Monday, February 28, 2011

Going Home...Our 2009 Trip Comes To An End

 2009 - All good things must come to an end, and as Spring had well and truly sprung in Sapporo, T-chan and L-kun prepared to return to Adelaide (to be accompanied by T-chan's best friend, T2-chan who has come out to Adelaide a few times now). Still it's always very difficult for T-chan to say goodbye. And this time, there was no soft serve ice-cream to distract L-kun.

I wonder at L-kun's future sometimes... at the age of two he was already on his second long international trip. Travelling certainly provides a broadening to the mind, and a deepening of the heart that is difficult to replicate in any other way. However, it comes at a price: there's the hardship of travel (which at this age is more about the parents than the child); the cost (ditto); the disruption to normality and schedules; the disruption to language development; and of course the separation from Daddy (ok... Daddy most probably suffers more than L-kun). It's also a hard life emotionally, as one is forever saying good-byes... which at 2 years old most probably means goodbye for the next 10 minutes, not goodbye for the next 8-14 months.

Travel is almost certainly going to be a constant part of L-kun's life (travelling between Australia and Japan that is). At least until he gets to the age where he can choose where and how he wants to live his life. It is, however, a great way of experiencing life, and remaining connected to the two cultures that made him. 

And with this post, the 2009 trip draws to a close, and we get ever closer to the current day.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beam Me Down Scotty - Into Tonden Kouen

7th May, 2009 - This is without doubt one of L-kun's favourite parks in Sapporo. Tonden Kouen (park), which is some 10km drive north of Sapporo's city centre. If you haven't worked it out yet - the Japanese love the roller-slides. They're every where, and I have to say they look a hoot. Now - you may also worked out that with the coming of Spring, and my return to Adelaide, there was lots of opportunities to go out and have fun in playgrounds. So there are a lot of posts about parks. I hope that this is useful for people coming to Sapporo with young (and not so young) families. 

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The park's main attraction is the slide... and T-chan keeps telling me that it was SCARY to go up the top (then again, she's got less of a head for heights than I do). Still, she was very proud of L-kun's courage to go up to the top and slide down by himself.

Just how tall is it?... VERY according to T-chan. I am very proud of T-chan for braving her own fear of heights to join L-kun. Well done. I can't even tell that the camera was shaking in this photo.

There are lots of other things to climb up, walk across, dangle down from etc etc. There's also no doubt that Japanese playgrounds, whilst they suffer from generally grey-ish sand, more than make up for it with brightly coloured equipment.

L-kun had a full afternoon at the park - and it has the advantage of being right next door to a very large home-centre. I would not however advise using the park as a creche. That would be wrong.

The park does however exercise just about every part of a young child... and I think that the Japanese should be very proud of their efforts to create engaging and yet challenging parks for their children. And of course - to be fair, there are also so very sad, depressing neighbourhood parks as well. But where they do it well, they do it brilliantly.

Including a little construction work for the upper-body strength.

And you can sometimes feel a little lost as to what to do next. 

I have to admit that every time we go back to Sapporo we discover new playgrounds, and each time T-chan turns to me with that wistful look, as if to say "see how much fun Sapporo is!" And indeed, she follows up that look with the words "see how much fun Sapporo is!". She's an open book, is my T-chan. Still she's right. I really have to admit that there's so many great playgrounds in Sapporo... and we haven't covered hardly any of them as yet.

It's enough to make you want to have a sit down and reflect upon things... it's been a good day. I hope however that L-kun was secretly wishing that Daddy was here to share it with him...

