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Japan 2016: day 7, Maruyama and Kissyou

Sat 29 Oct 2016 by mskala Tags used:

Saturday was my first full day in Sapporo. I started with the hotel breakfast, which was pretty good. They had a good selection of Japanese-style breakfast items and even some limited Western-style breakfast food. Someone who refused to eat Japanese-style breakfast would at least not go hungry, although such a person would probably have plenty of trouble with the language, and the little Japanese-only card you're supposed to place on your table to show whether you're just temporarily away at the buffet, or have finished and left.

They had natto, so I tried it just to see whether the previous time I've had natto, I just had a bad batch, or what. The thing is, last time I had natto (which was my first time), I was pretty disappointed with it. I thought it was bland and flavorless - which is pretty much the opposite of the usual complaint about natto. Even many Japanese are so disgusted by its supposedly overwhelming taste and aroma, that the hotels supply it in little hermetically sealed cups so you won't get grossed out walking by the table. I don't know, maybe this is one of those genetic things that some people can perceive and some can't.

After breakfast I did a bit of exploring to get my bearings in the area surrounding the hotel, then I headed off on the subway to Maruyama Park, which contains Hokkaido Jingu (a large Shinto shrine) as well as the mountain Maruyama itself. I bought some charms at the shrine - one for success at work, a general good-luck charm with Hello Kitty on it, and a "love" omikuji with built-in bonus charm - and I climbed the mountain. Pictures of most of this stuff in my Twitter stream.

On my way down the mountain, I took a different path, where there were a lot of those little Buddhist statues of saints, with the votive bibs. I passed several before I noticed that each one had a number, decreasing as I went further down. Signs at the bottom indicated that there were 88 of them, though I think it may really be more because sometimes there were little clusters of saints all sharing a single number. Probably, there is some kind of pilgrimage you can do that involves visiting all 88 in order. That kind of Pokemon approach to religion would be quite typical for this place.

The saints seemed to be well looked-after, with most of thier bibs freshly replaced. Some had other offerings as well, including scarves, toques, earmuffs, and even a plastic raincoat. Appropriate for the weather here. Some had prayers written on their bibs ema-style, which may be a bit of crossing the streams between Shinto and Buddhism, but okay. Number 78 had a Hello Kitty bib. Number 66 had the prayer "すてきなしょうがくせいになりますように べんきょうも あそびも", which I'd interpret as "I pray to become a pretty schoolgirl and study and play." All in all I had the definite impression of living tradition people are actually involved in, rather than the kind of fossilized museum-piece religious practice I've seen at some other sites.

After descending, I got lost in the city streets for a while. I noticed that there were grid references on the street signs, so I followed those to lower numbers until I ran into a Japan Rail station, and from there took the train back to Sapporo Station.

In the evening, I thought that I probably had a reservation at Kissyou Izakaya. This is a Japanese-style bar run by a local brewery. The name transliteration, following the standard rules for transliterating Japanese syllables to Latin, is unfortunate; English speakers may be inclined to pronounce it like the words "kiss you," when it's really more like "Kissho."

Anyway, I'd tried to make a reservation online with the Hot Pepper reservation service, and that didn't work well. The Web site was Japanese-only, required entering a Japanese phone number to proceed (I put in the restaurant's own phone number), and then it said I had only filed a "reservation request" and I should wait for the restaurant to contact me to confirm it, or contact them directly (by phone, in Japanese, of course). It also said they were really busy, so a reservation was necessary.

Well, I got to the place and (as I'd been warned) basically nobody there could speak English at all, so I was on my mettle as far as being able to speak Japanese to them, but that actually went quite well. They did, in fact, have a reservation for me - and also enough space that I probably would have been fine without one. And they understood the things I said to them and I understood enough of the things they said to me, to get through ordering food and even stuff like asking the waiter for recommendations on nihonshuu ("sake" in English, but that's properly a generic term for all alcohol in Japanese).

I wasn't overly thrilled with the food and drink. The house specialty nihonshuu-flavoured nabe, which had been much hyped on the Web sites I read, was a very plain cabbage and pork soup and (because it's nabe - you cook it yourself at the table) it involved an awful lot of effort and complexity for that. Decent price for what it was, though. I was also disappointed that the "English-language menu" (really, Engrish) was just a printout of the text from this Web site (though maybe not exactly the current version posted there) and in particular it had no information about drinks - a serious omission for a place like this one that is basically a bar with food, and stands or falls on its drinks. The hardest Japanese-language speaking I had to do was when I tried to discuss drink selections with the servers.

But, whatever. I was going for the experience, and I certainly had that, and it was a pleasure to be able to use my Japanese language skills successfully. Probably my favourite item was the "miscellaneous things on sticks" dish, which things included chicken gristle, and bacon-wrapped library paste, but it was better than that sounds. A generous dinner for one person, with one cup of nihonshuu and one beer, came to 3974円, which makes the Web site's estimate of 4000円 impressively accurate. This is about $50 Canadian, or 257 Danish. Compared to prices in Copenhagen, basically all restaurants in Japan look cheap.

Now as I write this, I'm getting ready to go out for the day. I have a reservation for lunch at the cafe associated with a winery (where they make Western-style wine, from grapes; not many of those exist in Japan) and I'm pretty sure this reservation's for real because I exchanged email in both directions with a human being there. It's out in the woods; only a kilometre or so from the suburban areas, and I'd really like to walk it, but it's not clear to me from Google Street View that it's safe to do that, because the road seems to have no shoulder. So I guess I'll be taking the bus at least on the way out. After my visit there I have no fixed dinner plans but am likely to try for the famous Hokkaido ramen.

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