“One kind word can warm three winter months.” -Japanese Proverb
Seeing a new part of the world, and experiencing all it has to offer is one of the greatest sources of excitement for me.
In my latest adventure, me and my lovely girlfriend Ina visited my best friend from high school, Charley, in the land of ramen, sushi, and the rising sun. Sapporo, Japan would be the start of our Japanese journey.
Ina and I arrived at the New Chitose Airport around 3:00 p.m. and quickly made our way over to the JR train ticket counter. We purchased two train tickets to Sapporo Station for around 2200 Yen. The trip into Sapporo took 45 minutes. When we arrived we quickly scanned all the signs pointing us to “Stellar Place,” as my friend Charley, his girlfriend Maki, and brother Andrew eagerly awaited our arrival in-front of Starbucks.
As soon as I saw Charley, it felt like old times. He’s one of my few friends who it doesn’t matter how long it was since I last saw him, we quickly pick up where we left off. After doing a quick round of girlfriend introductions, we made our way to a taxi. I was really impressed with Charley’s level of Japanese. He said a few incomprehensible sounds to the driver, used several hand gestures, and a few minutes later we were in front of our hotel. Good job Charley! I actually didn’t know how good his Japanese was, but it got the job done, and later on I would find that my boy has indeed been practicing.
Our hotel room was really nice. It had two levels and a nice view of the city. We dropped off our bags and quickly made it over to our first Japanese pub for dinner and drinks. The place was unique. It was four stories tall with the hallways lined up with cozy little private cubicles. We placed our shoes in little lockers which had big wooden keys that reminded me of my old elementary school bathroom passes. Then it was chow time.
The food was delicious, my favorite was the yakitori made from several bite-sized pieces of chicken meat, skewered on a bamboo skewer and grilled, usually over charcoal. We also had all-you-can-drink for the time slot we reserved, so the big group we were with did their best to get their moneys worth. Many of you beer drinkers out there are familiar with one of Japans most popular exports, Sapporo Beer. I had a few, they tasted like..umm…beer. It was good times all around.
After dinner we made our way over to a Karaoke bar. If you have ever been to South Korea or Japan, you quickly realized how much they love to Karaoke. It’s one of their favorite social past times. I’m a terrible singer, but when In Rome you do as the Romans. I had two songs in me. First, I apologize to Montel Jordan for breaking his promise never to come wack on the old school track. Next was my awful attempt at Blink 182’s, “All The Small Things.” After that, I was done with the mic. Charley and Andrew kept us going with some classics that all of us could sing along to with them.
We were fortunate to have made it on the last weekend of the yearly Snow Festival. After Karaoke we went to check out the hundreds of amazing snow sculptures that spring up in Odori Park, the grounds at Tsudome, and the main street in Susukino. Ina had never seen so much snow in her life and also had never been as cold, so it was bitter sweet for her. Me being raised in Colorado felt right at home. It was a good first day in Sapporo.
The following morning, we did a little shopping and walking around the city. It was my first opportunity to try Sapporo ramen. The ramen in Sapporo, which is almost as famous as the beer, was soooo delicious. If you ever go to Sapporo, you need to make your way to the Ramen Alley in Susukino. In Ramen Alley you will find 17 traditional ramen shops crammed into a small walk way four tourists wide. It can be tough trying to decide which one to enter. The bowl I got had a soy-sauce based broth with savory ramen noodles, a big piece of pork and some good veggies added for good measure. It was a meal which satisfied my belly, unlike the Cup Noodles I pop in the microwave back home.
We then packed up our bags into Charley’s car, a cute little Nissan Cube, and started our journey to the Ski Resort of Furano. Mother nature, however, had other plans. We quickly found ourselves in a serious blizzard and had to cancel our plans to Furano. We spent the night in a little town, who’s name I don’t remember as my Japanese is non existent.
At our hotel, we decided it was best if we just skipped out on Furano and went to Charley’s home in Rubeshibe. Rubeshibe is a small town of about 8,000 people and much colder than Saporro. As Ina said, “how do people even live here?” I began to ponder her question. I had about 5 layers of clothes on and was still freezing. Once in Charley’s home it took about an hour before his trusty heater got us to a comfortable temperature.
The next nine days we went snowboarding, ate ton’s of delicious food, went to a Japanese style spa, played basketball with Charleys high-school students, and ate more ice cream (Ina loves ice cream) than we could shake a stick at.
All in all Japan was awesome. What made it awesome? In short, the people are what made Japan amazing. This was the first time I took an extended trip with a girlfriend to meet a friend in another country.
Being able to visit an old dear friend halfway across the world was a great traveling experience. While meeting new people on a trip is usually on my agenda, it was nice to see some familiar faces in unfamiliar places. Having my best friend as tour guide was definitely a plus, as it allowed us to see a side of Japan that most tourists never get to experience.
So for any of you fellow travelers out there, if you are fortunate to have any close friends scattered around the world, don’t forget to keep in touch. You never know when you may be able to pay them a visit.
If your’e planning on visiting and staying with a friend in a foreign country, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Be easy: It’s not easy hosting friends. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money. Do whatever you can to make it easy on them and not become a burden.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations: Your’e a guest, so go with the flow and take it all in. Communicate beforehand about what your plans are and get on the same page as your friends. Having as many details sorted out before you leave will only make things easier.
Show your appreciation: Bring a small gift. We brought Korean couples-style cow pajamas for Charley and Maki. I think Maki was more excited about the gift than Charley, although he did comment on how comfy they were. I thought they looked adorable together.
Be flexible: Things happen, so be ready to adjust your plans accordingly. As long as you have a good attitude things will work themselves out.
Be clean: As a guest in someone else’s home, don’t be a slob. Clean up after yourself and do your part to keep things clean.
Don’t be cheap: Your’e on vacation and seeing an old friend, so do as many things as you can. Budget accordingly.
Here is a video and a few pictures from our trip, hope you enjoy.
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