On Tuesday morning, I headed to the San Francisco airport via BART. The girl was wonderful enough to drop me off. We were *so* not looking forward to a week or so apart.
I exchanged currency in SF at a kiosk - probably not the best possible thing, but it meant I had Yen when I arrived. Last time I had tried exchanging very little money and bringing travelers checks - neither was a good idea. The wait was reasonably short (so I was there awhile before flying out). The flight was boring, leg-wracking but not really any worse than advertised. I was in the middle of a set of five seats, so there were two seats between me and either aisle. Windows were five seats and an aisle away on either side. But on the plus side, I got some good reading done (the entirety of Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear" plus almost half of "Regression Hypnotherapy" by Randall Churchill). I also got just a bit of sleep.
I flew through Nagoya airport, where they have a cute little mall-like area called "Sky Town". I had a fairly long layover, so plenty of time to go through customs and still bum around and look at the airport. There was a place selling stuff that looked like homemade fudge, sort of, but was entirely different. I chose something green and murky-colored with a consistency like stiff jello to take with me. All of the desserts looked like long thin blocks, and I had no idea what was what, nor could I ask - no significant English spoken there.
Nagoya airport also had little hundred-yen-for-ten-minutes internet kiosks with weird keyboards. Some of you may recall that I made an LJ post from there awhile back. A hundred yen is a dollar (so close as to make no difference) so it wasn't too bad a rate. The keyboards were wacky - some punctuation was hard to find and it kept lapsing into Kanji mode, which was worse than useless to me. After posting and email, I headed to the gate, napped a little, and wound up meeting a fellow English-speaker (though his family was Japanese) that was there for his own wedding. His fiancee was a Japanese girl and they were getting married where her family was from.
After making it to Sapporo airport, I took a train to Sapporo proper and met Talia at the bus station, along with a few other wedding guests and her mother, who I had met before but didn't remember as well as I should have. We stopped off at an om-rice place (that's an omelet stuffed with flavored rice). I got one with pork on top with gravy, and ketchup-flavored rice inside, which was apparently the most common. A few, but not many, had butter-flavored rice inside instead. We got there as they were closing, so I didn't get a chance to try one of the large, imposing desserts shown outside -- each of which looked a bit like a cross between a parfait and an ice-cream sundae, with one or more other desserts on top. For instance, one had two little cylindrical cookies and what looked like a smallish slice of cheesecake, all on top of the top layer of the parfait/sundae part. For much of the rest of the trip I joked with Colin about no dessert being worthwhile unless it was garnished with other desserts :-)
Talia had some kind of wedding-related errand to run, and we separately took the subway south to the stop near the hostel. After we met up again, she was nice enough to help me find the youth hostel and brief me on where people were going to be and when so I could rejoin the group late the next day. I checked in uneventfully, and managed to not wake my roommates much as I dumped my stuff and settled in to sleep. Due to the international date-line and funky time differences, that was the end of the day on Wednesday.
I woke up bright and early Thursday morning, already starting to miss the girl. I'm not going to write about missing her as often as happened to avoid boring you all stiff. I got up, looked around the immediate area of the hostel, and took the subway into Sapporo after verifying that the hostel was indeed pretty much in the middle of nowhere :-) Not really, just far enough from the city center that taking the subway a bit was advisable to get to stuff I'd want to see. I also got to rediscover that, oh, yeah, cars drive on the *other* side of the street and I should adjust my check-before-crossing routine to match :-)
I wandered around the city center and nearby for a bit, and took notes about what the big central train/subway station was near so I could find it again. It was near a big department store called Tokyu, and something with a big cowgirl with a neon lariat called "Gold Rush", as well as a big glass-fronted building that said "Daimaru" and a pachinko palace called "Vegas Pachinko Stadium". I am, naturally, judging entirely by the English text. I assume the Japanese writing on each building was something different but strongly related.
Eventually wandered past the botanical gardens. I was feeling tired, probably because of jet-lag and schedule weirdness, and wound up not going through it. Figured if I really cared I'd come back and do it later. Never did. I'm okay with that.
As I walked around, I realized that I still remembered a lot of Sapporo's layout from last time I was there. The clock tower, the central park with a television broadcast tower, various specific buildings and even a few stores... I still knew roughly how the city was laid out and where a few things were. It was kind of nice, though Sapporo's really not the most interesting city in the world.
To the south is a shopping district named Susukino, possibly after a large neon-covered building in roughly its center. Immediately south of that building, an area that seems approximately devoted to sex starts. Despite that description, I didn't spend much time there :-P It was generally grimy, smelly and had lots of advertisements everywhere, though I couldn't tell you what most of it was advertising. I have now walked past a genuine Japanese love hotel close up, but apparently they're pretty boring on a random Thursday morning. Imagine that :-)
In Japan generally, not just Susukino, they have cute little cartoon characters everywhere. On the subway advertisements, store signs, products, everywhere. I like it.
The whole trip turned out very warm and very humid. I basically spent a week in a layer of constant sweat. It was actually worse in Nagoya, but I was just in the airport so I didn't have to go outside in 90+-degree weather.
After a few hours of wandering Sapporo, I headed back to the hostel. I wandered a mile or more just looking around, and stopped by a little fast-food-type place called "Hokka Hokka Tei". With some pointing and shrugging, I successfully ordered something involving chicken and rice. Despite it being one of the few things on the menu that I could read, I did *not* order the "Goo Cup".
I have never been so efficiently packed as I was this trip. I took a sort of double-backpack belonging to the girl with a larger pack and then a smaller detachable pack on top. She rolled all my clothes in a way that made them very small and wrinkled them less than my normal packing does. I basically kept everything workable by re-rolling as best I could and never unpacking more than I had to. Thus was the fragile magic of a packing job I couldn't replicate preserved :-)
I napped through most of Thursday afternoon. I needed it. I then rolled out of bed and headed back into Sapporo to meet Talia and company at the train station for the arrival of David and Elan (Talia's brothers) and their friend Chris, an actor. All of them were from NY, as is Talia. In addition to the folks I've mentioned, there was Andy (a guy from the Bay that I know), Colin (also from NY), and Gail, an old Jewish friend of Talia's mother from way back.
We all headed out to an Izakaya, which is a kind of restaurant. Four or five different kinds of sake were tried, and many tiny little appetizer-y food items consumed. It was pretty good.
Afterward, I headed back and went to sleep again.