Just before work hit its hectic Chinese New Year period eight of us escaped out of Niseko for the a short break to see the Otaru candle festival and the Sapporo snow festival. The last time I left the mountains was on our work day out it hadn’t even snowed properly, so to get away even for a short time was fantastic, especially being back in a city.
We had rented a 8 seater minivan, which turned out to be pretty luxurious, although filling it with 8 adults still meant ot wasn’t exactly spacious. We left straight after work and drove out towards Otaru. The weather was pretty clear getting out of the mountains, but a snow storm steadily set in as we continued and the last 20km took a fair while as we crawled through.
Booking our trip had a been a bit of mini nightmare due to it all being slightly last minute and both the festivals meaning most, (especially budget), places being booked up. We thought that we had booked a hotel room down in the town, but after several satnav errors we found our hotel directly at the bottom of the ski resort there. It was a super cool place with a lounge room kitted out with a baby grand and onsens in the bathrooms.
We had a fair few settling in drinks in our Kimono robes that were provided and then luckily managed to jump on the local bus that took us down into the center. We walked down the canal to see the candle festival, but the snow was falling pretty heavy and it was absolutely freezing so fairly swiftly we moved on and found an epic sushi train restaurant that was starting to close, but stayed open for us and made us a load of super super cheap sushi which went down a treat. Post dinner we wandered over to the store to restock alcohol and managed to communicate with the shop assistant to order us cabs back up to our hotel.
The next morning we awoke to some seriously deep snow outside our hotel and the devastation of none of us having our ski gear with us. We went over to the rental store to see if we could strike up some deal to rent gear for a couple of hours in the morning, but the store was very Japanese so had no budging from its $90 full day only hire rules. We went and commiserated ourselves over a McDonalds breakfast.
The drive to Sapporo wasn’t as long as we expected and our fancy Ibis hotel rooms let us check in when we arrived at lunchtime. We set out to explore the icy cold Saporro, thermals on under clothing, and walked the stretch of the ice festival which was pretty epic despite some of the smaller sculptures looking a bit worse for wear due to the rain over the opening couple of days of the festival.
We went in search of a place to warm up and get beer, ending up in a small traditional Japanese restaurant that ushered us upstairs and opened up a private room before bringing us frosted glasses beer and portions of ramen and fried food that we had guess ordered by pointing on the Japanese menu and trying to mime out what we wanted with the waitress.
We went back to see the ice sculptures all lit up and watch kids throw themselves off the ski jump and pull some pretty decent tricks. The evening then began back at our hotel room helpfully located in the midst of the bars. We smashed through a fair amount of pres and then found ourselves in a karaoke bar with unlimited free drinks. Karoke is big here in Japan and the places all have lots of private rooms that you use so you don’t have to embarrass yourself in front of lots of strangers, just your drunken friends. The night continued with random conversations with Japanese people, angry doormen chases and unfortunately more McDonalds.
The next day everyone was feeling pretty fragile as we forced ourselves to make the most of the included buffet breakfast. We then headed out to the Sapporo beer factory which was all in Japanese so we didn’t really understand much of it but the hair of the dog did help perk people up for our journey back to Otaru. We got there whilst it was still light and also much warmer so had a wander up and down the treacherously icy main strip popping into the stores and getting plenty of free samples. People crashed for the final journey back and the car was full of group cuddles as we arrived back into Niseko. No one wanted to have to think about cooking so I spent my final 2000 yen buying beer and pizza. Luckily the following day was payday as I was quite literally down to my change.
The rush is now on at work again, which is much welcomed as it makes the day fly by. Today is my first day off since going out to Sapporo and I’m spending the morning in bed catching up on much needed rest. My travel planning for post season has now slowly started and I’m hoping to start booking things next week. Here’s a few final pics of other things I’ve been up too, including a sweet little day trip out to Niseko Village (another part of the mountain), where Orie, Mia and I went to go try out one of the buffet restaurants and neighboring bakery. I went on a wander the opposite way from the ski hill for a change to find myself heading through untouched fields of snow winding through some woods and appearing at a small little village semi buried under the snow. Oh and I and got a haircut which some of you noticed rather excitedly!
(Full sized images uploaded to my Flickr)