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Japan 2016: days 8, 9, 10, Hokkaido and back to Tokyo

Mon 31 Oct 2016 by mskala Tags used:

On my second full day in Hokkaido (Sunday), it started snowing very lightly as I set out in the morning. The flakes melted as soon as they hit anything solid, but it was interesting to note. I spent the morning walking through the local parks and making a leisurely way to the Bankei Ridge Winery, which is the oldest (established 2001) and also the smallest winery on Hokkaido. It's not exactly a major wine-producing region; grape wine isn't all that popular in Japan to begin with, and the climate (similar to coastal British Columbia) is such that growing grapes isn't easy.

Bankei Ridge is run by a retired economics professor (the only person I've met here who could really speak English) and his wife and one or two intern-type employees. They basically run the winery off their back porch. You can go on the last weekend of the month for free-of-charge tasting, and for a small extra fee have a homemade light lunch featuring their own homemade cheese, their own pickles, their own home-smoked bacon on a "tarte flambee," and so on.

The winery is way out in the sticks, but that actually means it's about 1km from the edge of the city of Sapporo; urban/rural boundaries seem to be very sharp here. I took the subway, and then the "ban.K bus" ("bankei," get it?), which exists mostly to serve the nearby ski area. It would be easy to walk as far as the distance is concerned, but it's a mountain road with no shoulder, and probably wouldn't be safe. The winery has its own bus stop.

In the afternoon, I came back to the hotel and spent some time arranging and uploading photos to my Twitter stream. In the evening, I went for Hokkaido-style ramen (one of the local food specialities), with scallops, butter, and sweet corn.

On Monday morning - Samhain to me, even if the Japanese have that in August - I took the train on my rail pass to the New Chitose Airport, because I'd been told it was a good place to shop for local products, nihonshuu ("sake" in English) in particular. That it was; the airport is basically a shopping mall serviced by airplanes, and there are a lot of shopping opportunities as well as a fair bit of pop culture - Doraemon, Hello Kitty, and "SnowMiku" areas, for instance. As usual, I'm leaving just in time to miss the festival, in this case the anime festival they'll be holding at the airport a few days from now.

After the airport, I did some exploring of the area around the train station in Sapporo. You've probably heard my theory that Tokyo only really has one subway station - they all connect to each other with underground walkways, so you get to your destination by walking around making your transfers, and the trains are just decoys. That seems to be even more true in Sapporo, possibly because of the climate (compare with the underground walkways in places like Toronto). All of downtown seems to be covered by a network of underground walkways, so you can enter one subway station, decide which other station you want to go to, and get there by walking through the stations and connecting corridors without actually riding the trains.

I also made a quick trip on the subway to visit another Shinto shrine, Kotoni Shrine. I don't know much about this one (I may edit this posting later with more information); I just saw it on the map and thought it might be fun to visit.

In the evening, I had a reservation for all-you-can-eat Genghis Khan at the Kirin Beer Garden. I was fooled by their reservation email, written in perfect English; actually, the people at the restaurant spoke no English at all, just like at Kissyou, and I just had to fly on my Japanese skills.

Genghis Khan is basically mutton yakiniku. There's a gas-fired dome-shaped griddle in the middle of the table, and you cook the sliced meat yourself by placing strips on the griddle, waiting, and then lifting them off to dip in sauce and eat. It's fun, but it requires a fair bit of what the gerontologists call "executive ability," because you have to keep track of the state of done-ness of all the pieces of meat on the grill, stage placing them down so that they'll be ready to eat at the pace you want to eat them, and so on. Normally this would be a multi-person social meal. The restaurant staff seemed surprised when I was ready to leave after an hour (the time limit was 100 minutes), but by that point I'd eaten and drunk as much as I could. With two or more people it would probably go more slowly.

I had opted for the deluxe course, with both marinated and un-marinated mutton, and I was glad I did that because I had been considering going for marinated only, but I actually found I liked the un-marinated one better. Overall, I'd call this meal a success, largely on the strength of the tasty food.

As I write this, I've just boarded the Shinkansen Hayabusa from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Tokyo. I probably won't post it for several more hours, because of the wireless situation. I've been travelling some hours already on the Limited Express Super Hokuto from Sapporo to here, and now I'm on the longest leg of the journey back to Tokyo. This basically consumes the entire day. I have one night in a hotel in Tokyo, tomorrow the flights back to Canada arriving in Toronto just after midnight local time on the 3rd, and then I'll spend the early morning in a Toronto airport hotel to try to get some sleep before I move into my new apartment later that day.

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