Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shiroi-Koibito-Park : Ishiya-Chocolate-Factory-A-Licious

6th August, 2010 - Well, Sapporo's reasonably famous in Japan for it's food... amongst other things. It's also reasonably famous for it's chocolates and desserts. One of those famous brands is Ishiya chocolates... which just happens to have it's famous chocolate factory here in Sapporo. And it's definitely worth visiting, especially if you have children. Or you like chocolate. Or chocolate children?.... ok, that's just a bit weird.

Actually - I have been here once before - during my first trip to Japan in 2003. Back then, it was winter, cold and covered in snow and ice. August, 2010 is a long way from that time, and there was no snow to be seen. It's in Miyanosawa, on the way to Otaru - and is best reached from the Tozai subway line.
View Sapporo Map in a larger map

Actually, the place is called Shiroi Koibito Park, and it's sort of a cross between Disneyland and Willy Wonker's Chocolate Factory. Shiroi Koibito is one of the more common biscuit/souvenirs that you can buy in Hokkaido, so it's reasonably well known. Enough for it's own park. These are delicious butter biscuits sandwiching a thin layer of white chocolate in between.

Now - don't get too excited. Disneyland might be stretching the truth just a little. It is however a very enjoyable place to visit if you've got the time. Clearly the designers wanted to give it a European feel, and they succeeded. It may all be fake - but it's genuine fake. And that's the kind I like.

Ah *sigh*.... things can get you down, even when you work in a chocolate factory!

And you might almost believe that this is the place where magic happens... although if the chocolate starts coming to life, I think this fella below's the prime suspect...there's something about those squinty eyes that says arch-criminal all over. Not to mention his hairy hench-thingy...

There's lots of little attractions to see - including an immaculate garden. Just watch where you stick your head, as you might find yourself on the receiving end of hammerin' time. Hedgehog style. Actually, seriously - the gardens are worth it by themselves... especially if you like roses.

It's actually more like going on a holiday to an English garden than a Chocolate factory... not that the children will care a jot for all that.

There are however also a lot of doll-houses to be viewed... well, they'd be for BIG dolls admitedly. In fact all of the houses can be entered and look quite fun.

And it wouldn't be a magical land without a clock band, now would it. And they're good - sorry no vid. Didn't have my wits about me. But they come out regularly... and it's a favourite amongst the children. And if you're wondering about the soccer-ball, Ishiya Chocolate Factory is right alongside the Consadole Football Club, Hokkaido's sometime member of the J League.

What could be better than an animatronic clock?... How about an ainimatronic band! They've got everything covered.

And not forgetting the choir... though I thought the second on the right was looking just a little too zombie-like for comfort...

And when there's a music going, everyone gets in on the act - including the drunk dancing owls. Whilst the park is not huge, there's lots of little things to find if you go searching.

One of the special treats is when the bubbles are released (I think this is on the hour, but I could be wrong... ). This is great to see the children running around trying to catch as many bubbles as they can. 

Oh to be a child again... they don't know how lucky they have it. In my day, we couldn't afford such a thing as fun... we had to make do with playing imaginary fun .

There is also a little steam train ride that the family can enjoy - for 300 yen p.p.... but don't expect a long ride. It just circles around the park area. You won't get to see much more than you can by foot, but of course, it's fun especially for smaller children.

I love the attention to detail and the imagination used in the design of the park - indeed, it's the little things that you just notice that make it a satisfying experience (for adults). It has a bit of a Ghibli feel to it...

Watch out for their own leaning tower - supported only by the heroic efforts of the chocolate makers... now that's dedication for you.

In a country that has faux-churches, why not a faux-Ye-Olde-English-Town for a chocolate factory? I'm not sure what this has to with Chocolate, Sapporo or even anything in particular. Still it adds to the sense of magic and that this is a bit special. The other thing is that at night this is all illuminated (of course) so it adds another magical element again.

And there are at least a  few other things for the adults, including a nice little cafe (actually there's a few places to eat here). Enjoy watching the children as you sip on a delicious hot chocolate.

Now - I haven't mentioned that you can also do a visit of the Chocolate Factory (for about 600 yen per adult, and 200 yen for junior high school children - or younger). I have to admit that we haven't done the tour - there's always something to do when we come back again. They offer chocolate making workshops as well, but I'm not sure whether they are suitable for non-Japanese speakers. The rest of the park is wonderfully free (except for the train ride).

