Tuesday, June 10, 2008

May's Best of Hokkaido; Part II

May says sayonara to Nishiokoppe and konnichiwa to a good old fashioned road trip south.Our first stop, Furano. A place with a very beautiful Italian sounding name and landscape to match.
We bunked two nights at the incredible Furano Youth Hostel. Our room was it's own cabin with a loft and amazing view of the valley. A country style breakfast and dinner was included. I give this place 5 stars for comfort, cuteness, and affordability.

Furano is famous for it's agriculture, especially lavender.
Shawn shows us off the richness of the soil at Farm Tomita, a lavender and flower farm just down the road from our diggs.Workers were busy getting ready for the flower explosion of peak season, the end of July.
The fields were still beautiful and the lavender smelled lovely despite being there a bit early.
Next stop, the Furano Cheese Factory.
I had to try it, and you know, it wasn't bad!
This Jinja shrine was just outside Furano. Visitors can choose a fortune. If the fortune is a bad one it is tied to these strings along with prayers for support. Our English class interpreted the message on this wooden card, "West Asahikawa high school asks to pass exams".

The Hokkaido countryside is full of surprises.
You'll drive for miles and miles and see nothing but fields and trees and then come across a giant mudra hand sculpture and an old style pagoda.
It was a refreshing change of scenery to go from Northern Hokkaido's dairy country to the rice basket of Japan's central Furano valley. Very pretty. Very classic 'Japanese' looking lanscape.
We quickly transitioned from country to city life with three nights in fabulous Sapporo.
Odori Park runs through the heart of the city and was the site of the 2008 Yosaksoi Soran Dance Festival.
Yosakoi dance originated in 1954 from a traditional summer dance called Awa Odori. Teams from all over Japan and the world participate. There can be as many as 150 dancers on a team. Costuming and choreography were impressive even for smaller teams from rural areas.
So different from the subdued emotion we've grown accustomed to. We could feel the passion and joy from these dancers in the audience and it drew us in.
Men and women of all ages danced side by side. Also a departure from the somewhat gender segregated lives we are used to seeing.
Naruko, small wooden clappers originally used by rice farmers to scare away birds, are a key element of the Yosakoi dance.
This festival with it's pounding drums and spirited movement was such a breath of fresh air for me. I would love to participate in this next year if I can find a team to practice with close enough to Nishiokoppe.
Since Shawn and May had been indulging in daily beer breaks for the past 10 days, we thought it appropriate to tour the Sapporo Beer Garden.For all you McCaffertys and Irish stout fans.

We hit the streets of Sapporo's famous Suskino district for a taste of the city's night life.
There's nowhere I'd feel safer walking big city streets late at night with my family than in Suskino's red light district. This city is incredibly clean and safe even in it's racier sections.
Who let the Japanese boy band memebers out? An inordinate number of these big haired, leather clad rockers flooded the sidewalks this night.

Our last day in Sapporo and May's last day in Japan was spent at the Botanical Gardens.
We'll miss you May! Thanks for giving us a great excuse to discover more of Hokkaido. Your visit helped us see how far we've come and made us feel a little closer to home at the same time.
As for the rest of you, our tatami room and futons are always open for guests. Matta ne!