Noodle Monday – Ramen Lunch and Soba Making

On our second Monday in Sapporo, we were back in classes. My language class had gone from 2 to 3 students. Yeah! And there was yet another cultural activity that afternoon. We were going to be making soba. Soba is a type of Japanese thin noodle made from buckwheat. Buckwheat is primarily harvested in Hokkaido. So there’s no fresher soba than in Hokkaido.

However, first things first. We were hungry. So after class and before the cultural activity, we had to grab lunch on our own. A few of us from the school were pretty hungry and had a hankering for ramen, the other very famous Japanese noodle (although if you ask the Japanese, ramen is a Chinese noodle).

rich miso ramen and cheese gyoza

About 6 of us rushed over to the ESTA Department Store connected to Sapporo Station. Our school is only about two blocks south of Sapporo Station. So it’s a quick jaunt from school to ESTA.  I think it took us longer to get up to the 10th floor’s Sapporo Ramen Republic than it did for us to walk from the school to ESTA.

Baikouken, Asahikawa ramen

We ducked into Baikouken Ramen. It had space and we were in a bit of rush. We all had to get our food and run back to the school by 1:45pm.  My wife and I saw that there was cheese gyoza on the menu. We just needed to try that! I also ordered a rich black miso ramen. The bowls were way larger than we expected. So with giants bowls of hot ramen and the plate of gyoza, there was a lot of food for us to finish. It was all so good, though. All my schoolmates and I were so full after, but we all gave 2 thumbs up for the meal. We would be back here for ramen for sure.

Sapporo Ramen Republic at ESTA

We ran back to the school all full. We could have rolled back with our tummies full of ramen. We made it just on time. They were doing a roll call as we arrived. We would be heading out for our soba making session. We had no idea where the place was. So we are always following our school activity coordinator wherever he goes. Coordinator-san took us to Odori Subway Station to take the Tozai Line our to destination.

odori to shiroishi ward office

He took us to Shiroishi (白石) Station and we had to walk over to the Shiroishi Ward Office. Ward offices in Sapporo seem to function not only as municipal government administration, but also as local community centres. Our soba making lesson was in the basement of the Shiroishi Ward Office.

The soba master introducing us to soba making

It was a large room with lots of large flat tables to accommodate soba making. The soba master picked the two tallest guys in our class to be at the front to demonstrate the soba making. First of all, we had to mix the buckwheat flour with water in giant mixing bowls. We were required to do all this with our bare hands. I had a lot of doughy stuff stuck to my fingers and nails after mixing.  Then when the dough was mostly set, we placed it on the big flat tables. We flattened the dough with giant rolling pins until the dough was evenly flat and square in shape. With help from our own soba sensei, we were able to set the dough up on the table and make it ready for cutting into noodles. We all got to try our hands at cutting the soba. There was a special soba cutting knife along with a specific technique that the senseis taught us. So we actually got to cut our own soba. The knife felt really solid in the hand and cut the dough almost effortlessly.

Soba Kiri Knife image showing how to cut soba noodles (image from Tojiro.net)

Our soba sensei finishing up our soba noodles

After most of us had finished our soba and were seated, the soba master got up and talked a bit. Poor Coordinator-san had to translate for most of us whose Japanese was not so good. It was tough for him because he couldn’t think of what the English equivalent was much of the time. Even the soba senseis started to tease him.

Then the not-so-unexpected happened. We got to sample our own handiwork. Oh boy. Those of us who went for ramen at lunch were looking at each other and all feeling very full. We were able to have small, small bowls of the soba, but the senseis, being gracious hosts, kept giving us more soba to eat. My stomach was bursting at the seams with noodles.

Soba to take home with us

Any of the soba that we couldn’t finish, we were taking home with us. We packed little clear, plastic boxes of the stuff to take with us. The soba master told us to eat it soon because there were no preservatives in these noodles. He recommended that we finish it all by tonight, if possible.

Well, I wasn’t about to have more noodles for dinner that night. It was a shame we didn’t have the soba that evening because the soba master wasn’t kidding. We tried to have the soba the next day and the noodles didn’t hold their form nor taste as good after cooking. Lesson learned the hard way about fresh soba. All in all, it was a very fun experience and a Noodle Monday that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Let me just undo my belt for a moment…

小樽 Otaru Day Trip

We had finished our first week of Japanese language classes at JaLS and we were upon our first full weekend in Hokkaido. We originally tried to get bus tickets to Hakodate for the Saturday, but all the times we wanted to take were sold out. So we decided to visit Otaru this Saturday instead.

Rapid Airport at Otaru Station

Otaru is a about a 40-60 minute train ride on the JR train. If you grab the Local train, then it stops at every single station. However, if timing works for you, then you can grab one of the express trains and bypass all the smaller stations. Regardless of the speed of the train, the ticket still costs ¥640 for a one-way ticket. The ride from Sapporo to Teine is all above ground and offers a view of the city from high above the streets. However, soon after Teine station, we are travelling right along the coastline of Ishikari Bay until we reach Otaru.

Continue reading

Getting Around Sapporo – Japan Rail (JR)

In Japan, Japan Rail (JR) is a name that can be found across the country. It comes in many flavours. There’s the green JR East that most people will see in Tokyo, the blue JR West found in Kansai townships, the orange JR Central that serves everything between Kanto and Kansai regions, and more. In Hokkaido, there is the light green manifestation of JR known as JR Hokkaido.