Now - there is something else you can do when you're here... but that involves going inside, and I've separated out that as the next post. So stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Battlestar or Bookshop - Coach and Four in Sapporo

6th August, 2010 - As a frequent visitor to Japan, I have found that my spending habits on coming back to Japan have been varying over the years. Over recent years, I've most probably turned away from the traditional "Japanese" things and souvenirs to more practical things. And one of those things are books... Japanese books are difficult to buy here in Adelaide, and when you can buy them, they're expensive. So I've been filling up my additional luggage quota on Qantas (most probably about 5+ kg of my 40 kg allowance) with books. Even English books which can be almost half price in Japan as compared to buying the same book back here in Australia. My wife is very tolerant of my book-buying sessions.

It's strange that even though there's so many resources on-line now (including yours truly), there's still few that come close to a nice book that you can curl up with and just flick through on a lazy Sunday... that is, if I had lazy Sundays.

There are a few decent bookshops in Sapporo - and perhaps the most well known is Kinokuniya, which is on the western exit coming out of Sapporo Station - in the Sapporo55 building. Another bookshop that you might want to check out if you're spending any time in Sapporo is the Coach and Four shop. Now, there are a few Coach and Four shops around Sapporo/Hokkaido, but the one I'm familiar with is on Shinkawa the area known as, strangely enough, Shinkawa.

View Sapporo Map in a larger map

Trust me, you would be hard-pressed not to be able to find it driving down Shinkawa Dori. It distinctive in it's decor (yes the image above is exactly how it appears). I have to say it looks like a cross between galactic battle-cruiser, a Pachinko parlour, and a rather corny looking Love Hotel (but that's a different story). The owners of the chain apparently liked the look, as all of the stores have the same exterior.

Source: the official site (no cameras allowed inside)

Oh well - it's the inside that counts. And the inside is where things get interesting. These are great places to not only buy books (including English books), but also magazines, textbooks, art-works, CD's and DVD's, stationary, Studio Ghibli goods (as well as a wide range of themed and brand-name items). There is also a large range of house-wares and decorations, as well as craft goods - and also a great range of 'Japanese' goods and materials. There's even a decent cafe there, and undercover parking.... what more could you want? Not much more.... seriously, this is always a must-visit shop when we return to Sapporo.

Well - here's some more images taken from the official Shinkawa website (as there was no cameras allowed in the store):
Source: Official website - home decorations

Source: Official website - Japanese items

Source: Official website - children section

Source: Offical website - character corner

Source: Official website - cafe Interlude
Overall - I'd have to say this is one of my fav shops in Sapporo. If you've not visited, take a look.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Takino Suzuran Hillside Park - I Love it THIS Much!

5th August, 2010 - After trips to two cemeteries, it was time to take a different path... to Takino Suzuran Kyuryu Kouen, or Hillside Park. This is without doubt one of the great places in Sapporo for children (and adults alike). It's about 23 km south of Sapporo Station, and definitely better to get there by car. However, if you've got the opportunity it's worth the trek, and just down the road from Takino Reien.

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Here's a helpful excerpt from the official site:
•From Sapporo Station to Makomanai Station via the Nanboku / Green Line: 20 min.  Adult fare 280 yen. •From Makomanai Station to Takino Park by bus: 30 min. Take Chuo Bus’s “Takino Line” and get off at “Suzuran Koen Higashiguchi”.  Adult fare 430 yen

Now, this is a very hard park to describe... it's half childrens adventure park, half natural wonder-land - and I'm sure come winter it's a snow-scape delight... and even goes by the name Takino Snow World. It was early August however, and as hot as... well, as hot as Sapporo gets.

There a number of different "zones" within the park, that provide a huge variety that I can't hope to describe. And indeed the park may be too large to see all in one day... which is good for the next trip. The park opens out on to a beautiful lake area with waterfalls. No water restrictions here - and a good place to have a quick bite to eat.

And L-kun was already in "extreme energy zone"... running all over the place. And we hadn't even seen any of the children's area yet. Poor Okaasan... she didn't realise just how busy today was going to get at this stage.

The first area is a giant concrete slide section. Lots of slides of different steepness and length, and this was the first area where L-kun could really get down and play.

And indeed, he and Daddy just ran up the stairs and went for a slide. Watch out Mummy!... Here I come. Of course, Daddy wasn't being very observant. Otherwise, I would have noticed that all the other children were wearing helmets. A quick announcement over the PA let us know...

...All children have to wear helmets to ride on the slides (provided free, in a variety of sizes). This was the first time L-kun had worn a helmet. I have to admit that I think that the helmets were over-kill compared to the slides themselves. In Adelaide, we have some slides at St Kilda which made these look like a walk in the park. Japan is definitely more likely to over-protect than in Australia. But when in Rome.... or Sapporo.