 On the way home... Teine-yama stands in the distance. I love Sapporo's surrounding mountains. They're not too imposing, but they embrace the city like a protective blanket.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hokkaido Jingu - Cherry Blossoms in May

6th May, 2009 - Alas, I was already back and truly in Adelaide when the Cherry Blossoms had come to Sapporo... and Golden Week is always the time for hanami in Sapporo... and the place where everyone goes is Hokkaido Jingu. It was one year before that we had all gone to the same park to see the sakura... but that year it had largely finished already (and I was a little disappointed). T-chan took some of these photos to let me see what I'd missed. L-kun, T-chan, her parents, and Auntie were off to have a picnic! Once again I'd be left feeling like I'd missed out.   ?8-( 

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The blooms were certainly out on the approach to Hokkaido Shrine, through Maruyama Kouen... and so were the tourists and locals alike. Golden Week (29 April - 5 May) is the peak time for Japanese to get out and about on holidays... and as cherry blossoms are due around this time in Sapporo, it's also a popular destination. Cherry blossoms first appear down in the deep south (in Okinawa) from January/February, and they'll bloom in the north (Hokkaido) in May. That means that whilst the flowering only lasts at peak for about 1 week, if you have freedom of movement then there's a good chance you can find somewhere with blossoms  during March - May.

One of the favourite things to do in Maruyama-Kouen at this point is to find a nice spot and have a bite to eat. It's particularly popular to have barbecues (which can be hired in the park).

Okaasan, Auntie-S. L-kun, Otousan

And there's never a bad time to have food - especially a picnic!
Just say Aaaaaaaahhhhh!

Just don't expect a peaceful lunch out... there's lots of people and lots of noise. There's also quite a bit of drinking that is associated with ohanami (flower viewing).

It's also a great time to go walk the dog.... ok, not everyone has a real dog to walk. However, even an inflatable dog can be a great way of meeting people. The dog was actually a gift from ojiichan to L-kun, and he loved it - and he still plays with it (though the wheels are getting a little worn out now). I also have to say, that "mixed" children are always popular in Japan... you would think they had two heads and had flown down from the moon. I get a little frustrated at the attention L-kun can get - he gets spoilt enough by his parents! By the way - if you're wondering what's that on his back... it's actually a neat little backpack/leash.

Ok - I can sense that there's a lot of people that don't like the use of the word leash when it comes to children. All I can say is that there was a time around this time when it gave mum and dad a lot of reassurance that L-kun wouldn't walk off in the crowd (especially with the 1000's of people walking around Maruyama and the trains etc). Also - they are pretty cute.

Of course - when you're at Maruyama Kouen, you should pop into see the Hokkaido Jingu. There's not much in the way of shrines - at least old shrines - in Hokkaido. And Sapporo seems to be largely devoid of them compared to a lot of Japanese cities. Once again that stems from the fact that Sapporo is relatively young (being established formally in 1868), and even though this period very roughly coincides with the steady re-ascent of Shinto in Japan, it did not appear to be reflected in the growth of local shrines.

The koinobori are an odd addition at this time of the year - celebrating Children's (Boys) Festival - which is actually the last public holiday of Golden Week on the 5th of May (the previous day).

And yes - Children's Day has to be celebrated in T-chan's household with yet another gloriously colourful cake that you find everywhere over this period.
L-kun enjoys his Boy's Day cake - the night before

Like many shrines, especially at festival time, there are any number of different stalls where you buy an assortment of foods. Yummy.

Now - I have to say, that T-chan did something funky with our Canon digicam that day (applied some sort of filter) that gave us a bit of a shock when she checked out the photos that evening. Still, there's something a little interesting (and sepia-like) about some of these photos. Thankfully she discovered this before she'd taken too many photos. Kawaisou!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gotenzan Kouen - Sapporo's Mountain Playground

5th April, 2009 - Well, it's not exactly a mountain playground - but it is pretty scenic. This is Gotenzan (五天山) Park in Nishi-ku Ward - and it is one of L-kun's favourite parks. It's not that it has a lot of great equipment, or other attractions...

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But it does have lots of very scenic backdrops...

And on a fine Spring day, the light is quite beautiful. Ok - it's a bit of a drive from Sapporo, but if you like heading out for a sunday drive (with the kids) then there's lots of room to run around, and you'll often find some cuddly animals (like rabbits) to feed - and in summer the park is also a great place to have a barbecue.

