Dec 282017
 

December 2017

Sapporo

Getting around Hokkaido in the winter is not the easiest of tasks, so this trip is limited to Sapporo.  There are lots of fun things to keep one busy if you dress warm and have patience.

After enjoying the Sapporo TV Tower and the lights in Odori Park, or the Snow Festival if you are here in February, there are several interesting historic places to visit.

Sapporo is a very new town. Its founding did not occur until the 1860s with a population of seven. The population did not pass one million until the 1970s and is still just under 2 million. After a total of 17.5 percent of the city was destroyed as a part of Allied air raids on Hokkaido during WWII, the area was developed as a food production area to help with the Japanese food shortages.

Their subway system was built in 1971, and they held the Olympics in 1972. Maria Callas sang her last opera in Sapporo in 1974.

For these reasons, there is not too much historical architecture.

The former Hokkaido Government office Building

The Former Hokkaido Government Office Building

The Former Hokkaido Government  Building is nicknamed akarenga or “Red Bricks”.  It is an American neo-baroque style Meiji era building designed in 1888 by a Hokkaido government engineer.

When built it was one of the largest buildings in Japan.  The dome, constructed in 1873, was designed by American advisor to the Development Commission Horace Capron.  Domes, at that time in history, were architectural symbols of independence, so when the Hokkaido Government was established in 1886 the first governor nostalgically added the dome.

The building burned down in 1909 and was restored in 1911. It was further restored in 1968 and now serves as a museum, art gallery, public space, and houses a research library.

Former Hokkaido Government Building

The riser on the entry steps are exceptionally high, but the stone is gorgeous.  There are air vents that look like chimneys and lightning rods, all parts of Western architecture.  There are around 2.5 million bricks, made in Shiroishi and Toyohiro villages, now part of Sapporo.  The French-style brickwork uses longitudinal and transverse bricks laid alternately.  This is a rather rare form of masonry in Japan.

Sapporo Japan in winter

The entry and main hall are centered around this three section arch. The stairway typifies western architecture.

architecture of Japan*Meiji era architecture

The road leading to the entry was the first paved road in Sapporo. It was laid in 1924 with bricks made of chemically treated elm.

Sapporo Diorama

A map of 1800s Sapporo in the Former Hokkaido Government Building

Sapporo Japan architecture

The grounds are also surrounded by a lovely and rather large park.

Sapporo Clock Tower

Another building from the 1800s is the clock tower. Built in 1878 it is both a historic and cultural symbol of Sapporo.  Originally called the Embujo – military drill hall, it served as that for the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University) the first agricultural institution in Japan.  Invited by the government as the first Agricultural liaison, American Dr. William S. Clark, who at the time was president of the Massachusets Agricultural College came to Sapporo to be the Vice-president of the Sapporo Agricultural College.  Clark designed the curriculum with its military training similar to that of his original school. The clock tower was actually designed by Clark’s successor William Wheeler as a military hall, it was later called the Clock Tower.  It was Governor Kiyotaka Kuroda who actually proposed installing the clock, which was manufactured and purchased from the E. Howard Watch and Clock Company of Boston. This was added in 1881.

This very American, mid-west architecture is now a small museum with an entry fee of ¥200, and well worth the visit.

The clock in the tower was built by E. Howard & Co. from Boston and it is a weight driven clock. That means a large weight, 50kg in this case, is suspended from the clock and descends under the force of gravity at a calculated rate. When the weight reaches the bottom, after about 7 days, it is wound back up by a crank handle. These pictures are a replica of the clock, the workings and the actual weight.

The clock in the tower is a weight-driven clock. That means a large weight, 110 pounds, in this case, is suspended from the clock and descends under the force of gravity at a calculated rate. When the weight reaches the bottom, in about 7 days, it is wound back up by a crank handle. These pictures are a replica of the clock and its workings.

Sapporo Beer Factory

This old brewery building is now just one of 7 buildings that make up the Sapporo Factory Shopping Mall.

