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Japan Sapporo trains

Dovetails in Sapporo

I’ve been to Sapporo three or four or five times, depending on how you want to count visits.  It’s a hard place to avoid when coming to Hokkaido.  I know the station area well enough, and the layout of the city in general.  But I’ve always been a poor, solitary traveler, with no guide and no money to blow.  Well not this time!  Last week, the Hokkaido Midyear Conference for Assistant Language Teachers took place in Sapporo on December 1st and 2nd.  I took the train in early on Friday evening, and spent the weekend and into the week spending money frivolously and enjoying myself.

The weekend started out auspiciously.  At the supermarket in Engaru, I saw this:

Engaru Murderer

Man, Engrish doesn’t get a whole lot better than an old Japanese man wearing a jacket branded “MURDERER jeans.”  It set me in a great mood (and I had already driven past the “Old People Sports Center” sign on the way there!), plus I was getting on a train, and I love riding trains, and I saw Susannah from Talkeetna on the train, and we drank beer on the way to Sapporo!

Natusko (as her Indian friend calls her) offered to let me stay with her at her mother’s apartment in Sapporo, but she was returning with her family from Okinawa very late on Friday night, so she kindly booked me a hotel near Odori Park that night.  The hotel pajamas were snowmen-covered bathrobes and I didn’t have cell reception in the room! (thanks, Softbank)

Snowmen Odori

After checking into the hotel, I met Chris from Bihoro at the Lifort Hotel, where I stashed my larger bag and suit, since I would be staying there on the Sunday night.  We went back into the Odori Park area, where we ate at what really seemed like a secret La Pausa, an Italian restaurant chain that usually has giant signs and is fairly busy.  We had the fondue set menu, which wasn’t half bad, but set the trend for my spending habits over the weekend.

On the Saturday, Natsuko met me in front of my hotel, which she couldn’t find well, even though she had given me directions to it in an email the day before.  Good thing I ignored those and just trusted my iPhone’s GPS. Natsuko and I went to Starbucks and chatted until noon, when I met Yuka, who studied at UAF during my last year there.  She drove to the Arctic Ocean with Chris Green and I last summer.  We went to a cheap lunch place with a great view, and caught up, but not much before she started quizzing me on the grammaticality of English sentences.  Quick!  Which is more grammatical: “John sang when they asked him to do so,” or “John sang when they asked him to do,” or “John sang when they asked him to.”  Well, you probably figured those out, but can you explain to me why?  Well I can’t!  And neither can she, yet, but she has to, because it’s the focus of her university thesis!

From there, I was close to Tokyu Hands, a large you-name-it-they-have-it craft and doityourself department chain store.  I went a little overboard there, with Christmas gifts, and especially with beer.  When you see this:

Tokyu Beer

And you are me, you pretty much have to spend 100 dollars on 20 imported beers.

I again met Natsuko at Odori Station, where we then met Reona.  Reona is a man I had been wanting to meet ever since Natsuko mentioned him while at my house in Saroma.  If you were in The Valley over the summer of 2007, you may have heard about a Japanese tourist being robbed, twice, out around Jim Creek.  Well, his name was Reona Kobayashi, and on Saturday last weekend, Natsuko and I had a 300 yen/30minute all you can eat and drink dinner with him.  Click on the photo for the full post, because it deserves its own.

Reona

Natsuko and Reona and I bummed around Susukino, the night life district of Sapporo, until around 11PM.  We hit a ferris wheel,

Ferris Wheel

karaoke, and another izakaya

Natsuko 300yen

before heading home.

That night, I stayed on Natsuko’s mother’s floor, which was comfortable because there was a futon on it.

Sunday, Natsuko was meeting friends and going to Otaru, and I was meeting friends in Sapporo.  Four and a half years ago, I was in Sapporo.  I had just come back to the city from Saroma, and was staying there before returning to Tokyo on the last day of my railpass.  I decided to see the nightlife, and went to a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet, Gaijin Bar.  I met some characters there, including a friendly elementary school teacher who suggested we go to another bar together.  We went to Rad Brothers, a well known drinking establishment in the aforementioned Susukino district.  There, he made a mild advance, and after I made it clear I was interested in women, he promptly and rudely introduced me to two unknown Japanese girls and made his exit.  Those two girls were Emi and Maki.  I met them on Sunday in Sapporo after several years of little contact.  It’s funny.  Our meeting was entirely random, and even now, our friendship is hardly multilayered or deep, but we don’t forget about one another and maintain contact.  It also shows starkly how abilities can change.  At the time I first met them, I mostly spoke English through Emi, who lived in New Zealand for a year.  This time, I don’t think I spoke English to her once.  It was complete Japanese.  I feel a little sorry that her English competence (or confidence) has declined so much, but it was astonishing to me how natural it was for us to communicate in Japanese.  I’ve noticed that there’s a sort of formula in groups of people with mixed languages and mixed abilities.  As if you assign a weight to the proficiency of each person’s known languages and whichever has the greatest common weight amongst the group dominates as the main language of discourse.

Well, we went to a buffet in the Daimaru Department store and then to the Sapporo Factory to do some shopping, but mostly to kill time over strong coffee and watch the lights go on on the Christmas tree.  It was good to see them.

Emi and Maki

After that I went back to Sapporo Station where Natsuko and her two friends from junior high had just returned from Otaru, where they made music boxes, called “orgel” in Japanese.  I think its from German?  We went to a nice izakaya right under the train tracks where you could hear the trains rumbling overhead (!) and had a slow moving dinner in smooth and problem-free Japanese.  Except when Natsuko’s friend tried to say that she liked “Diff’rent Strokes” which has a completely different title in Japanese.  That took some wikipedia to figure out.

After that it was to the Lifort Hotel, and bed before the Midyear Conference the next day.  The view from my 12th floor room was great.  Here it is on Monday morning:

Lifort View

I deliberately woke up at 6:50 so that I could be to breakfast when it opened at 7:00.  Not so I could get an early start on the day, but so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone else.  I hate talking to people who I don’t give a shit about, especially early in the morning.  I can’t make friends with every ALT on this island, and meeting new ones involves spewing the same repetitive crap; I figured I’d save my energy for the inevitable sessions later in the day.

I’ll make the description of the conference short.  The first day was interesting.  The second day was boring.  There were a few times I laughed.  There were many times I took notes that were simply the word “what” written over and over again.  There were some very annoying and sarcastic and sadly frustrated ALTs there and some bewildered JTEs there.  And there were some confident, interesting ones of both.  But too many.  The HAJET Winter Ball took place on Monday night, and I bought Natsuko a ticket.  It was fun enough, mainly because Stephen from Monbetsu is a lot of fun, and his JTE was also nice to talk to.  Other than that it was a lot of well-dressed people who I also had no interest in talking to.  Before the ball, I walked to the station, buying some cigars along the way, to meet a Mr. Remmington Campbell and his host sister Megumi Saeki.  He was visiting Saroma from Fairbanks on employee discounted Alaska Airlines tickets, and I was to be his guide somewhat.  I helped him buy train tickets to Engaru on my train the next day, and then we sat down and had some yakiniku.  His visit is another story and another post.

Finally, after Tuesday’s boredom, I met Natsuko one last time in  Sapporo station before grabbing Remington and piling onto the 5:30 Okhotsk Limited Express for Engaru.  We sipped some coffee while checking our watches, and after failing with the camera timer, pleaded without words to the beatnik man in the next seat to take our picture.  Natsuko would soon be off once again to America, and once again to Alaska.  She’s now in Fairbanks, searching the heavens for the mystical and ever-popular Aurora Borealis.

Eki Coffee

And that’s that.

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