In Sapporo, almost all the JR trains must go through Sapporo Station. This is probably the busiest train station in all of Hokkaido seeing about 90,000 passengers a day go through its doors. If you walk through the station around 6pm, you will feel the rush of 90,000 passengers a day.

If one must get to destinations beyond Sapporo or outside of the subway system, then JR is one way to do it. You can think of JR as a commuter rail system serving the “suburbs” of Sapporo. JR Hokkaido is more than just a suburban commuter rail, but for the purpose of getting around the outer areas of Sapporo, that’s the closest description that matches its services.

Sapporo JR Lines Map

Continue reading

Getting Around Sapporo – The Sapporo Subway

Sapporo, just like other Japanese cities, is well serviced by rail transportation. The subway system serves most of the inner city. The Japan Rail Hokkaido (hereby referred to as JR) trains connect Sapporo to the surrounding towns, the New Chitose Airport, and other major destinations throughout Hokkaido.

The System

The Sapporo Subway system is made up of 3 lines and is very simple to use.  Rides on the subway range from ¥200-360 depending on how far one travels through the system. The blue Toho Line runs north-south and serves the northeast and southeast of Sapporo. Major destinations accessible on the Toho Line include Toyohiro Park (Toyohiro Koen station), and the Sapporo Dome (Fukuzumi station). The green Namboku Line runs north-south as well, but serve the areas directly north and south of the city centre. Major destinations along the line include Nakajima Park (Nakajima Koen station) and Hokkaido University (Kita 12 Jo station). The orange Tozai Line runs mainly east-west and serves the city’s northwest and part of the southeast.  Famous attractions on the Tozai Line include the Shiroi Koibito Park (Miyanosawa station) and Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen station). All three lines feed into Odori Station. Like most Japanese subway systems, all stations in the system have a letter and number combo to identify the station. Because you know it’s a lot easier to say station H-05 than saying Higashi Kuyakusho Mae station for us foreigners.

Continue reading

The Shopping Mall Next Door – Ario Sapporo

After we had finished up at the Sapporo Beer Museum, 3 of the 4 of us who had been at the museum had decided to check out the mall right behind the beer museum. The shopping mall next door is Ario Sapporo.  Now most people travelling avoid shopping malls, and rightly so. A shopping mall is a shopping mall is a shopping mall. That’s mostly true the world over. However, sometimes it can be neat to walk through a shopping mall to see another culture’s take on this 20th Century shopping phenomenon.

Photo from Welcome to Sapporo page

I must say that Ario holds pretty true to the North American feel of a shopping mall. One. It occupies a large swath of land surrounded by a parking lot. Two. The aforementioned parking is free. (There’s free parking in Japan??? What?!?) Three. There’s a large department store that anchors the mall. That department store, in this case, is Ito Yokado. Finally four. Most of the stores are run by large national and multinational chains who tend to be the only ones who can afford mall rental rates.

However, there were a few fun things that I discovered at Ario Sapporo.

Continue reading

Sapporo Beer Museum

After what was a long afternoon of getting lost in Sapporo, my wife, her two classmates, and I finally arrived at the Sapporo Beer Museum. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed is what a huge parking lot was near the museum. I’m still not used to seeing large swaths of parking in Japan. It blows my mind that there’s actually space in Japan for large surface parking.

The next thing that caught my eye was the beautiful red brick warehouse and it’s tall smoke stack bearing the iconic red star and name of Sapporo Beer. The museum building was built 1890 and was a sugar factory in its first incarnation. Sapporo Beer took over the facility in 1905. Then in 1987, it became the Sapporo Beer Museum. Admission is free to the museum. And we all know that free is affordable!

Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Beer Museum

Ah yes. The day that we went to the Sapporo Beer Museum. This day will live in my memory for all the wrong reasons.

After our Japanese language classes had ended for the week, my wife and I had decided to hit up the Sapporo Beer Museum. This is the beer that bears the city’s name after all. Two of my wife’s classmates had decided to join us for our little outing too.

The museum is about a 25 minute walk from our school, but we didn’t feel like walking under the scorching midday summer sun. So we decided to take the bus. We checked in at an info desk in the Tokyu department store. The lady working there told us to take the #88 bus from bus stop #3 just outside the south entrance of the department store. Sounds easy enough.

Oh oh. This isn’t the way to the beer museum, is it?

Continue reading

Shiroi Koibito Park – The Ishiya Chocolate Factory

If Japan had a company like Willy Wonka, then Ishiya Chocolate would come really close. Ishiya is a famous Japanese chocolate, candy and biscuit brand in Japan. I’ve had the joy and privilege of eating some of their very fine goods. When my wife and I were planning to come to Sapporo, a visit to the Shiroi Koibito Park, home of the Ishiya Chocolate Factory, was right at the top of our list.

Continue reading

Hokkaido Jingu Shrine

Here’s another trip that was a part of my school program at Hokkaido Japan Language School (JaLS). This afternoon, we headed off to the Hokkaido Jingu Shrine in the middle of Maruyama Park (円山公園 – maruyama kōen). We had to walk over to Ōdori Station again this time, but we boarded the orange Tōzai Line subway train.

Continue reading

Kendo Experience

Lazy me. I’ve been back from Japan for about 3 weeks now. I’ve been working mostly on my photos and haven’t been blogging at all since the first few days I was in Sapporo. So without further delay, here are my posts on recent trip to Japan.


 

Even before I arrived in Japan, I had gotten an email a few days before flying out. It outlined that we’d be going for an outing the very first day of class. It asked us to wear shorts and sportswear for the first day because we’d be doing Kendo. The email even came with a handy PDF poster for the event.

Continue reading