And if you really want to you can climb all the way to the top of Gotenzan.... 

But the real reason why L-kun loves it so much is simple... it's got roller slides! And it's great to play with ojiichan, even if it's a bit of tight squeeze.

He's a simple soul with simple needs.

I often wish that our own lives could be so simple.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Having a Whale of a Time... Noushi-Kouen

30th April, 2009 - This is just a quick post to highlight some more of the parks around Sapporo... and the sort of variety you get here. Noushi-Kouen is a nice small park with some really interesting features. The most obvious attraction in this park is the pool with it's huge whales with water fountains. Come summer this park is  a great place for children to take their bathers and go for a splash.

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There's a lot of different things to do here... and whilst there's a preponderance for concrete the great thing is that there's a lot of different sorts of spaces available. We came back here last year, and I'll post about this park again.

The park's quite large and there's plenty of running room - and despite appearances, there's also plenty of grass to play on as well. Overall, this is one of L-kun's favourite parks during the hotter months. During April it was too cool to go for a splash however.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spring is Coming - Park Life in Sapporo

With the coming of Spring, Sapporo slowly emerges from it's winter's frozen slumber, and suddenly the parks that have been too cold to visit up until now suddenly beckon with irrepressible delight. As the blooms stir, the hearts and minds of children across the northern island awake. L-kun is no different. 

Near Auntie-S, there's a pretty typical suburban park. Lots of greem lots of equipment, and very high slides.

Seriously, it's one of the big differences between Australia and Japan. Back home in Adelaide, parks are made to be child-safe... which means they pretty well take all the risk away (not only to children, but also parents, and more importantly the council's that own the parks). There are a few exceptions such as St Kilda Playground, but by-and-large, parks in Adelaide are very "safe". 

In contrast, playgrounds in Japan are old-school still. By that I mean that they seem to embody the school-of-learning that says that children learn from experience (good and bad). As an example, the slides that you find in Japanese parks would pretty well never be found in your normal suburban parks. Too high, and too little safety consideration. I am always amazed at how much more brave L-kun is in Japan as compared to here in Australia... and I know deep down it's because when he's back in Adelaide, his parent's mindset is more concerned about safety and risk.

Now at this point you might be wondering - am I anti- or pro- Japanese parks? Well to be honest, whilst I'd not risk my own son's health on it, I think that the Japanese view (reflecting an older Australian view that's since gone out of fashion) is a better way to go. I do think that children do need to learn from mistakes as much as successes. I also think however that bad design that leads to injury is just wrong. I think that overall however, the balance should be towards learning and experimenting - where risk taking within reasonable limits is not only encouraged, but to some extent expected.

Although the one thing I can't help but feel about Japanese playgrounds (at least in Sapporo)... it would be nice if they had real sand rather than the grey, igneous rock gravel that seem to pervade Japanese playgrounds here. I know it's a geographical bias (yes, we have real beach sand in Adelaide, Australia)... but that's also a reality of living across cultures and countries.

Yet, isn't it really more about the support that children have in playgrounds, allowing them to explore in safety knowing that parents (or even grandparents) are there to help them when they get into trouble - without putting emotional and intellectual barriers within the child's mind to prevent them from trying something difficult or even dangerous? Of course - that's all very easy to say in the cold-light-of-day away from the parks.

I do think (personal realisation) that we spend most of our time trying to protect our children, forgetting that the most important lesson is for them to learn how to protect themselves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Birthday Wishes... A Snowboy for my Birthday

26th April, 2009 - Well, one of the downsides of living across two countries (even for short periods) is that invariably you're going to miss important events. This trip it was going to be my birthday. So I received some electronic and skype birthday wishes instead... but L-kun had other things on his mind. Like snow. Now - I have to admit I was surprised that by the end of April there could still be snow in Sapporo.... yet here it was.

I feel sorry for Otousan... L-kun's looking bigger and bigger by the day.

