By the time we got to Sapporo, found our hotel and parked the car (more about this below), it was already late afternoon. We decided to take it easy and passed on visiting the Sapporo and Asahi beer breweries. Instead we strolled over to Odori Park 大通公園 because I had read that there will be an open-air beer garden at the Sapporo Summer Festival that has been held in the park every year since the 1950s.
At the eastern end of the park stood a familiar-looking tower. The Sapporo TV tower is modelled after la tour Eiffel in Paris. Beneath it was a brightly lit raised platform where there were several musicians and singers performing a traditional song with gusto. On the ground surrounding the yagura were several rings of people dancing anti-clockwise in rhythmic unison. It was the Hokkaido Bon odori (“Bon dance”). Some women were wearing a yukata while a few of the men wore matsuri masks, though most of the dancers were dressed in contemporary clothes.
It was fun to watch the old and young partake in this summer tradition, keeping step with the beating of the taiko drums as they danced their hearts out on Odori Park.
Sapporo was the only ‘big’ city that we visited during this self-driving trip in Hokkaido. I was tickled to see the automated multi-storey parking garage at our hotel in Sapporo. I had never seen or heard of one. I think it is a wonderfully practical invention – once you’ve driven your car into one of the lifts, the car park attendant will press a button to send the vehicle into one of the empty slots above ground. When you are ready to retrieve your vehicle, hand the attendant a token and he or she will summon your car down in a lift. This is much better than a regular valet service, and no tipping required!
The only downside is the inconvenient situation that may arise if you left something behind in the car and realise later that you need it. Which was exactly what happened to me when we were in Sapporo.
I woke in the middle of the night with a piercing headache and my medical kit was in the car trunk. My parents were too deep in sleep next door to respond to my weak knocks on their door. Imagine stumbling through a 24-hour convenience shop alit with blinding fluorescent light in search of painkillers and when you finally find the medicine section, your half-awake brain can barely make out any of the characters on the packaging (but of course, it’s in Japanese). Fortunately the night-duty receptionists at the hotel were able to decipher my gestures and painful grimaces, and swiftly produced a box of bright green pills that looked like jelly beans. With a reassuring smile, one of them explained to me, in Japanese, what I was to do with them. The only word I understood, and still remember to this day thanks to this experience, was “itami” which means “pain” in Japanese.
If you are curious about the ensuing drama, here it is.