At the beginning of the Meiji era, the Japanese government established various businesses in Hokkaido as part of a wider effort to colonize Hokkaido. One of these businesses was the Kaitakushi Brewery. This brewery leveraged Hokkaido’s abundant natural resources, including its cold weather, to produce beer. The first brewery building was made of wood and later enlarged with red brick as the beer became more popular. Even then the beer bore the iconic star mark of Sapporo.

In 1882, the Kaitakushi was abolished due to financial difficulties, and buildings built by the Kaitakushi were liquidated. In January 1886, the Kaitakushi Brewery belonged to the newly established Hokkaidō Prefectural Government. Privatized in 1887, Kaitakushi Brewery was renamed Sapporo Bakushu.

Old Sapporo Kaitakushi Brewery

The wooden floors undulate as the slowly incline.

The wooden floors inside the original brewery building undulate as they slowly incline.

Sapporo Smoke Stack

The Takashiro Nagayama residence is undergoing a complete restoration, so it was not available for viewing during my visit.  However, it is a beautiful blend of Japanese and American architecture.

Nagayama residence sapporo japanBuilt around 1880, this residence was built as the home of the second director of the Hokkaido Agency. The interior of the residence, which is surrounded by a garden full of azalea and Japanese yew trees, combines Western and Japanese architectural styles. A purely Japanese study, for example, connects to a Western drawing room. It is an early example of residences incorporating Western architectural technologies, which became popular during the Hokkaido pioneering period.

Japanese architectureThe two-story building on the north side of the property is a Western building that the Mitsubishi Mining and Cement Co., Ltd. built upon purchasing the residence after Nagayama passed away.

Sapporo has a vast array of lovely modern buildings and public parks, but their historical architecture, while spread throughout the city, is worth pursuing if you are an architecture fan.

Dec 282017
 

December 2017

Sapporo is a very walkable city, and what you will notice is the lack of automobiles, most likely due to its incredible train system, subway system, and underground walkways.

When you visit the Old Hokkaido Government Building there is a map that shows Sapporo in the 1800s, the Toyohira River runs through Sapporo and off of this is a small canal Soseigawa.

When you visit the Old Hokkaido Government Building there is a map that shows Sapporo in the 1800s, the Toyohira River runs through Sapporo and off of this is the small canal Soseigawa.

Sapporo is logically organized thanks to its grid system. The main thoroughfare, Ō-Dōri, meaning “Big Street”, runs east to west across the city and divides the city into North and South, while Sōsei-Gawa “Creation River” divides the city into West and East. Soseigawa is the small canal that runs through the downtown area. While covered in snow in winter, and a little hard to navigate, it is a public park with art during the rest of the year.  You can even see it in the above 1800s map.

One of the lovely bridges that cross the Sosiegawa Canal

One of the lovely bridges that cross the Sosiegawa Canal also called the Sosiegawa River

Sapporo fish market

Walking along the Soseigawa River you will run into the Nijo Market, It is said to have developed in the early Meiji Period when fishermen from Ishikari Bay started selling fresh fish there. There used to be a row of fish markets along the Soseigawa River. Eventually, noodle shops, bars, and grocers moved in creating today’s Nijo Market. Today the market still serves the local population and judging by the number of boxes being wheeled out, the restaurant business as well, but it is also filled with tourists.

Throughout the market are sushi restaurants tucked in small alleys and around corners, or you can grab fresh fish grilled by the sellers right on the sidewalk.

December is prime time for Hokkaido Crab

December is prime time for Hokkaido Crab

Hokkaido Crab

There are a few places selling things other than fish. At today’s exchange rate that ¥5000 is around $45US for just under one pound

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This is nothing like the Tokyo Fish Market, but it is still a fun place to spend an hour or so, and a great place to get a rice bowl topped with the freshest fish.

Fresh uni and oysters were the choice for me this morning.