Ok - it might not win any awards as far as snowfall goes (and I can't imagine anyone dusting off the ski's) but still, it was quite surprising to see so much snow coming down. L-kun was not so much surprised as delighted. I'm sure he thought it was Christmas time, not Daddy's birthday!

Meanwhile... Daddy had a very quiet birthday back here in Adelaide... which never sees snow in Spring (or winter for that matter). I'm kinda glad however that L-kun could enjoy some more snow fun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Even Suffering Separation Blues - You Gotta Eat (and Poop)

24th April, 2009 - I may have returned to Adelaide, leaving my loves in Sapporo (*sigh*), but thankfully, T-chan took some photos whilst I was away - and I'll share a few of them over the next few days. We'll start off with something that the  Japanese do very well. Cute. When I got an email at work from T-chan with these photos in I laughed out loud... and remembered why coffees in Japan can be so expensive (at least compared to Australia). Nothing like coffee art to start your day off with a smile. I know T-chan enjoyed.

These drinks came from Jimmy Brown's cafe near Odori in Sapporo. 

And as they say in the classics - what goes in, has gotta come out sometime....

And so we come to the inevitable and rightfully infamous Japanese toilet. Now this isn't the usual sort of glowing post about how wonderfully complex or comfortable Japanese toilets are (and how you need a manual to use some of them). It's not even a post about the Joys of Bidet function that can turn a quick pitstop into an afternoon out. No... that's all been done before. Instead, T-chan's eye was caught by a little something that we don't normally see over here in Australia. Can you guess? 

Look left.... no more left, and a little bit higher... you see that think that looks kinda like a mini toilet hanging from the wall. Guess what... it's a mini toilet hanging from the wall. Now if you picked it, then there's a good chance you're a parent. These portable toilet seat inserts are amazing - and T-chan was very impressed (as was I) that they were becoming common place now in a lot of (female) public toilets in Sapporo at least. They make taking children out for a day on the town so much easier (as anyone would surely agree who's had to perch their child precariously above over-sized toilets... hoping, nay praying not to get an itch, sneeze or otherwise find a reason to drop poor baby into the pooper). In the land of the high-tech, it's the low-tech solution that can often prove the most indispensable.

I never would have thought this morning that I'd end the day by writing a post about the loo. Life has many twists and turns.

Oh - and by the way... I do love Japanese toilets, even if I do sometimes get a little intimidated with the all the options. And in Japan, you just never know what could happen in the toilet.

Good ol' Japanese prank shows. Always going with the high-brow humour.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Farewells... Made Happier With Hokkaido Soft Serve

17th April 2009 - One of the downsides of having an intercontinental family is that you end up saying farewell all too often... and indeed my 2009 trip was ending in just such a way. I was leaving T-chan and L-kun to stay in Japan with her parents for a few weeks whilst I returned home... back to our quiet, oh so quiet, house. But first... the dreaded airport farewell. My previous trip was especially painful to see L-kun off.

Now - for those that know something of Japan, and especially Hokkaido, you'll know that people in Hokkaido are very proud of their produce, sea-food and dairy. They love their milk... and especially their ice-cream. As of yet, I had only had Hokkaido soft serve once before.... and that involved being stalked by a very strange obasan (older woman) in a shopping centre. Kowai!... seriously, this lady was totally creepy and couldn't stop staring at me as if I were a 100m tall alien, and was the only time in Japan when I've been seriously weirded out. Even T-chan and her family were a bit disturbed by it... but back to the airport.

A shared ice-cream should do the trick! Who ever heard of someone crying when they were eating ice-cream (ok... who ever heard of a male crying eating ice-cream)? 

Unfortunately a late arrival at the airport and a long walk to the icecream shop meant that we didn't have much time. Yet L-kun did indeed enjoy his yummy Hokkaido soft-serve ice-cream... very much. So much so that he didn't really notice when Daddy started hugs and kisses all around and with much drama disappeared through the security gate.

