When I received my itinerary for Japan, I was mildly disappointed that I was to be spending three of my four weeks in Tokyo. In the middle, I would be spending my third week in Sapporo City, Hokkaido. I had no idea where or what Sapporo was, but I was excited to find out.
I quickly was told by everyone I spoke with that there exists a popular beer that comes from Sapporo. That was where my knowledge of Hokkaido began and ended.
When I arrived in Japan and started talking to other students in my program, I quickly discovered that very few of us got the chance to go to Sapporo, and it seemed to be a coveted destination. Even still, the only additional information I learned was that Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan and is famous for many things including seafood, corn, glass, wood carvings, soft serve, milk, and cookies.
I was surprised to find out that I would be flying between Tokyo and Sapporo because it seemed like a high price for this program to spend on me, an individual who paid nothing to be in Japan. We flew out of Haneda and into Chitose, and I discovered that Japan’s airports seem totally safe without the annoying security measures.
In Sapporo, I was greeted with a broken suitcase handle and the announcement that I wouldn’t have a host family all week. My first sixteen hours were pretty sad, but I perked up once I spent time with the students the next morning.
Sapporo was a lovely place to run and had many parks with significantly less humidity. Rather than sulking in the fact that my peers were staying with host families and receiving far better insight into Japanese culture, I decided to stay positive and make the most of my time. After school, I went out with other group leaders and students. Since my hotel room was empty and lonely, I tried to spend a lot of time out and about with people I wouldn’t otherwise hang out with. I ended up having fun in ways I didn’t expect, and having interesting experiences in the many malls in and around Sapporo station and Odori park.
My other hotel peer and I both happened to also have broken suitcases, so one day after school, one of the staff members took us to Don Quixote to buy us new ones with the program’s money (they were rolling in it apparently). I got a sever upgrade and purchased a beautiful red, hard-shell four-wheeler. What made it even funnier was that a few days later, I received an email from a program administrator who told me they wouldn’t be able to replace my suitcase after they already had. The wonderful staff member who took us that day also drove us around the city to do some sight-seeing. We saw the ski jump from when the Olympics were in Sapporo, a temple, the clock tower, and the University of Hokkaido. We were very appreciative of his kindness and generosity.
After our last day of school, my hotel friend and I finally had a host – the vice principal of the school. She had a lot planned for us, and immediately after school she took us to a mountain view of Sapporo with a statue of an Amherst graduate that said “Boys, be ambitious.” We were very hungry, so we went to a fancy hotel restaurant for a small portion of tempura and matcha ice cream. Our final stop was the top of the JR building before going to her apartment and discovering that I would be sleeping on a futon mat on the floor for the first time.
The next morning, we had a long agenda despite the constant pouring rain. We went to Otaru and did so many things. We went to an old house/museum, a pull-off with a great view of the ocean, a fancy hotel for tea, the Otaru aquarium, a very fancy sushi restaurant for lunch, the Otaru canal, and the white chocolate cookie factory. After our long day, we ordered the world’s smallest shrimp-and-corn pizza, and ate our store-bought desserts before our authentic homemade matcha.
Though my time in Sapporo was brief, it was amazing to spend time outside of Tokyo. Hokkaido is not the kind of place most tourists have the opportunity to experience, so I feel lucky to have had this chance.