Day #2 - Russian Far East Adventure

Sapporo, Japan

Iced coffee and a red bean pikelet

Arriving into Narita around 6am, the place was almost deserted so I scooted through Immigration and in no time found myself the solitary person at checkin for the flight to Sapporo. Once I'd checked in I headed for the departure lounge and a bit of brekkie.

It’s one of those departure lounges where you get bussed to the plane and as the flight wasn’t leaving until 10:15 I settled in and spent the time reading up on the new Lumix camera I’d brought along for the trip. Actually it’s not a new camera but a replacement one for the one that died after it’s first water experience during our Gulf of Siam trip.

It wasn’t long before a number of couples arrived that were clearly “Orion” bound so I introduced myself and we got know each other before the flight. There are mainly “Pathfinders” but there was one couple who are on their first cruise.

Finally it was time to board and we left Narita on time with the ground crew waving goodbye to the plane!

 Ground crew waving goodbye

A number of us are staying at the same hotel, the Renaissance, so I got some info about buses and after a drive of about an hour we arrived at the hotel. The architecture we’ve seen so far is pretty bleak and functional, I think it may be a direct result of the harsh winters they get up here, and the Renaissance wasn’t much different from the outside. Inside however is quite different with a huge lobby and decorative ceiling.

Ceiling at Renaissance Hotel

Check in took only a minute or two and then I was off to the room.  I had a bit of a problem with the Internet connection and the air-conditioning so in no time I was in a new room with a much better view and what passes for air-conditioning.

One of the things I did notice from the room view was the hotel swimming pool that looked so inviting after 15 hours of travelling and I decided to head down and cool off. Oh oh, the one thing I’d forgotten to bring were my swimmers, damn it and I’m going need some or else I won’t be able to enjoy the Jacuzzi on the Orion. So it was time to go shopping in Sapporo. Reception gave me a map, some directions and a written translation saying “I want to buy swimmers” and I was on my way.

The hotel is next to a river that runs through Sapporo called Toyohira River and I set off across the appropriately named Toyohira Bridge toward the shopping area. The weather was mild but the wind could be a bit nippy and about midstream there was quite a breeze blowing but a great view of the city and the mountains behind it.

Toyohira River looking toward the Moiwa Mountains

On my map it looked like about 2.5k walk to the department store that the hotel clerk had circled on my map. Rather than take the main road I headed left off the bridge down a smaller road hoping to find more interesting views than that offered by the main road.

Looking over the bridge railing at the tiling in the river

As I mentioned earlier the architecture is pretty functional and the majority of the buildings seem to be constructed from these flat concrete panels.

The Cesar is typical of the local architecture

However amongst the flat panels there are some quite interesting architectural styles such as this quite contemporary building.

Contemporary building

And this very strange concrete ship/temple looking building, with the egyptian eye, that I later found out is a restaurant.

Ship Building

My decision to take the smaller side road was probably not the best one to make because I became hopelessly lost. The problem was I had a map in English but obviously all the street signs are in Kanji so I actually ended up about 2k in the wrong direction.

However I did come across the beautiful Shinzengoi Temple gate with ornate carving and amazing detailed metal and paintwork.

Temple Gate

Temple Gate

Unfortunately the gates were closed but you could see the temple through a metal screen embedded in one of the doors.

The Temple through a screen in one of the doors

I walked for another 15 minutes before realising that I was completely lost. I asked a couple of local policemen where I was and in no time I was back on track and thankfully headed in the right direction.

Aside from the main river running through Sapporo there is a smaller river, the Sosei, that runs through the more built up area. It was amazing to come across it amongst all of the jumbled concrete block buildings that dominate the streets.

Sosei River

It’s such a visual treat being in a foreign city, especially in Japan, as there is so much to catch your eye and attract you. Like these little bits of curiosity…

Santa climbing a building with help from his elves

Don’t drop you cigarette in the drain message

Finally I made it to the shopping area I’d been heading for a couple of hours ago, unfortunately the department store the hotel had directed me to didn’t have men’s wear. So I headed out and in a few minutes came across a sports store and I’m now the proud owner of a new pair of Adidas swimmer, and very stylish if I may say so.

That done I needed a break and a drink. My next planned stop was  the Sapporo Beer museum so it worked out perfectly. Sapporo Beer, one of the oldest and most popular beer brands in the country, has been brewed in Sapporo since 1877 and is now produced and sold around the world. The Sapporo Breweries opened the Sapporo Beer Museum in 1987 in a former brewery from the Meiji Period.

Sapporo Brewery

Sapporo Brewery

The museum and associated buildings occupy a large park like area and there are souvineer shops and restaurants. The building itself is dominated by a large tower and the ever present red stars of the brand.

Red Star

Across the road from the museum, surrounded by a small garden is one of the copper beer brewing kettle, or mash pan, apparently retired from service after an estimated 30,000 uses from 1961 to 2001.

Brewing Kettle

Next to the museum is the Sapporo Beer Garden, which consists of two restaurants. I went to the Genghis Khan Hall which is an atmospheric beer hall that offers all you can drink beer and all you can eat mutton BBQ, a popular local dish named after the great Mongolian ruler (Jingisukan in Japanese). Rather than indulge in more food than I care to eat I had a couple of beers before heading back to the hotel.

Just to prove that I had a Sapporo in the Sapporo Bier Garten

Having achieved what I set out to do it was back to the hotel. I headed down to the gym and after a good 40 minutes workout and then a swim and a sauna.  I know it’s a tough life.

In doing some research on Sapporo before the trip I came across a funny little restaurant on Trip Advisor. It’s a Cuban restaurant called “Habana”. I loved the name and the idea of Cuban food in Japan so I’d planned to go there for dinner, plus they also make Mojito’s, one of my favorite cocktails.


The restaurant is located in this large covered 5 block long avenue of shops and restaurants and it was a fun experience. The restaurant is on the second floor and is just a long thin room with a bar and a couple of cookers. But I was warmly receive, made a great Mojito and served up some fabulous Cuban food all the while Salsa classes were being held by Carlos on the floor above.

On the way back to catch a cab to the hotel I stopped for some delicious banana, chocolate and whipped cream crepe. So much for the gym time earlier! I must say one of the things I love about Japan is the proliferation of plastic food. It's great when you can't speak the language and can just point to what you want. It's quite amazing the level of reality achieved with these creations especially when they are modelling european food.

Plastic Food replica of my order

Having finished my crepe I passed this, so I'm told, famous fortune teller, sitting at his small table in the mall. He looks to me more like a banker

Fortune Teller

Fortune Teller

So I’m finally back in the room, exhausted from the travel, full from the food and ready to hit the sack.

Nick Rains, who I met on our New Guinea trip, is also on this one, just Skyped me to touch base and we will see each other tomorrow but for now I’m headed for bed.