Up until this past month, I’d been pretty lucky travel-wise. Whenever I had a traveling disaster, I always had company, and even then it was only a delay. Once, flying back from Kauai, Hawaii, our plane was delayed then rerouted from LA to Denver, and we ended up traveling an extra day. That was about my worst travel experience to date.
And then I booked my ticket to Sapporo from February 9th to the 12th.
What was supposed to be a trip that went off without a hitch, turned into an experience to remember. I chose to fly out of Narita airport, rather than opting for a closer airport like Chubu in Nagoya, or even Shizuoka or Haneda; both which I could’ve easily made it to. There were a couple of reasons for this, 1) I’ve only ever flown out of Narita from Japan, so I am pretty comfortable with the airport layout, and 2) I was going to a concert in Tokyo on Saturday anyway, so I’d already be in the area.
On February 8th, Tokyo got the biggest snowfall in like 20 years, the news were saying. By the time I got to Tokyo, around 4pm, there was already about three centimeters on the ground, and it just kept on falling. A friend of mine had said earlier that they were expecting about 10cm, but I was doubtful at the time, by the time I left my concert around 8pm, I was proven wrong.
Anyway, I got to my hostel at 4pm. This is my reliable hostel, I’ve stayed there countless times and never had a problem. I showed up to check in, and the whole building was dark. How odd, I thought, but didn’t think anything else of it. Then I realized the power was out. It had apparently gone out that afternoon around 1pm, and there was no sign that it would be restored until the next morning. I was told that I could still stay, but it’d be really cold. I didn’t really mind, and handed over my 1000 yen note, a reduced fare since due to the power.
I had a concert to catch, so I put my stuff away and left for Shibuya. I worried that the concert would be cancelled due to the weather, but I knew the band had made it up to Tokyo, so off I went, and it was amazing. I had a great time, a couple of my friends ended up going to the show as well. We left the live house promptly around 8pm, and then I went back to my hostel.
Whereupon I immediately realized that since the power was out, the water was also off because they were worried that the pipes would freeze. Never have I been so thankful that neither I, nor my fellow bunk-mates, had to poop. I got a few good hours of sleep, and left early the next morning to make it to the airport before my plane took off at 2:45 that afternoon.
Upon making it to Nippori Station, I noticed that there was a huge X across the line on the electronic boards. Going up to exit the station, there was a huge crowd of people just waiting. Apparently the Keisei line had stopped going inbound and outbound to Narita. So back onto the train I went, first to Ueno (to the same situation), then to Tokyo – where I tried to catch a bus. The bus wouldn’t be running until 3pm at the earliest, I was told.
By some miracle, the trains ended up running and I was able to get to the airport by 2pm, but I arrived at JAL check in to find a large crowd of people just waiting. “Check-in Suspended” was written across all electronic boards, which had everyone confused. I’ve learned my lesson now, that essentially means that my flight was cancelled but they didn’t want to let everyone know yet, and I should’ve immediately gone on stand-by, but I didn’t and I waited until 6pm that night until they finally cancelled the flight, after which I ended up gong on stand-by. I was Z64, meaning of the people on standby I was one of the last since they ordered it from A-Z.
Apparently crew couldn’t make it into the airport, so JAL was hurting for people to man the flights. And any crew that did show up would be immediately put onto a departing international flight, which makes sense. Flights had also been cancelled the day before, so there was an over abundance of people just hanging around the airport.
Thankfully, I was in Japan, and JAL provided sleeping bags, sleeping pads, crackers, and water for everyone. I made a nice little nook upstairs close to a plug-in, and settled in for the night. I woke up early, and immediately got in line to get on the earliest flight out to Sapporo. And I told myself that if I didn’t get on a flight Monday, I was just going to go home since I was flying back on Wednesday. I met some cool people whilst waiting in line, and we all commiserated together, but in this situation there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I found it more ridiculous or hilarious than anything else.
I ended up getting on the 10:20am out of Narita to New Chitose airport, and landed at around 12pm. After the strangest two nights of my life, with little sleep, I had finally made it. And once I was in Sapporo, everything went off without a hitch.
I immediately went to the Snow Festival and checked out part of the snow sculptures, which were amazing! These were no dinky snow sculptures, these were serious business! The buildings made of snow were replicas, maybe not exact, but definitely made to scale. And every bit of them was made of snow.
I went to check in to my hostel so I could drop my things off, and I immediately fell in love with the place. It was adorable, and the staff was so nice and friendly! I hung around there for a little bit, and then went to meet my old Hamamatsu friends, Chris and Ken. Ken is from Seattle, and Chris is from the U.K. Ken moved out to Sapporo this past summer, and Chris moved in March of 2012. They took me to a soup curry place, and it was amazing! After dinner, the three of us met up with my two friends visiting from other parts of Japan, and their girlfriends. We walked around in Susukino, and saw the ice sculptures there. Then we went to a bar called Rad’s, and we had fun asking the bartender to make us interesting drinks. I asked him for a blue, green, and fruity drink, and promptly referred to it as my Seahawks drink all night.
The next day, I went back to the festival and strolled around, before going back to my hostel to drop some stuff off, went to lunch at a seafood and sushi place my hostel recommended, and met Ken back at the festival to see his friend, also named Ken, perform. We met up with dancer Ken’s girlfriend, Honami, and the three of us watched the performance which was a mash-up of yosakoi and soran-bushi dancing. I was familiar with soran-bushi, from all the years involved with the Asia University America Programme at Western Washington University (my alma mater), but was a little less familiar with yosakoi – despite having a huge festival dedicated to it in Hamamatsu. Soran-bushi originated in Hokkaido, the fisherman sang a sea shanty and eventually a dance was added to it. The dance imitates the waves, and the fishermen dragging nets and hefting them over their shoulders.
Anyway, we were super impressed with Ken’s dancing, and afterwards Ken and I walked the remainder of the festival (and grabbed a snack) before going back to his apartment to warm up. There we met up with his girlfriend again, who had a stomach bug all day but was feeling much better, and Honami and we went to meet up with dancer Ken for dinner. We ate yakiniku, and played around with our iPhones, filming in slo-motion. I had so much fun hanging out with all of them. I went to a bar that my hostel swore by, just to grab a beer and ended up hanging out there until early in the morning!
My final day, I went out to the Sapporo Winter Olympics museum and ski jump on recommendation by my hostel. The museum was super fun, you could do simulators to try out various events in the Olympics, and the view from the ski jump was superb! You could see across all of Sapporo.
Immediately after I got back from the ski jump, it started snowing. I decided to get to the airport as soon as possible, and the flight went by without a hitch. Upon landing, I hurried back into Tokyo as quickly as possible to meet up with my friend who I hadn’t seen since I studied abroad four-five years ago, and we caught up, skyped our friend, and I rushed to get my last train.
I had an amazing time in Sapporo, and will definitely make a point to go there again! I wasn’t able to hit the slopes, like I was so dying to do, so returning is a definite must! And now, I’ve definitely learnt some very important travel lessons. And a big shout out to my hostel, Time Peace Apartment, I highly suggest you book there if your journeys should ever take you to Sapporo.