MP3 track of the day: nice ice baby – Vanilla Ice
Weather: A beautiful crisp winters day with the sun out and a little breeze.
Today was my final day within Sapporo. Even so, an early start was not needed. During the previous two days I had hit all of my objectives for this weekend however, an early start still occurred due to my hotels 'check-out' time being 10am. I was therefore down at reception, handing over my 'key card', at around 9:30am with a large smile hiding my displeasure. I handed over my bags and, at around 10am, I headed out into the world.
For the next two hours 'my world' consisted of McDonald’s. There I ate a 'pancake breakfast' writing the first draft of yesterday's blog. A part from the occasional tannoy announcement, and American voice, I was never disturbed. After two hours I had written, and read through, the 9th February's blog entry. I was content that, while a little editing was still needed, the main content was all there and in a logical order. I left McDonald's and headed out.
Yesterday I had discovered a labyrinth of underground passageways, some with shops and some without. As I was off to Otaru I had little time to explore the area but now, with a full day to fill I headed down into this underworld of retail and, more importantly, this underworld of warmth. Still wanting to look around the 'ice festival park', I explored the area always making sure that I was heading north.
Characterless, is the best way I would describe the underground shopping precinct. It had the usual line of clothe, food, phone and beauty shops that you could find anywhere in Japan. In fact, it was as if someone had highlighted the above shops, pressed 'copy', and pasted this format of shops throughout every passageway within the complex. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to find out that this endless boredom of modern branding did not keep my interest for long and I soon resurfaced into a world of light, music, cold but above all, a world of countless people. I had arrived at the snow festival park.
Being the weekend the park was packed with people. On Friday, I pretty much had the park to myself but now, I had to battle my way through crowds ten ranks deep, resulting in my feet only shuffling an inch at a time. As I moved I kept one eye on whatever snow sculpture was in front of me and one eye on the ground. Having so many people walking within the park was exacerbating the walkways. The authorities continually poured grit onto the surface however, no amount of grit could cope with the tens of thousands of feet trampling the snow into ice. It was at this point that I realised something; I wasn't really enjoying myself. I still looked up at these impressive snow sculptures in wonder however, I had already seen them six or seven times and with the thousands of people all around me, walking through the park felt like a chore. It felt as though I was there because I thought I should be; because I knew my trip was coming to an end and I would never see these sculptures again. To use a British expression, I felt as though I was there to 'get my monies worth', not for enjoyment. I soon realised this was stupid; I turned around and went back to the ski slope where I saw even more 'youths' throwing themselves down a snowy 'man-made' ramp with little care for themselves. After this I went away from the park looking for lunch and a place to think.
As I didn't have any particular restaurant in mind I decided to do a bit more 'bottom following' however, this time, I went to 'pro level'. 'Pro level' has the same rules as regular 'bottom following' however, you follow the best bottom wherever it takes you (again changing 'rear' periodically so you don't look weird). It's a great way to see a place and you end up seeing spots which aren't on the usual tourist route.
As luck would have it, my final 'rear' walked past a 'Moss Burger'. I went in and ordered a 'spicy burger with onion rings', whereas the 'rear' walked on by (it didn't look like a 'rear' which would eat burgers). As I finished my meal I sat their, gazing outside at the world but taking nothing in. I was struggling to think of things to do; add to this that Sapporo had taken its toll on me (I was shattered) and the list of possible activities was getting shorter and shorter. In the end I opted to have a walk around the east of the city, hopefully ending up at Sapporo's train station.
The walk was uneventful however, it wasn't too cold and there weren't too many people. A part from an old stone church nothing stood out and soon I was at Sapporo's train station. I found an underground entrance and went into another underground shopping centre.
This one was just as characterless as the last however, it was much more confusing. I remembered entering this underground labyrinth of retail outlets, but I could not find an exit. I looked around.
Seeing people of different ages gave me hope that there was a way out (if everyone was old and depressed I would have been worried); however, no matter how hard I tried, I could not find an exit. Maybe I had actually spent my whole life down here; maybe this 'entrance' I had used was just an image my brain kept as a strain of hope that one day I would surface into the outside world. Finally, heroically I made it to the surface. Had the world changed? Was the air breathable? Had man found a way to eradicate wasps from the earth? The answers to these questions I did not know. As my eyes adjusted to the light I took my first cautious steps into the 'outside world'.
I had resurfaced only meters from where I'd descended. I left the area and went back to the festival one final time. Again I wasn't enjoying myself. The time was 6pm and I was tired, cold and hungry. Even though I still had four hours until my train departed I left the park bound for my hotel. Once inside my hotel I picked up my bags, thanked the staff for the final time, checked my emails and left heading towards the train station.
Sapporo is Japan's 5th largest city and yet, once you go through the train stations ticket barriers there is no waiting room. What there is are benches, dotted around sporadically, with little heat. One area did have two temporary heaters however, the 'size of the area to heat: size of heater' ratio meant that the heaters had already lost the battle before they were even switched on. Besides, the area was packed with people trying to keep warm. With every item of clothing I possessed on, I decided to 'go it alone' and sit on a bench, near a clock, where I read until twenty minutes before my trains departure time. As I read I tried not to let the Japanese person, frozen within a block of ice to my left, concern me.
With twenty minutes until departure time I boarded my train bound south for Aomori. Unfortunately I was not alone and every seat within my carriage was taken. I sat next to a young Japanese girl who sat in a position facing the seats adjacent to her (her friend was in one of those seats) presenting me with her back. I filled out my diary and tried to go to sleep as soon as possible. It had been a long day and, I feared with this amount of passengers, it would be a long night too.