Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hokkaido sushi

Mackerel sushi (saba)

Hokkaido has very good sushi. The types of fish you can get are also slightly different from the rest of Japan (since the sea is colder here). The second day of Sapporo sightseeing, we had sushi for dinner. Way too much sushi, but it was very good. And my relatives extremely satisfied (it may have been the best sushi they have tried) and they were shocked at how cheap the bill was when we were finished.

A small selection of all the things we ate:

Crab salad sushi
Slightly grilled mackerel (aburi saba)
Extra fat salmon
Asparagus sushi (limited offer since it is asparagus season now)
Aburi sanma (slightly grilled mackerel pike)
Raw fish eggs
Japanese sake

The blessings of the north, and Seicomart

Rose hip ice cream
Outside the botanical gardens you can also see the old Hokkaido prefectural office, which is a brick building. Buildings made from brick are very rare in Japan, and this one is thus a common stop for tourist buses. We decided to walk past it since it was so close, and there turned out to be a small festival going on called "The blessings of the north".

Tai-yaki with Hokkaido flour, Hokkaido sweet beans, etc.

People from all over Hokkaido (the northernmost territory of Japan, but very far south compared to Sweden) were there showing Hokkaido grown food etc. I ended up talking to a nice old man who sold buckwheat tea. In Japan people eat a lot of soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat. This was something you could make tea from, and he gave me some tea to try (very good tea!). He also said you can sprinkle it on salads or other things, and sprinkled some on my rose hip ice cream. It was very good like that too, so I bought a bag from him. Very cheap.
Soba (buckwheat) tea/snack
My sister in law had seen some Japanese TV show where the owner of the Seico Mart chain of convenience stores (which are common in Hokkaido but is a chain almost exclusive to Hokkaido) wanted to take a look inside a Seico Mart too. Since there are lots of them all over the city, we walked a block or so to the south and found one. She looked around and was impressed that the quality of the lunch box food seemed better than other convenience stores. For most people living in Hokkaido, Seico Mart is not something you would expect tourists to be interested in, but there you go.

The Hokkaido University Botanical Garden

In the afternoon, we decided to go to the Hokkaido University botanical garden. It has a nice botanical garden and also has a small Ainu museum.

Ainu coat made from birds
Ainu coat made from seals
I had heard that people working at Hokkaido University for free, so I went up to the lady at the entrance to ask if that was true. She waved me away and said in broken English that I should first go buy a ticket in the ticketing machine, then come to her. I asked in Japanese if it was free for Hokudai teachers to enter, and showed my staff ID. She was surprised that I spoke Japanese but complemented me on my Japanese and then said that indeed I could enter for free.

Sapporo sightseeing in Tanuki-koji street and in the Sapporo Beer Museum

In the winter, bears sometimes come into the city, and when hiking they are a real concern I am told

On the second day in Sapporo, my brother and sister in law saw some of the "famous" sightseeing spots. First we took a walk through the Tanuki-koji shopping arcade street. It was just around the corner from their hotel. We also looked at the 2-jo fish market, and they decided to come back on their last day to send some fish to our relatives in southern Japan.

My new yukatas

We met up with one of my friends who once visited Sweden and then became friends with my sister in law. The four of us went to the Sapporo Beer Museum near the ARIO mall. First we stopped by the mall to buy some flowery t-shirts for my mother. We entered a place where I buy Japanese style clothes, and the guy working there recognized me and spoke to us long before we even entered the shop. We found some t-shirts for my mom, and I ended up buying two new yukatas. My brother bought a pair of shorts too.

Beer ice cream

Then we went to the Beer Museum. Just outside, I spotted a place selling "beer ice cream". That sounded weird, so I wanted to try it. I asked if it was good, and the woman selling it said that it was pretty much soft ice cream mixed with beer, and "very good". Since I do not like beer, I was not so sure of that. I bought some beer ice cream and indeed it tasted a lot like beer.

Beer museum showcase of old Sapporo Beer posters

We took a look in the beer museum itself, and then went on to the main event: jingisukan for lunch. Jingisukan is a dish that Hokkaido is famous for (among domestic tourists). It is basically thinly sliced meat that you grill yourself (which is exactly what Japanese yakiniku also is), but instead of pork or beef, it is lamb. In the rest of the country, people do not eat lamb. They think it "smells", and there are no sheep. In Hokkaido, eating lamb is quite common, though, as are sheep. The name jingisukan comes from Genghis Khan, because the iron plate you use to grill the meat looks like a Mongolian helmet.

