Hokkaido #8: Odori Park (大通公園)

Odori Park is a large strip of green park in Sapporo, Hokkaido which separates the city and provides a nice, relaxing area in the city center. In the winter, the Sapporo snow festival takes place in this park, while in other seasons various flowers bloom and other events are held. At the head of the park stands the Sapporo TV Tower, which has an observation deck for good views over Sapporo.

When I visited, I was more interested in seeing the Clock Tower and the old red-brick Prefectural Building that I didn’t spend much time here. Also, they were setting up for some kind of event while I was there, so I just took the one picture of the clock tower and moved on! Sapporo is on my “must visit again” list, so one year maybe I’ll get the chance to retake this picture with the 2016 postcard!

My one Odori Park picture

Hokkaido #4: Corn (とうきび)

Hokkaido’s 4th postcard features corn, one of the leading exports of Hokkaido. Corn is called “toukibi” in local Hokkaido dialect, but in the rest of Japan is known as “tomorokoshi” which is quite the mouthful to say! On my trip to Hokkaido I didn’t have the chance to try any (harvest is usually late August), but I’ve eaten Hokkaido corn bought from my local grocery store multiple times. A specific variety is white-kerneled and extremely sweet, but even the usual yellow variety is really good!

A cute hand-made sign proclaiming corn is for sale at this small shop near Lake Toya

I’m definitely looking forward to grilled corn this summer, how about you?

Hokkaido #3: Ezo Red Fox (キタキツネ)

Hokkaido’s third postcard features the “Ezo Red Fox” or the Kita Kitsune in Japanese. These beautiful red-colored foxes are found throughout Hokkaido and Russia’s Southern Kurile Islands. Not a lot is known about them in English, but people interested can view them in their native wild habitat throughout Hokkaido, in zoos like Sapporo Zoo, or in a “Fox Village” of which there are two in Japan (that I know of).

The more famous Zao Fox Village is actually in Miyagi Prefecture, and features a number of different kinds of foxes, but there’s also the Kitakitsune Village in Hokkaido.

Foxes are one of my favorite animals, ever since I saw one in my local city my first month or so after moving here. I was therefore so happy to see not one but two during my visit to Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido!

Looking for food

More food searching on the side of the road

I didn’t have the chance to visit the fox village, but a quick search on youtube shows a lot of super cute videos. My next visit to Hokkaido I’ll definitely try to see one again!

Hokkaido #2: Ainu Bear Carving (木彫りの熊)

Hokkaido’s second postcard features a carved bear with a fish in its mouth. This is a traditional carving made by the Ainu people of Hokkaido; however until the modern age, it was rare for the Ainu to carve figures like these. Usual Ainu designs were made of shapes and geometric designs, because to carve a recognizable figure was to invite a spirit into the carving, and these were used only in religious or cultural ceremonies. During the 20th century, however, the Ainu were being forced to assimilate to Japanese culture or face discrimination and oppression. Many Ainu faced extreme poverty, so the figures began to be sold to tourists, and became more and more popular as tourism increased. At that time, to sell figures that had spirits in them was surely difficult for many of the woodcarvers, yet their economic situation made it necessary.

I had the privilege to visit Nibutani on the Japan Guide We Love Japan Tour and learn about the Ainu directly from the people themselves. You can read more about my experience here. Nibutani is home of the Nibutani Ainu Cultural Museum, and has the highest percentage of Ainu living there in Hokkaido. I visited a master woodcarver’s shop to try my hand at making a coaster, and caught sight of a few bears he had made.

Postcard and carved bears in a master woodcarver’s shop

Close up of the bears

These bears are in a small museum dedicated to Kayane Shigeru, an Ainu scholar who wrote the first Japanese-Ainu Dictionary

I was also able to meet in Nibutani an expert of the Ainu language and culture who worked at the museum. I asked him specifically about the bears, and how people nowadays feel about carving and selling them. He said that now, modern Ainu no longer believe in the old religion, and that young Ainu don’t think anything negative about carving the figures. Although there has been a resurgence in Ainu culture recently, and young people are beginning to take pride in being Ainu, a lot was lost during the past century, and people no longer follow the old ways or have the old beliefs.

On the one hand, I felt that in order to write about the bears on this blog I wanted to make sure they are not a source of pain for the Ainu people to produce, and was a bit relieved to hear that. Yet I was also saddened, as despite the best efforts of cultural experts and the Ainu elders, so much has been lost to time and assimilation. I still didn’t feel comfortable buying a bear, but was instead drawn to the beautifully carved and intricate serving boards at the museum. I got one of these as a souvenir instead.

Mine isn’t near as nice as these… there’s no way I could afford one!

Despite my reticence about the bears, it doesn’t seem like most people feel the same. I caught site of these ridiculous “gacha gacha” machines in Shin-Chitose Airport:

Bear vs. Fish! Who will win?!

I found them funny, but I hope that even through lighthearted things such as this, the Ainu connection and culture is not forgotten. Postacollect makes no mention of the Ainu in their official Japanese description of this card, which is unsurprising and very typical… as if to ignore the origins makes all the problems go away. I hope that anyone who collects these cards or follows my blog can enjoy the card but still understand its background and why its a bit problematic.

Anyway, sorry about the long post! I’m a bit of an anthropology buff, so discussing culture is kinda my thing. I hope you found it interesting!

Hokkaido #7: Former Prefectural Gov’t Building (北海道庁旧本庁舎)

I am happy to report that I have finally made it to Hokkaido through the We Love Japan Tour 2015! You can read about my travels through that link, but in between Noboribetsu Onsen and Nibutani, I took a quick detour to Sapporo. I got to see the famous Clock Tower, so I updated that post with some pictures if you’d like to look. I also got to see the Former Prefectural Government Building, with it’s beautiful red bricks done in American-style architecture. You can read a bit about it here.

Building and postcard

Welcome to Sapporo!

The building’s brand

Looking outside

I enjoyed my brief visit to Sapporo and hope I can go again soon!

Hokkaido #1: The Sapporo Clock Tower (時計台)

Hokkaido is the northern-most prefecture in Japan, and collectively agreed upon as being “cold as balls”. Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido, and the symbol of Sapporo is the subject of Hokkaido’s first postcard, the Clock Tower. I swung by Sapporo on the We Love Japan Tour 2015, although I didn’t post anything about it in the blog. I got the chance to see this clock tower as well as the museum inside.

The tower was constructed in 1878, and was one of the earliest buildings in the city. It was built with American assistance in a western style, and the clock itself was bought from Boston and installed in 1881. It still works and keeps time, and when you visit you can hear its chimes on the hour. Once a building part of the Sapporo Agricultural College, now the building hosts a museum introducing the college, as well as the history of Sapporo. You can read about the tower, as well as details about visiting, here at Japan Guide.

The tower can be visited year-round, and is picturesque whether surrounded by snow, or framed by lilacs. If you visit Hokkaido, make your first stop this historical building, and listen to the chime of the clock as it keeps time. Maybe I’ll see you there!

The famous clock tower of Sapporo

It was imposing once, but now is dwarfed a bit by the buildings around it

Inside the museum