My (brief) Cycling Experience in Japan

Bicycles are pretty ubiquitous in Japan and a part of the everyday fabric. Kids, salarymen, sales ladies, and seniors all seem to ride bikes everywhere in Japan. Bikes are on sidewalks and on the street and nobody thinks anything of them. There isn’t the hyped up car versus bicycle antagonism that exists here in Vancouver. So I really wanted to experience what riding a bike was like in Japan.

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Japanese Sweets Creation

Disclaimer: I hate cooking and I’m really bad at cooking. Perhaps I was emotionally scarred as a child against cooking or maybe I’m lazy or maybe I’m incompetent. I don’t know. Cooking is one of the most stressful things in my life. It makes me extremely anxious and grumpy whenever I cook.

Given my disclaimer, it’s amazing that I actually enjoyed our afternoon workshop on making Japanese sweets, or wagashi. This was yet another cultural experience workshop put on by the Hokkaido Japanese Language School, or JaLS. A whole gaggle of us students walked over to the Susukino area and to the Chuo Ward Office all the way at one end of Tanukikoji.

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Eating my way around Hokkaido – 2

Here’s more food from around Hokkaido. I just put all of my smartphone food photos from our month in Hokkaido into one single folder. It came out to 141 photos and 1.4 GB worth of foodiness. Here’s a smattering in this second installment of Eating my way around Hokkaido.

Lunch at Matsuya

¥980 lunch at Matsuya

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Sapporo Streetcar

Apart from the buses and subway system in Sapporo. There is also the Sapporo Streetcar. The Sapporo Streetcar runs in what almost looks like an L-shaped loop, but the loop is incomplete at one end. So the two termini of the line are literally two blocks apart from each other.

Looking east from the Susukino Streetcar stop

These two end stops both start in the busy Susukino district of Sapporo. Susukino is Sapporo’s entertainment district. It’s home to a whole whack of restaurants, host/hostess clubs, and other businesses of the night. Susukino is where you will also find the largest collection of neon billboards and adverts in town. This area really shines through at night.

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Kimono Experience

What a way to start my third week at Hokkaido Japanese Language School, or JaLS. We had done taiko drumming the week before. Now on this Monday in July, we were heading off to our next cultural activity of the summer program – the kimono experience.

We headed out as a group to Tanukikoji, a busy covered shopping arcade in Sapporo. It was only a 15 minute walk from our school to a little kimono business, Mitsuki Sakura (美月桜), on the 5th floor of an office building just along the shopping arcade.

walking down Tanukikoji in kimonos

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Taiko Drumming

I am so happy that I signed up for the Summer Program at Japanese Language School Hokkaido, or JaLS. All the cultural activities included in the fee are really worthwhile. One afternoon, we were taken out of Sapporo’s centre to an area called Shin Kotoni (新琴似), which is accessible on one of the JR lines out of Sapporo Station.

We ended up in a very residential area of town. There were not many stores around and the station was relatively quiet. It certainly wasn’t a busy transport hub. We walked for about 15-20 minutes from the JR station to a tiny little building on a tiny little residential street.

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Hokkaido University

Just to the north and east of Sapporo Station is the large campus of Hokkaido University. The university is known locally by it’s abbreviated name of Hokudai. Hokudai was founded in 1876 as Sapporo Agricultural College by an American, Dr. William S. Clark. Agriculture is still a big part of Hokkaido University.

The university is full of trees, shrubs, and all sorts of greenery. There are a few ponds and a tiny creek that also flow through the campus. It reminds me a lot of how North American universities are set up with large open spaces. Many of the buildings dated back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I keep finding North American influences in Sapporo and Hokudai has plenty of those influences. A couple of the campus buildings look like they came out of the Old West.

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Moerenuma Park モエレ沼公園

One of our shared house-mates had been talking about visiting the “pyramid” park. It sure sounded interesting to visit a park with pyramids. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a “pyramid” park. I envisioned some kitschy kids park with a large colourful pastel playground consisting of pyramids. Sure. Why not? So we had planned to go out there one afternoon after our language classes were done.

bicycles outside our share house

We had secured a couple bicycles from another shared house for our afternoon trip to the park. The park was apparently pretty far. With the bicycles ready to go, we set out for the “pyramid” park. However, we forgot to check what the name of the park was in Japanese. Oops.

So we rode out to the northeast of the city. Our house mate knew the general direction of the park, but he couldn’t quite remember exactly how far out the park was. We kept riding north past the freeway and we started to even pass farmland. We were out pretty far from the city limits.

to moerenumakoen

Finally, though, we started to see a tall, pyramidal hill show up on the horizon. That was our destination. Now just where was the entrance exactly? I think we could have entered the park from the south side, but we ended up going to the north side. We locked up our bikes at the northwest entrance to the park.

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Eating my way around Hokkaido – 1

Whenever I say that I went to Japan for a month, one of the first things people ask me is this:

“Isn’t it expensive in Japan?”

Well, yes and no. Some things in Japan are expensive. Transportation in Japan can cost a pretty penny depending where and how one travels. Food can also be expensive if we picked the really nice places to dine. Also, meals probably cost more in Japan in comparison to many other Asian countries. However, coming from Canada, the prices of meals are reasonable and slightly cheaper for some things.

Food was a big part of our trip to Hokkaido. Most of the time we were in Sapporo. So I will take you through some of the different meals that we partook over our month there. I hope to share the ordinary to the not-so-ordinary of dining in Hokkaido.

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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

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