My parting memory of that day was of L-kun eating soft serve.. I had succeed in leaving without tears, so I guess I should have been happy. I realise now that sadness doesn't need tears however. I wished that soft serve cone could last for the whole time we were apart, and we could share it again as soon as possible back in Adelaide. Alas... not even Hokkaido soft serve ice-cream is that good.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Some "Other" Sights of Sapporo

15th April, 2009 - On the way back from Jozankei, I thought I'd just take a few snaps of the journey... nothing very special. The first photo was of something that I have always been curious about. What happens to all of the snow in Sapporo at the end of the winter? Well, you won't find this on any post cards, but what really happens is that the snow is trucked (all through winter) to these huge collection points along the waterways where they sit and gradually melt away with the coming summer. You can see quite a few of these Dirty Ice Mountains all over the city. I'm not sure how long they take to melt away completely, but it must take quite a while. I've been through Sapporo in May and they're well and truly there in the start of summer.

The one thing that you get used to is that houses in Japan, at least in Sapporo, often down look that attractive, in fact, they can look downright drab and monotonous. They mostly seem built for function rather than aesthetics (though of course, as you go into better neighbourhoods this changes). The houses often, lets face it, look rather a lot like grey boxes. I wonder how much of this is determined by cost, building methods and materials, or by design constraints (like the ability to withstand the cold snowy weather).

Roof design is one area where the story gets more complicated as well. In any city where it snows a lot, there's always a problem about what to do with the snow on the roof. Snow accumulates on roofs, and can become both quite heavy and quite hard over time. Like any material, it can fracture given the right stimulus. There's always stories of people either being killed or badly injured from falling snow and ice. A sloped roof will tend to avoid the collection of snow - however when the snow is heavy enough it was cause an even more dangerous fracture event (just think guillotine).

And this is just one of those random photos that piqued my curiosity. There's several things about this "Beaver Planning Center" that have me confused. I will for sake a G Rating, not go with the most obvious lines. Firstly - why do you need a centre to plan beavers?... or is this a centre where beavers plan (whatever dastardly plans they conspire to develop). Secondly - why in English? Lastly - why beavers at all - as from what I understand there are no beavers in Japan (I can't believe I just wrote that). This whole thing I'll put down to one of those odd Japanese moments.

Here's yet another post-winter postcard moment, along the Toyohira river (-gawa)... The trucks look like little sand-pit toys amongst the rubble of ice and dirt. Actually Toyohiragawa has it's source back in the mountains of Jozankei, and is one of the prime sources of water for the city. Sapporo doesn't lack for water however, whether it comes from the pristine snow-capped mountains or the somewhat darker depths of the mountains of ex-snow.

Toyohiragawa is also the focal point of summer, come fireworks season. The fireworks here are supposedly amazing to see, and the during the summer, the banks of the Toyohiragawa are packed with thousands of people. Also, I said supposedly, as I've never actually been to see the fireworks myself. One of these years! Last year we thought we'd scheduled it so that we could see them, but alas they reduced the number of shows and I missed out!

Getting off the bus in the city, we popped past the one real attraction. Sapporo's Tokeidai - or clock tower (which I first came across back on my first visit in 2003). This building, built in 1878 has become a somewhat odd symbol of the city. Lots of visitors to Sapporo will seek out this building only to be disappointed by how small and nondescript it is. Still - most cities have such tourist traps. This one isn't so much a trap as a roundabout (no sooner do you get there, you'll find yourself heading in another direction).

And indeed, Sapporo is not a city (outside it's annual Yuki Matsuri and perhaps the dance festival Yosakoi) that has a lot of amazing "touristy" sights. It does however have a very natural feel (perhaps because of this small influence of foreign tourism... even though it's on the doorstep of some very popular snowfields, especially Niseko). It may not be the most beautiful of cities in a classical sense - especially following winter with the mountains of melting snow - yet it is an easy place to enjoy Japan in a clean, healthy if perhaps cold environment.

If you haven't worked it out yet - Sapporo is a city I love.