Sapporo/Hokkaido Wrap-Up: Food and Susukino

 Sapporo is a great city. Hokkaido University and its botanical garden are very beautiful and peaceful escapes from the grid, and the Sapporo Beer Museum has some tasty food to go with its thirst-quenching fresh beer. There are baseball and amusement parks in the summer, and skiing in the winter. The island of Hokkaido has lots of nature including a volcano and two architectural museums - a historical village on the outskirts of Sapporo and the fantastic former prison in Abashiri. One last tourist area in Sapporo is Susukino, the nightlife area south of Sapporo Station. It starts a block or two south of Odori Park.
 You know you're in Susukino when you reach its big intersection with bright neon and LCD billboards and screens. From this intersection the fun branches in all directions. I ate dinner once or twice at the tiny CoCoIchi curry restaurant at this intersection.
 About one to two blocks north is a covered shopping arcade. Yes, that is a Don Quixote on the left with the penguin mascot.
 There are restaurants, shops, and game arcades inside, and an underground shopping area along with the subway entrances.
 Once you get into the side streets and alleys, you start to find the clubs. It wasn't cold in September, so during slow times some of the club girls would stand at the entrance. Usually only the male touts stand around outside begging for customers, almost like a freak show at a circus.
 The options range from the usual karaoke boxes, hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars to dancing clubs, soaplands, and host/hostess clubs. If you don't know what those are, I'll leave it to you to find out for yourself.
 During the peak times, this area is packed with drunk or looking-to-get-drunk businessmen, touts trying get customers, and of course some tourists. There is an area (Ramen Yokocho) with ramen shop after ramen shop which is very popular for those looking for local noodles. In February, some of the Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Susukino. And on top of one of the buildings is a large Ferris wheel that gives a good view.
 While not officially a red light district (they used to exist in Japan but not anymore), I understand that some of the clubs still serve as fronts for prostitution. But that all happens behind closed doors and Susukino felt perfectly safe at all times. My hotel was in this district, which I talked about in a different post. Note that during the day, Susukino is quite lifeless, but pictures at night are much more difficult to take.
 Sapporo Station is quite large, with a large mall inside JR Tower.
 There is a lot of large open space here, some of which is used for events. During my visit, there was a summer festival in Odori Park and on the south side of the station. The mall inside the station is over several floors, and there's a BIC Camera adjacent to the mall.
 The top floor of BIC has a Sapporo Ramen Museum, with an old fake steam train and themed buildings.
 I'm not sure what god is housed at the ramen museum. Is there a God of Ramen?
 The theming is generally made to look like 1950s-1960s streets.
 My coworker highly recommended Ginparou, which was difficult to find because the picture she showed me was inside the restaurant, not the same as seen at the entrance. The sign above is at the entrance.
 She told me she loved the traditional Sapporo-style ramen, to which I added a hard-boiled egg. It turns out she didn't explain quite enough what to order so I ended up with something different. That's okay - this was pretty good but I still think Kitakata and Kyushu styles are better.
 Speaking of food, I tried to find as much variety as possible on this trip. There are several dishes and agricultural products that Hokkaido is known for, so I went for everything I could. While not really Hokkaido-specific, I found a cookies and cream flavored Pocky called Pocky Panda. It was pretty good! I don't really follow Pocky flavors like I do Kit Kat, but I buy unique flavors here and there.
 I also grabbed a bag of Japanese Cheetos. These are triple-cheese flavored "Su-Kon" or something like that. Now, Cheetos do exist here, too, but these were pretty good, but mild.
 And speaking of dairy, Hokkaido is where Japan's milk comes from. I can buy Hokkaido milk in my local convenience stores and supermarkets, but this bottle had the freshest, most delicious milk I can ever remember having. And I kept the bottle. Not a bad deal for less than $2 (maybe it was as cheap as $1).
 As I described in my post about the beer museum, barbecued/grilled meat - actually, mutton (Genghis Khan), is Sapporo's most famous dish. At the summer festival, I saw a lot of booths selling the usual Japanese and western foods (gyoza, takoyaki, corn dogs) but one somewhat-popular stall had grilled meat. This was beef but it was good anyway, and it came on a bed of shredded cabbage. It went well with a can of beer.
 I bought two cans, with different labels (they are different kinds of beer). I'm not sure if these are limited cans for an event or if Sapporo always makes Fighters beer. I was very happy that both empty cans made it home safely.
 While this looks like an American food - and it is - the french fries were made with Hokkaido potatoes. Made fresh, they were pretty good, but not outstanding.
 Any Japanese person who tells you about Sapporo sightseeing will mention the White Lovers chocolate candies. They're actually white chocolate cream in between two biscuits, similar to Milano cookies from Pepperidge Farm. I've had those before and they're pretty tasty, but this white chocolate drink from Ishiya really took the cake. It's very sweet and flavorful, but not overpowering. It doesn't come cheap - each tiny can runs about 200 yen, but I still drank about half a dozen of them on my trip.
 Hokkaido has its own sodas, too. There is a White Bear and a Brown Bear - the white version is a guarana soda which isn't very sweet and has a decent guarana flavor. The brown version is more of a cola, I think.
Finally, there are several microbreweries in Hokkaido in addition to the Sapporo brewery. Abashiri Brewery has a few styles of beer, including this Okhotsk Blue. I'm not really sure what it's suppsoed to taste like, but it was crisp and flavorful while I was drinking it. I suppose I could say it tasted blue. There is a hint of some kind of flavor or something in it that I just couldn't place. Unfortunately, it left a slight oily aftertaste in my mouth. There are several other craft and microbreweries in Hokkaido, and on a return trip I plan on trying a bunch of them.

Hokkaido is known for other foods - sea urchin, hairy crab, squid, salmon roe, and scallops are supposedly great here. Because of the milk/dairy industry, there are also Hokkaido cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. Fruits and vegetables include corn (sometimes sold at tourist locations grilled on the cob), onions, and melons. Yubari melons are extremely expensive but very sweet - they are similar to cantaloupes. Note that lots of Hokkaido produce and dairy products can be bought in supermarkets across Japan. In addition to Sapporo's miso broth ramen, Hakodate has salt based broths and Asahikawa uses soy based broths.
Finally, not exactly a Hokkaido thing, but in one of the crane games in Susukino I saw this - Vocano. It's Uno, but with anime girls on the cards. I've seen themed Uno decks before, but I'm pretty sure this was a knock-off. I wish I had played and won a deck now because I've never seen them before or since. I have Japanese Uno cards, and these are styled exactly like the official game.

A return trip to Hokkaido for me would include sampling more local beers, having Genghis Khan and trying more ramen, visiting the Historical Museum of Hokkaido and the architectural museum, another Fighters ballgame, and going back to Abashiri and Shiretoko for some nature, ice walking, and boat cruises. A budget airline makes visiting Sapporo for the weekend quite cheap, so it's possible I can make a return trip in a few months.

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