My sister in law commented: "I hate people who make that face". Probably referring to me.

We ate lots of lamb, and also ordered some asparagus (it is asparagus season on Hokkaido right now) as well as some seafood mix (Hokkaido is famous for having good seafood).

 "pudding jam" and "wine jam"

We also made a short stop in the souvenir shop. There I found some "pudding jam" and "wine jam" in the jam corner.

Me and my brother posing more or less like the statues behind us, in front of the Sapporo TV Tower

Later, we also took a photo in front of the Sapporo TV Tower, because that is what tourists do.

Ropossa, chance meetings, strange candy

One of my friends told me that he wanted to meet my brother. He suggested we could all go to the "magic snack" Ropossa, since he had not been there since we were there together at Halloween a year and a half ago.

Ropossa is fun in many ways. The "mama" shows magic (she is very good at spoon bending, for instance), which is fun to watch. She also likes to scare people, so she uses all kinds of strange toys to do that and burns "flash cotton" in huge amounts near you when you least expect it, etc. The place is also full of toys and games that you can play. Last but not least, the people that come there are usually very interesting and fun too.

When we entered, I introduced my brother and the others, and the Ropossa mama immediately asked us to wear strange things on our heads and to go stand behind the counter and pretend to be working. Then she took photos of us. That kind of thing happens a lot.

My sister in law, my brother, my friend, his wife, and his junior high teacher

When things calmed down, my friend told me that he and his girlfriend had gotten married about a week before, so we congratulated them on that. Then another regular visitor to Ropossa showed up and said hello to me. My friend kind of froze up and asked me what the name of that man was. I said what I believed his name was, and my friend then stood up and very politely said hello to that man. It turned out that he had been his teacher in junior high, and the teacher still remembered him. Strange meeting.

My sister in law kept asking throughout the evening if it was "really true that that guy is a teacher?!". No one else seemed to find any reason to doubt that, but she found him to be very unlike a teacher, I guess.


We played some interesting children's games and more and more people kept arriving. Most of which I knew. One was the magician Akkey who was forced by the Ropossa mama to show everyone some magic. A very funny man who is the principal of a kindergarten also showed up. He asked me what I had in my bag that I was lugging around, and I answered that it contained gifts from Sweden that my relatives had brought me. He then suggested that everyone should eat some of the licorice I had received. Japanese people in general hate licorice and think it is the most disgusting thing ever invented, but he suggested that that would just make it more fun. Seeing the faces of everyone there trying to keep some small licorice candy down was indeed quite fun. Both me and my brother like licorice (as do most Swedes) and kept eating just because it is good.

My sister in law kept asking if indeed this guy was a kindergarten principal for real.

Waffle mix

The principal asked a girl that works in Ropossa to have some of the candy, which she declined. He insisted and in the end she had one. Akkey asked for some Coca Cola to get the disgusting taste out of his mouth, but the girl then said that everyone would have to wait because she was not finished eating her piece of candy yet. They had to wait and suffer for quite some time, haha. My sister in law once again tried some Swedish licorice (which she does not like), but she spit it out. She could not find any tissue or any good place to spit it out, so she just spit it out into my brother's glass of tea.


I usually ask my relatives to bring or send me Swedish toothpaste when they ask if I want something from Sweden. My brother brought me some toothpaste, and some waffle mix to make Swedish waffles (which my magic bar owner friend wants me to make for him).



My relatives suddenly had a craving for yakitori (chicken skewers) so I asked a friend of mine who eats a lot of good food where we could find some good yakitori. We went to a place called Kinfuji (金富士) which had very good food at incredibly cheap prices.

My brother ate mostly "normal" stuff like chicken wings and chicken meat. My sister in law went for the more "Japanese" stuff, with guts and liver etc. They both like cartilage, though. We also ordered hokke (a mackerel type fish), which is cheap and good here in Hokkaido.

Soup curry and On-chan goods

Soup curry

My brother and my sister in law were hungry when they arrived, so we started their Sapporo stay by going to the Okushiba Shoten soup curry restaurant just south of Sapporo Station. Soup curry is a Sapporo (or at least Hokkaido) invention, and it is a very nice dish. My brother wanted to try it (we did not have soup curry the last time he was in Sapporo) while my sister in law was skeptical of the idea ("It's just watered down curry, right?") but agreed to try it once just because it is famous.

They were both positively surprised by how great soup curry is, and we had a very good start to their Sapporo stay.