Fresh uni and oysters were the choices for me this morning. This ran around $24US

Another view of the Sosiegawa River

Another view of the Sosiegawa River

The Japanese are without a doubt some of the most polite people in the world.  Along the sidewalks, you will find these free bags of sand, and everyone helps to spread the sand in the more slippery parts of town.

sand bags in Sapporo Winter

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Horohiro Bridge

Mizuho Ohashi Bridge crossing the Toyohira River

This Ferris Wheel (Nobia) is atop the Nobesa Shopping Mall

This Ferris Wheel (Noria) is atop the Norbesa Shopping Mall

They say if you ride the yellow one all your dreams will come true.

They say if you ride the yellow one all your dreams will come true.

Six U.S. dollars will get you a very, very slow ride on the Noria on the 7th floor of the Norbesa Mall in the Susukino entertainment district of Sapporo.  It is worth it if you love Ferris Wheels, and not for the faint of heart if you have issues with heights.  If you wanted your feet planted firmly, but still want the view, read my post on the TV Tower here.

The Ferris Wheel can be seen for miles in the evening. Changing colors and patterns as it turns.

The Ferris Wheel can be seen for miles in the evening. Changing colors and patterns as it turns.

The mall is more of a giant carnival with games, a bowling alley and restaurants, it all comes alive after the sun goes down, as does the entire Suskino area.

Norbesa Mall, Sapporo

The Suskina Entertainment Area is filled with bars, pachinko palaces, restaurants and even a red-light district

The Suskino Entertainment Area is filled with bars, pachinko palaces, restaurants and even a red-light district

Susukino originated in 1871, when the Hokkaido Kaitakushi designated the area as the red-light district. After the construction of the district, the Kaitakushi named this place as “Susukino Yūkaku” (Susukino red-light district), and integrated other brothels into this district. Today, Susukino is Japan’s largest entertainment district outside of Tokyo. It is packed with stores, bars, restaurants, karaoke shops, pachinko parlors and red light establishments, a great place to wander in the evening.

However, it is also the home of Ramen Yokocho, or Ramen Alley, a very narrow paved lane lined with very tiny shops serving up Sapporo’s famous ramen, so should you be in the area during the day it is a great place to find a bowl of noodles.

The first store in the alley is Aji No Karyo and proudly displays a sign on the window saying Anthony Bourdain ate here.

The first store in the alley is Aji No Karyo and proudly displays a sign on the window saying Anthony Bourdain ate here.

Looking down the small alleyway

Looking down the small alleyway

You can order at the table, or some restaurants allow you to pay and order at the same time via a machine.

A ramen noodle ordering machine

A ramen noodle ordering machine

covered shopping malls in Sapporo

Shopping seems to be the number one past time in Sapporo.  I have never seen so many shopping malls per capita in one city in my life, I honestly think Sapporos shopping malls far outweigh the number in Tokyo, they are both above and below ground, so the numbers of stores are staggering. Most are modern high rises that can go two to five stories below ground and then another 7 above, but every once in a while you trip over an older fashioned covered mall like this one.  These have the types of stores that serve locals, not tourists, but they are a respite from the wind and snow and somewhat fun to explore.

old fashioned store sapporo japan

They even have big dreams – this gentleman brings memories of Paris to his store.

shopping sapporo

One of my favorite things is Matcha Kit-Kats, I was agog to find there are far more flavors than I ever knew. In fact Kit Kat’s are quite the thing in Japan partially because Kit Kat sounds similar to the Japanese phrase kitto kattsu, or “you will surely win.” Because of this it is often given as a good luck gift to students before their university exams. Nestle capitalized on this and the Japanese tradition of omiyage (or the gifting of regional specialties to family and co-workers after trips) and has released over 300 limited-edition seasonal and regional flavors since 2000. The newest is Tokyo Banana as of this posting.

Can your read all the flavors?

Can you read all the flavors? Strawberry, Wasabi, Rum Raisin, Momiji Anju Aji, Red Bean Sandwich and Shinshu Apple.

One of the last items I did was to find a Shinto shrine, it was close to New Years and time to purchase protection amulets.  The lovely Hokkaido Shrine Junga at Marayuma park was too far to navigate in the snow so I found a sweet shrine closer to downtown.

