I’ve finally arrived in Japan, the one place I plan to spend more than a month (two to be precise). I decided to start off in Tokyo for a few days before heading north to Sapporo to get some of the snow festival, then heading back down towards Nagano for, hopefully, a slightly quieter pace of life before I start helping out at this fruit farm in Yamanashi. After a month at the fruit farm my brother and mother will be meeting me and we’ll be hitting up the Ghibli museum (hopefully), Disney, Nara, Kyoto etc etc.
Let’s start with Tokyo. First things first, Tokyo is expensive. Since Vietnam everywhere has seemed expensive. But more so than any others South Korea and Japan have topped the list. Fortunately I managed to find someone on couchsurfing whilst I was in Tokyo so that helped a lot. Transport is cheaper than London but still pretty dear. More than anything else I was in Tokyo just to indulge my inner anime-geek. I spent a day in Akihabara just wandering around manga stores and then the next day I went to the Tokyo One Piece Tower and then J-World.
The former is self-explanatory. It is within Tokyo Tower and is a mini theme park revolving around One Piece. The latter is another, smaller, themed destination that focuses on various manga, usually originating from the Shonen Jump weekly comic (which contains chapters on various manga)
The One Piece Tower was really fun and lots had been translated into English, that being said there was plenty of moments where I had no idea what was going on due to the language barrier. It still delivered on what I expected though, even if it was a bit expensive, and was more just an opportunity to indulge in a little fanboyness. The same to be said of J-World which is inside a shopping mall complex along with the Pokemon Mega Centre. I won’t go in to too much detail as it’s not super exciting but here are loads of photos!
After all the intensity of Tokyo I was heading up north to Sapporo for their Snow Festival. I spent the majority of my day on the train but watching the scenery change was rather serene and calming. The further north we went the deeper the snow went. It was fun watching it change from a thin layer to this thick, unblemished blanket of snow that just lay across the landscape so simply. Unspoilt and untouched as most of it fell across fields that were not in use (obviously given the conditions). This was par for the course in the north and that was pretty much why I was going. To have a look at this Snow Festival that I’d heard people talking about so much. Now as with anywhere in Japan it was incredibly expensive to find accommodation. So, I ended up staying about 3 hours out of Sapporo at a place called Obihiro. Whilst this meant I had to travel about 6 hours a day when visiting the snow festival, I had a JR Pass so that covered travel costs and it was much cheaper than staying in Sapporo itself.
The festival is split up in to 3 sites. One is a little out of the city called the Tsudome which has a bunch of slides and rides and mazes and all other little things made out of snow or ice for people to enjoy. Above all things they clearly enjoyed queuing which I couldn’t subject myself to as they went on for ages and I wasn’t particularly excited by the prospect of a 30m slide made of snow. I’m sure it’s fun with your kids or as a group but travelling solo I felt no need to hang around.
I then went back to the centre to Odori. This is a stretch of park, seperated by numerous roads, where they have set up the majority of their snow statues. These for me were much more impressive and enthralling than the Tsudome site. Not only were two of their main attractions relating to subject matter that I enjoy, there were plenty of sculptures designed by schools, local citizens and lots of other memorable characters from Japanese culture/stories.
The third site is just a little ways down the road from Odori park near Susukino tube station. The theme of this section was ice sculptures. Again the pieces were very impressive but I feel being there at the beginning of the week meant they lacked a little in the lighting department which definitely would have made them a bit more exciting. Not knocking the effort at all as they were very impressive and I went the following night and already they had lost some of their sheen and almost fluid like appearance to snow and frost. As with before I’ll just share a bunch of photos which don’t necessarily do them justice but it gives you an idea.
Now in Nagano I’ve done a little sightseeing of the centre of the city alongside a random free zoo that I fell upon. There’s a big temple, Zenkoji, which is like, super old, apparently in its original form it was built in the 7th century. The Ship of Theseus premise applies though in that it has been rebuilt countless times due to fires and whatnot so can you really say that it’s from the 7th century? Philosophies aside is was quite pretty, the snow helps, and it was pretty quiet. As with most temples I’ve visited during this trip it was covered in scaffolding and supports which again I feel detracts from what it actually is. Seeing the decay of what is old is somehow reassuring.
With yet another temple under my belt I decided to make sure I knew what I was doing with regards to heading to the ‘Snow Monkey’ park. Now, they’re not snow monkeys, they’re Japanese Macaques which can be found in many places (including the cold mountains) these just happen to be in snowy parts. It’s not so much of a park either it’s more just natural hot springs where monkeys gather and therefore a tourist industry has ‘organically’ built around it. Now I’m not gonna bash on all that as I guess without the costs the paths wouldn’t be as maintained, not that they were super clear, you wouldn’t have somewhere to buy postcards and have some rails to keep you safe. Anyways! Monkeys are always fascinating to watch, it’s the opposable thumbs that get me, especially species that have a strong hierarchical system. It must be really strange for them and I just guess we must seem pretty perverted, gathering in hordes to watch monkeys bathe does seem a little strange! With the steam coming off the water, the bright red faces of the macaques and the cleanness of the snow it does create a picturesque setting. So here’s some pretty pictures!
I have so many more photos as it’s hard to get a great shot but I think these ones turned out ok.
Next stop Yamashi for this fruit orchard dealie!