Hokkaido: Day Three

The path to Hokkaido Jingu was layered with fresh snow, the silence broken only by the cries of  scavenging ravens swooping in to try and steal their meals off the shrine’s patrons.

We had been talking since yesterday about sharing a coffee with our ryokan’s landlords, as they have been offering us food regularly, as well as handfuls of candy, but we have never accepted because we were worried about extra costs. We are staying in this inn for the lowest fare, which doesn’t include food, and since we are used to the western standard of “nothing is free” we had continually been denying the meals.... well, we decided that today, even if it wasn’t free, we ought to share at least one meal with them, since the two women and the husband have been acting as sweet (and worrisome) as surrogate parents, so when they asked if we would like a coffee, we all happily accepted.

They had asked us a few times if we didn’t like onigiri, (which is not the case!) and finally I asked her how much it would be if we would have one... she looked at me in shock, before explaining quickly that the food wouldn’t have cost us anything at all- it was free! “sah-bee-su” (service) was what she kept saying. We all had a good laugh over it, and then we explained that all of the food had looked delicious, we just hadn’t known it was free. Immediately, the landlords started showering us with things and stories- including this amazing Hokkaido honey harvested by a family member of the husband. They put it in some coffee for me, and even though I hate coffee, this coffee was so delicious I was able to finish the whole cup without a wince! We talked with them for about thirty minutes before hailing a cab and heading to Hokkaido Jingu, as today commemorates the founding of Japan! Of course, the landlords wouldn’t let us leave until they made us three fresh, hot salmon onigiri to take with us.

After a fifteen minute ride with a very chatty taxi driver (I’m getting plenty of Japanese practice!) we arrived at the shrine, which is different to other shrines I have visited so far as the tori gate in front, which is usually wood, was made entirely out of iron! The path to the shrine was completely covered in snow. It was so, so beautiful. The shrine itself was made in the old shinto style, and enshrines three gods related to fertilizing the land, as well as Emperor Meiji, who was enshrined there in the 1970s. We all got fortunes and charms before heading back down the path to check out the Maruyama zoo, since we figured it would be awesome to see all of the animals in the snow.

On our way down the slope towards the zoo, we ate our onigiri (delicious!!!), though Nicky’s was almost stolen by a raven, and we almost got lost as the snow was filling in all of the pathways. As it turned out, it was the perfect day to go, since today was an admission free day- Score!

The best exhibits at the zoo were the red panda, the tiger and the wolves. It was much smaller than the Tama zoo, and we skipped a lot of the bird and monkey attractions (they get old), and sort of rushed through the exotic animals exhibit. Because it was snowing, they had stuck ALL of the African animals inside a building with no ventilation, so the smell of ammonia was intense. Even the animals were unhappy. The wolves were really awesome though, and the red pandas seemed very well taken care of.

After we were done at the zoo, we took the bus back to central Sapporo for the Sapporo Beer Garden! At this point, the battery on my main camera was running low, so I had to switch to my handheld... I didn’t pack the USB cable for it with me, so I won’t be able to load those photos until I get back to Kyoto. In any case, the beer garden was awesome. It was in a beautiful brick house, with several floors dedicated to the history of the company. Downstairs there was a great den where they served the beer. Nicky, Erin and I got a sampler tray of their three best beers, one of which can only be found in Hokkaido, as well as some Hokkaido onion cheese and omiyage for everyone back in Kyoto. (Also, some omiyage for our landlords, as we were feeling super guilty about rejecting their food). I really enjoyed the Black Label of the three, though their classic was nice too. Oh, we also bought some beer flavored ice cream! Yummy!

After we were done at the beer garden, we hailed a cab and headed towards Sen no Yu, a large onsen hidden inside a huge arcade mall. It reminded me of Oedo Onsen in Odaiba, and it was sorely needed after three days of heaving walking. My shoulder in particular was thankful for it. They had a great variety of baths- mineral baths, baths you could sleep in, jet baths, individual tubs, outdoor and indoor baths and a steam room and sauna. I loved the steam room. It’s hard for me to handle saunas, due to the air feeling so dry, but I could have sat in that steam room forever.

Sufficiently relaxed after an hour and a half in a dozen different types of baths, we showered, got dressed, and headed back to the ryokan, where we presented our landlords with their omiyage. I think they were very happy to have received something, but a little embarrassed too. It was very cute!

Tomorrow- Ootaru!