Sapporo, 2006

The next day we made a trip up to Okurayama, the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics. The Winter Sport Museum was a blast; they had a station for each of the more popular Olympic sports, where you could try the sport out. Figure skating, speed skating, curling, biathalon, and cross-country skiing are a few of the ones I remember. None of them were easy. Working through each station was probably the equivalent of doing a circuit at the gym. It’s funny thinking back on that now, since I scoffed at the speed skating section when I first saw it. My initial thought was, “Who actually watches this sport?! It looks so silly! And how hard can it be if you’re just skating in circles?” The irony is probably most apparent to me since little did I know that 6 years later, I would fall in love with the sport and start short track speed skating. But that’s a different story.

sapporo

We were able to take a ski lift up to the top of the slope where ski jumping is usually done. Surprisingly, there were many ski jumpers practicing their craft in the intense daylight. It was fascinating to watch and terrifying to imagine myself ever doing something like that, given the fact that even walking down stairs kind of scares me. 😦 There was also some delicious taro soft serve sold at the observation deck at the top–get some if you’re ever up there!

sapporo1The view from the top of the slope was beautiful; it must be a gorgeous sight to see if you’re actually ski jumping down this ramp in the winter. The view from the bottom was better–first place on the Olympic podium? Aw yeah.

While we were walking around Sapporo, we came across a shop that sold little moss balls as pets: “Marimo” まりも. They are literally tiny balls of moss that are kept in water-filled jars. Cute, and apparently considered a national treasure in Japan.

marimo

After having time to browse the shops, we were treated to one of the most treasured meals of my life: the renowned Sapporo ramen. Because most ramen is served in a pork or fish broth, it’s really hard for us to find veggie-friendly ramen. So while everyone else got piping hot bowls of ramen noodle soup, we were served teriyaki ramen, or stir-fried ramen. It was glorious. Arguably better than ramen in soup. The goodness of Sapporo ramen is inexplicable and beyond perfection. The noodles are very “Q”–a Taiwanese term that means somewhere along the lines of chewy, al dente deliciousness. Add in some soy sauce, sesame oil, shhiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, cabbage, and tiger lily flowers, and you have a golden meal. Also delectable was the bowl of agedashi tofu in a mushroom broth made from shiitake, maitake, and enoki mushrooms. Light but amazingly flavorful. I feel like I’m falling in love with Japan all over again just thinking about that meal.

sappororamenWe were then driven to the Shiraoi Ainuzoku Village. The Ainu are an indigenous people in Hokkaido, and we went to visit their Porotokotan, “large lakeside village” in the Ainu language. There, we watched traditional Ainu folk dances, listened to songs, and mouth harp demos in one of the thatched huts.

ainuThinking back now makes me realize how much we did that day! A trip to Jigokudani followed after the tour of the Ainu village. Jigokudani is known as “hell valley”: a large volcanic valley full of hot spring vents sulfurous streams, and an abundance of volcanic activity.

jigokudani

Our day concluded with the most wonderful udon hot pot, vegetable tempura, and the freshest garden salad.

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