There's another area just above the slides which is like a giant's playground. Lots of fun activities for the kids to do. And.. er... the adults. The good thing is that there's also plenty of vending machines to re-hydrate yourself during summer. I was starting to get hot already...

...And so was L-kun. Thankfully, we had also brought L-kun's bathers (for just such an occasion). There are a number of ponds and slow water slide areas that are favourites amongst the children. A good place to sit down and take a breather while the children play. Just expect to get a little wet.

One of the strangest areas (didn't take good photos here) was the ant-hill. You can see it in the background, behind the slides on the photo above. It's actually quite tall - but the surprise is on the inside. The anthill is hollow. You can either climb up and go for a slide down (about a two storey slide),  or you climb down and down into the bowls of the earth. Actually, it's quite daunting looking down from the top. Not good for those of us that aren't good at heights.
Looking up into the interior of the anthill.
The anthill contains a number of ants (including a very hard to find "Queen ant" which is great for the children to go for an ant-hunt. The other thing, the anthill leads to a series of underground tunnels and ante-chambers. I'm not sure what purpose these serve, but it's easy to become a little disoriented in there; saved only by strategically placed signs. Finally - the light of day!

And finally, you come to the great gem of Takino... the hill. I'm sure this hill used to be ski slope during winter, and I'm sure is the centre-point of the "Snow Land". In summer there is another attraction. Balls. Great Big Red Balls. Seriously. This is fun. These balls are huge, and that hill is high. The point. Push the balls up the hill, and let them roll down.... Are you ready L-kun?

Down they go.... and go.... and go....!

And of course, there's always Ojiichan to lend a helpful hand for L-kun. If by helpful I mean, running over L-kun. Don't worry, it doesn't hurt a bit.

Note: Running down hills with cameras is generally not considered a good thing to do. But a man gotta do what a man has gotta do!

Meanwhile L-kun and T-chan were getting jiggy with it on the giant fluffy eggs. The parks name, not ours. These are a different take on the trampoline idea. Fun by whatever name.

Now by this time it was actually getting pretty late in the afternoon, and we had just scraped the surface of things to do in the park. We took a break and went for a walk around the beautiful hillside zones.

As well as being a children's paradise - this is also a naturalists heaven (btw - I don't mean naturalist in the nudist sense... just in case that's your thing). I mean, there's lots of nature to enjoy... wherever the signs take you...

Around every corner there's something new to explore... 

Whilst it wasn't Spring, there were still plenty of flowers around to enjoy...

Some of which were quite interesting... at least from a photographers perspective.

And it wasn't just me that was enjoying them... the dragonflies (tonbo) were loving them as well. I have to admit that I was never fond of dragonflies as a child. They always reminded me of giant wasps, and that tail just had to hold a horrible sting.... which of course they don't. Still, the things you fear as a child often colour your judgement as an adult. 

I was therefore quite shocked to see my beautiful wife do the following thing. She taught me a trick... when you see a dragonfly, hold up your finger vertically... very still. And they will land on it. I laughed... yeah right. But it's true. Lo and behold... the dragonfly landed right on her finger. Just as she said.

You see, not only was I shocked that tonbo seemed to have this addiction to land on anything that stands up like a twig... but this twig was my wife's finger... the same wife that screams when she sees a spider >.< this big. Tonbo magic.

Not to be outdone... L-kun tried, and once again, like clock work, along came a dragonfly on queue. I even tried it... and again and again it happened. I'm still a little surprised to this day. Perhaps because there are so many dragonflies in Japan come late summer that you can try this...  whereas they are rarer here in Australia at least. I just don't know if this behaviour is common elsewhere, and would love to find out...

Now, we'd had a full day by this time... and we'd covered perhaps less than 30% of the park. Along with the fun, there's lots of educational value to, with an information centre freely available.  Indeed the whole day is incredibly cheap... park entry is only 400 yen for adults, and 80 yen for children. That's right. 80 yen. That's less than 1AUD. Car parking is about 400yen per car, so that makes this a very affordable day out. 

If you come earlier, in July, there's also a good chance that you'll see the lavender fields as well. Alas we were too late for that. Still, it's a great place just to walk around and enjoy the scenery. I can't recommend this place enough... but just leave yourself plenty of time. It's huge.

This is my late submission for the J-Festa July Post! It's not quite about July, but by the time you read it, it will be just ready for early August.