Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Sapporo met me with a chilly evening. The wind was strong and smelled like rain. My bagpack was weighing me down and I was exhausted from the sleepless flight. Thankfully, my first couchsurfing host was very understanding and tucked me in shortly upon my arrival.

The sun rises very early in Japan and I felt its fist rays dancing on my face at 5am. It was a lazy morning yet I felt amazingly refreshed. Sleep did its part and was ready to discover Sapporo.

Architecturally, Sapporo reminds me of a mix between Athens (Greece) and Tel-Aviv (Israel). The buildings vary in sizes and there are very few high-rises. The architecture is quite diverse and many buildings are unique. The streets are clean and logically built. The pedestrians are respectful and courteous.
Sapporo is a young city which means it’s not a “typical” Japan filled with geishas and temples. It’s a lot more open to Western influences than many other parts of Japan. The youth is hip and the stores include Cosco.
I walked the streets of Sapporo the whole day. Getting to know neighborhoods and quaint shops; learning how to cross the street and eating tasty onigiri (rice balls); watching young boys perform dangerous tricks on their bicycles and marveling at youth’s fashion; roaming the beautiful Odori Park ample with fountains and buying hot coffee at a vending machine.

The day came to an end as suddenly as it started. The sun rises early but it also sets early. Once it set below the horizon, the air got chilly and I had to seek refugee home. It was a day of new discoveries. It was my first day in Sapporo.

On my second day I decided to visit a nearby Shinto Shrine. My host lives next to Maruyama Park which houses this particular shrine. Tall, dark and old trees surround the holy place creating an air of mystery. The shrine was almost empty; it was quiet and serene. The mood created feelings of tranquility and self-reflection. Walking around, I felt peaceful and empty.

To learn myself, that seems to be the reason,
For undertaking this peculiar task.
To free my mind, my heart, my soul, my spirit.
Be empty space
And learn to fill the glass.

Later in the evening, my host decided to introduce me to his Japanese friends. We ended up in a bar/lounge dinking local beer until midnight.

Japanese are introverts by nature and when some are born as extraverts, the cultural norms make them bury their extravert nature deep inside.  This is the reason why Japanese like to drink and get drank. It’s the only time in their lives when they are allowed to be themselves.

I met some amazing people that evening. A Japanese girl who is as unique to her own culture as I am to Japan. She is a people’s person, has many friends and loves to bring large groups together. Another girl who is planning to leave Japan and move to Australia because it’s been her dream for many years. A guy with whom I “spoke” half the night about our music preferences even though he didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak any Japanese. An American who fell in love with a Japanese girl when he was station in Okinawa and then moved to Japan to be with her. And so many more.

We ended the evening by walking through an outside shopping/arcade/casino strip which closed down for the night and transformed into a place where teenagers met. They sat on the asphalt and played their guitars for the public. Many were good enough to gather large crowds. There were kids practicing tricks with soccer balls, performing fits that even professional soccer players would envy; teens smoking outside of noisy clubs dressed in any imaginable yet extremely fashionable clothes; youths who only ever showed their rebellious natures during these liquor-filled nights spent away from home.

The beer did its job. I felt light and easy walking home. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

1 comment:

  1. I love those rice ball things! They have them at all the 7-11s here (which, let me tell you, are everywhere. You can't walk in any direction for more than five minutes without hitting a convenience store. I have five within 5 min of my apt.

    BTW, sister dearest, I have a laptop. :-) I hope yours isn't black because mine is. And it's the same one. (After doing research I concluded you made a good choice and went with the same.) So find me on skype!