After dropping off their luggage at the hotel, we took a look at my apartment (they stayed relatively close to where I live). They thought it was very cramped (which it is) but very cheap (which by Sapporo standards it is not, but compared to Tokyo it is very cheap).

All wood ballpoint pens

My sister in law also wanted to by souvenirs with the On-chan character, which is a local mascot for the Hokkaido TV channel. We went to a shop specializing in On-chan goods, and I ended up buying some things myself too.

I liked the new character Onion-chan, who looks like an onion and has a name that is a clever pun on On-chan. I got a free Onion-chan fan to use in the hot summer when I bought some Swedish made (!) On-chan things.

My brother in Sapporo, and the power of disguise

My brother came to Sapporo for three days, with his wife. My brother was here in 2007, and his wife was here when she was in high school (14 years ago?). We had lots of food, and lots of fun.

People keep asking me if I and my brother look alike or not. When we were lined up together, people generally said: "You look nothing alike at all!" Then I would say that it is because my brother wears glasses, so if he takes them off you will see that we are similar. So he would take off his glasses and people would go: "Wow, you are almost identical"... Clark Kent's Superman disguise (as a kid I thought it was not very realistic that no one in the Superman movies recognized him) would work extremely well in Japan, apparently.

Few people in yukatas

The only one in a yukata at One Star Bar

One of my friends works at a place called One Star Bar. They had a special offer that if you showed up dressed in a yukata during the three days of the Sapporo Festival, the price for 2 hours of unlimited drinking was 2000 yen instead of 3000 yen. I went there in a yukata in the hopes of seeing some other people dressed similarly (yukata looks very nice on some people).

After three days, the final count of people who showed up in yukata was 1, only me. I did my part and went there every evening, though, haha. They had plenty of guests, and outside there were lots of people in yukata (pretty much all the hostess clubs require their hostesses to wear yukata to work during these days, for instance), but the overlap was apparently 0.

I like yukata in general, because it is not that hot and it looks kind of cool. It is a pain to try to do magic dressed in a yukata, though. You have no pockets, so you have nowhere to put the things you are not currently using, and the sleeves are enormous and tend to get caught in anything placed on the table etc. But I did one shift in our magic bar in my yukata this year too.

Lots of people that met me outside of the festival area asked: "Did you go to the festival?", since people do not normally wear yukata at other occasions than the many summer festivals. This year I reacted by staring at them with a very surprised look and saying: "How did you know?!", every time. Some people reacted with clever responses themselves (one of my magician friends said it was his ESP intuition) and some explained pedagogically to me that it was because I was wearing a yukata...

Sapporo Festival (Hokkaido Shrine Festival) 2014

Lots of people at the festival

Every year on June 14 to 16, there is the Hokkaido Shrine Festival (also called the Sapporo Festival). There are several activities going on, there is for instance usually a trained monkey show at the Hokkaido Shrine which is very funny.

Lots of people, and rain

Near my home, there is a huge festival area in the Nakajima Koen park. For Japanese festivals, it is common to wear yukata, so I put on one of my yukatas and went there to check out the entertainment and have some interesting festival food. Since it is close to my home, I went there every day during the three days of the festival, even though it was mostly raining.

No one wanted to wade through this short cut. Except me, because my geta (clogs) are super high so this was not problem for me.

I ran into some people I know (like my magician colleague's older sister and nephew), some people I do not know but have met (like the cute couple that had me as entertainer at their wedding at Sheraton Hotel one week before), and lots of people who just commented "Oh, a foreigner".

Some people braved the rain and rented row boats

I had too much food, but the food is good and some of it is difficult to find outside festivals. I also saw some interesting entertainment, including motorcycle tricks, a woman eating live insects, and a man stopping an electrical fan with his tongue.


Spicy miso paste on a cucumber on a stick

Gyoza dumplings with chicken skin instead of dumpling dough
Korean (?) dumpling
Croissant tai-yaki 

Weird clothes

This guy was just wandering around inside the festival area
This guy had a jacket that says: "Fuckers NYC"

 Freak show

This guy had a big needle through his cheeks with which he dragged have objects around
This girl ate live insects
This girl poured melted candle wax into her mouth and breathed fire
This guy threaded a chain in through his nose and out through his mouth and the lifted things
This guy ate dry ice and breathed smoke
This guy stopped an electric fan with his tongue
This guy took off his underwear and did things on a bed of nails

Motorcycle stunts

This guy rode a motorcycle on the walls of a small cylindrical arena, that shook alarmingly every time he passed close to your head.
He did stunts like standing up and not holding on to anything and grabbing money from the hands of spectators.