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.


  1. I like Sapporo, except for those dirty snowbanks.

    Beaver Planning Center sounds intriguing indeed. But what are they doing all the way over in Japan? Seems like a conspiracy to me. =P

  2. Yeah - it's one of the downsides of being in a very snowy area... the snow doesn't melt all of a sudden. I'm sure that I've seen these snow banks continue all the way into summer as well.

    As for the Beavers... maybe they're planning on starting up a ski resort for winter holidays?