Rob and I did Sapporo as a park and ride from the Chitose Salmon Aquarium michi no ekki (super nice bathrooms and a Lawson). It was a 12 minute walk from there to the Chitose JR station. Using public transit was key because today we were going beer tasting. Each place asks you if you drove when you arrive and will give you the big “don’t serve me beer, I’m the driver” stickers.
Our first stop was Kirin, one stop up the line. Since we had made reservations, they were expecting us. The Kirin tour was one of the best big beer company tours we’ve been on. All the videos had English subtitles and our guide made an effort to explain in what English she knew. The thing Kirin prides itself on is the fact that Kirin Ichiban (first) only uses the first press of the mash and not the “second press” where boiling water is used to retrieve more sugars from the mash. They have you taste samples from each press so you can witness the very clear differences between the two.
For the tasting, we each got to choose two beers to try in addition to Kirin’s special Hokkaido only beer. While drinking, or guide gave us the first of many beer pouring demos that we would see over the next two days.
Later, we learned from an American couple living in Japan who we meet at the Sapporo tour that the Japanese are obsessed with head in their beer. This explained the rather weak, foamy pour we received at Otaru brewing that had us both staring at the mug in such disbelief that the waitress took it back immediately and added a bit more.
The Kirin tour was a fun 1.5 hours. Near the Osatsu stop (about a 10 min walk from the station), it’s not too hard to get to by JR or there’s plenty of parking. Reserve your free tour three days in advance on their website. No tours on Mondays.
The next stop on JR is Sapporo Teinen, home of Sapporo’s Hokkaido Brewery. We headed there next. The walking time was about the same as the train so we decided to save the fare and burn a few calories.
The Sapporo Hokkaido Brewery tour requires a phone reservation by 5pm the day before (info). We tried to call but we somehow got redirected to the museum (in Sapporo proper) and were unable to make the reservation. When we told them we tried to call, they let us on the next tour. The only accommodation for English speakers is a set of laminated PowerPoint slides to follow along the tour.
We really enjoyed talking with the other American couple, but the tour was meh and you only got two beers (and some tasty crackers). A bunch of the other folks on the tour were trying the alcohol free beer. If you don’t want to make the trek out to the brewery, Sapporo turned the historic in town brewery into a museum with lots of English, samples for 200 yen (or the flight for 500) and a couple restaurants.
After our two rounds of brewery tours, we took the train to Sapporo, transferring to the metro at Shin Sapporo. The day pass is only 520 yen on weekends (830 yen on weekdays) which was a great value since our necessary rides were going to be around 300 each way. The metro took us right to Odori Park, the heart of the Sapporo snow festival.
After finishing with the Odori Park area, we continued to the Susukino section, which has a number of ice bars in addition to many ice sculptures. Most of the sculptures are sponsored by companies.
We had a drink at the Jim Bean ice bar with a group of Singaporeans teaching English in Tokyo. It was fun hearing their Japan experiences. One of them had been to an owl cafe and told us about the owls she got to hold.
To warm up for a bit, we wandered into this 6 floor entertainment complex. The first two floors are an array of claw games. Unlike in the US, where a number of prizes are jumbled in the machine, in most only one prize is available. It looks tantalizingly close to falling in the slot, but really the two arms hold it in place so it takes many tries to slowly pretty it loose. We watched one women feed a machine dozens of 100 yen coins to get this stuffed animal. I’m not sure if she ever succeeded as we gave up watching after some time.
The next day, Rob got up early and took the train into Sapporo to watch the Super Bowl. He had a great time hanging out with a bunch of Americans, mainly Navy types stationed in Japan.
I slept in for a bit, blogged then headed to town for the Asahi beer tour that I had arranged for us (and had already rescheduled once).
The Asahi tour makes accommodation for English speakers by using an audioguide that you play sections of throughout the tour. It was on par with Kirin, so if you don’t feel like the trek out of town, this is a good one to do and it’s easy to make online reservations for the Japanese tour (here, use google translate and an online english to japanese/katakana/hiragan converter to fill in the blanks). They do request you call for an English guide.
After Asahi, I went to check out the Shiroi Kobito factory, which made the 20 factories to visit in Japan list. Unfortunately the bus loads of tourist pulling in and being short on time made me leery of paying 600 yen for a tour when I really just wanted to try their product. So, I bought a box of their famous connection, white chocolate sandwiched between two thin buttery cookies and continued to my next stop, the historic government building near Sapporo station.
On my walk to the government building, I stumbled into an art exhibits displayed in a series of snow caves/igloos and tourist office folks handing out free hot milk and kelp tea.
Finally, I arrived at the historic government building designed in the American style. It houses a museum of Hokkaido history, an exhibit of local products and a room dedicated to explaining the North territories dispute with Russia, which I briefly saw mention of elsewhere and was interested to know more. Russia apparently took over some of Japan’s historical holdings at the end of WWII (beyond what was in the treaty that Japan signed but Russia did not) and will not return them. They just keep making agreements to work toward a resolution.
By the time I finished there, Rob was ready to meet up and we convened at the Sapporo Beer Museum.
After leaving everyone to their night of drinking, we headed to the ramen alley near Susukino for a quick dinner before the ferry. Finally, some of the famous Sapporo miso ramen.
We wandered in one with seats available. I enjoyed the spicy miso ramen and Rob ordered the delicious miso ramen (a touch of soy sauce flavor). Both were so good! Restaurant ramen bears so little resemblance to the package stuff. Running late, we grabbed the train south to pick up the car and catch our ferry back to Oarai in Tokyo.