrr...

After walking around the park and the shrine, I headed back to the subway station and caught a subway back to Odori Park, because there was...

Thing #5 To Do In Sapporo: Go to the Sugai Theater in Odori and watch "Primer". I had read a bit about this film on the Internet sometime last year, and the concept sounded interesting. Two inventors make a time machine and use it to travel back in time and make money, with some unfortunate results. Pretty high-tech stuff. It's an independent film with no flashy special effects, just a solid story. One that was pretty hard to follow and will require additional viewings of the film, but a solid story nonetheless. Even though I walked out of the theater feeling downright confused, I was downright pleasantly confused. It's always good to watch something that will make you think.

And think I did, all the way through Susukino, on my way to...

Thing #6 To Do In Sapporo: Visit Miyukichi, a bar in Susukino run by the mom of one of my students. I said I would go, after all. It was a fun little normal bar, in an area that doesn't have many normal bars. SO I had some food and some beer and talked with my student's mom about how her daughter was doing in school. Good food, good conversation, good beer. It was a fun way to cap off a long day.

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