Monday, February 6, 2017

[SAPPORO] The Odori-Susukino Combo

Okay, so you want to see sculptures made of ice and snow? Repeat after me: Odori. Susukino. Odori. Susukino. Odori. Susukino. These are the only two place names that you have to keep in mind. Both venues are located at the city center. The area is big but the main tourist attractions are within walking distance from one another. Yes, it’s totally possible for you to see the train station, the clock tower, the TV tower, and the former Hokkaido government office in one morning.

Odori is a public park stretching not more than ten blocks starting from the Sapporo TV Tower in the east all the way to the city hall to the west, if that indeed was the city hall. I’m totally guessing here. HAHAHA. Hey, it looks like a city hall, hmmkay? As already mentioned in the previous blog article, this is a public place which can be accessed by everyone. Pedestrian traffic can be very heavy and sometimes the traffic enforcers control the flow by making each side one-way to ease the circulation. It’s all snow here.

Susukino is one stretch of road which turns into a pedestrian only street during the festival. The ice sculptures can be found here. I am rather surprised that the avenue is that short. I just don’t know if it isn’t that long because it is the first day and the displays are not yet complete. Why did I have to come on the first day of the festival? Stupid me. I was quite underwhelmed, to say the least. I’ll give the trophy to Harbin as far as the battle of ice sculptures is concerned.

Let’s revert to the chronological flow of events now, shall we? I only have two days to spare in Sapporo; three, if you count Wednesday morning which is basically pointless because I fly to Narita really early. But the good thing about Sapporo, as mentioned, is that the attractions are all at the center, which makes them really easy to visit. Boarding a bus, I alighted in front of the main JR train station in less than an hour. The train station just has a clock in front of it, nothing fancy. You only go there if you plan to visit Otaru.

Everything else is south of the train station. Walk in a leisurely pace. Being in haste here is hazardous and can be life-threatening. This advice is coming from someone who tried to catwalk on blackish ice and fell hard on his ass, provoking a confused reaction from onlookers who didn’t know if they should laugh or call an ambulance. If you have extra money, buy a pair of winter boots. I think they sell those with spikes, although that might seem a bit exaggerated. You’re not climbing Mount Everest.

Keep your gaze to the right after crossing every block until you see a red brick building. That’s the former Hokkaido government office. It is surrounded by a big park which changes its hues depending on the season. As it is winter right now, it’s obviously immaculate white. The lake next to it is half frozen, even though that didn’t stop the geese from having a good time there. There is a yellow tape warning you not to go near the water, because you are an idiot and you might end up frozen underneath.

When you are done admiring the scenery, walk farther south a few blocks then head west for the clock tower. I think there’s a museum inside but you have to pay which is probably why I never bothered to come in. Selfie, selfie, selfie. Farther west and a few blocks down is the Sapporo TV Tower which looks like a miniature Eiffel tower but not quite. There’s a mini ice skating rink in front of it as well as food stalls selling overpriced comfort food. Indulge. This is also the start of your Odori Park tour.

Start walking towards the east. Each block has its own snow sculpture, but first, you'll run into a snowboarding exhibition. It was cool. The snowboarders were doing somersaults in the air. You'll also find indoor smoking areas. There are toilets, but not every block has one. Lines are long but entrance is free. Don’t expect them to be that clean, though. With the influx of tourists, it must be difficult to keep them tidy. And now, time for the snow sculptures!

The first one I saw was a tribute to Final Fantasy. Since I am not familiar with Final Fantasy, I wasn’t that amused. There’s just a guy with a big sword about to attack his enemy. They also play sound recordings and colored lights to create a show. The place is crowded but it’s not totally impossible to get a selfie spot in front. The next snow sculpture was a giant snow screen which later played some anime. Most of the displays would make sense if you are familiar with Japanese pop culture. If not, you’ll be forever guessing.

A mini Chinese building and Paris’ Arc de Triomphe were next in line. They seemed quite detailed to me. The next block lacked anything big, and was more like a collection of anime characters as well as that pen pineapple guy, who still managed to be annoying despite being entirely made of snow. Sorry, you are not allowed to kick his face. Pikachu is very popular and I think I saw more than four. And then there's the giant Cup Noodles, probably a ploy to trigger hunger in your subconscious so you’d buy overpriced food.

The last big display was Star Wars: a giant face of Kylo Ren next to the upper half of C3PO’s body flanked by BB-8 and R2D2. The last block was, again, a line-up of anime characters as well as some features from different countries, except that they're still being molded. This is the first day of the festival, remember? At the end of the block is the city hall which provides some contrast to the all-white background by virtue of its dimly lit sepia tones. After you’re done, walk less than a KM south for Susukino.

Some people make it a point to visit both in the morning and the evening. There are some ice sculptures at Susukino which are lit with bright colored lights, but not all of them are. If you want to take nice photos, then I suggest going in the evening because the transparent ice jives well with the dark but colorful background prevalent at nighttime. I imagine it to be rather boring in the morning, albeit less crowded. Again, sorry, Sapporo, but I liked Harbin’s ice sculptures better. They were way bigger than life.

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