Hokkaido Shrine Tonga at 3 Chome Minami 2 Johigashi, Chuo

The Hokkaido Shrine Tonga at 3 Chome Minami 2 Johigashi, Chuo

They have a small gift shop and they show all of the protection amulets with English translations in case you are interested.  This temple seemed to have a predominance of transportation and auto safety amulets, but there are many others as well.

The washing station was so cold as to be frozen.

The washing station was so cold as to be frozen and not useable.

Ema's on the right Ema (絵馬, lit. "picture-horse") are small wooden plaques, common to Japan, in which Shinto and Buddhist worshippers write prayers or wishes. The ema are left hanging up at the shrine, where the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them

On the right are Emas ( “picture-horse”) these are small wooden plaques, common to Japan, in which Shinto and Buddhist worshippers write prayers or wishes. The ema are left hanging up at the shrine, where the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them.

Dec 262017
 

December 2017

Otaru CanalOtaru is a lovely little town situated on Ishikari Bay of the Sea of Japan. It was an Ainu (native peoples of Hokkaido) settlement, and the name “Otaru” is recognized as being of Ainu origin, possibly meaning “River running through the sandy beach”. Otaru was recognized as a village by the bakufu (The shogun’s officials were collectively the bakufu) in 1865, and in 1880 the first railway line in Hokkaido was opened with daily service between Otaru and Sapporo.

Historic Buildings of Otaru

A former Millet store, this delightful building dates to the Meiji period of Japan. 1909

An Imperial decree in July 1899 established Otaru as an open port for trading with the United States and the UK.

The city flourished with herring fishing and was once the center of the economy of Hokkaido.
Otaru once called “Northern Wall Street was also a central banking and financial center.

architecture of Otaru

Natori Takasaburo a metals merchant and hardware trader from Yamanashi prefecture built this store with attached living quarters in 1906. The exterior walls are made of Sapporo soft stone. This is an excellent example of commercial architecture of the later Meiji period

Otaru is a major station on the JR Hakodate Line, making it very easy to get to from Sapporo. There are at least five trains per hour, a one-way trip is ¥640 and the fastest train takes around 30 minutes.

The canal was completed in 1923 to aid in getting goods, via smaller boats, from the ships to the warehouses that line the canal. It is just a 10-minute walk from Otaru Station.

Otaru architecture in Japan

This building stands in the center of town and was a warehouse for Mukai Kimono Shops branch store. It is one of the few brick warehouses built in Otaru. Because of a large fire that swept through the town in 1904 the building used thick earthen fire doors on the interior of the windows.

the glass of Otaru JapanThe area is also known for its glass blowing so the biggest things to do are shop at the tourist stores along Sakaimachi road and eat fresh fish. You can find fresh fish stores and chose your own or dine in one of the hundreds of restaurants serving fresh sushi. It is crab season in Japan, so fresh crab abounds in all of the restaurants.

You can also find several fish stores throughout town that will grill the fish right there

You can also find several fish stores throughout town that will grill the fish right there

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You can also take boat rides on the canal, sadly the snow and winds were too heavy the day we were there and they were not running.

Otaru River Cruises

Shopping in Otaru

The shops of Sakaimachi Street

There are two quasi covered malls, while not the greatest stores, it does offer a respite from the snow and wind if needed.

There are two quasi-covered malls, while not the greatest stores, it does offer a respite from the snow and wind if needed.

Small sushi restaurants can be found hidden off a side alley from one of the covered malls.

Small sushi restaurants can be found hidden off a side alley from one of the covered malls.

When the sun goes down lights come out on the canal

When the sun goes down, lights come out on the canal

Otaru Japan

If you have the chance to visit in February, don’t miss the snow light festival.

Otaru snow light festival

Dec 252017
 

Christmas Day – 2017

Sapporo Beer

The Sapporo Beer Museum and Bier Garten are a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Sapporo Beer Museum

The factory was built in 1890 as the Sapporo sugar factory and used as the beer malting plant until 1963.  It was turned into the museum and beer garden in 1966.

Sapporo Bier Garten

Registered as one of the Hokkaidō Heritage sites in 2004, the museum is the only beer museum in Japan.

In 1895, Japanese sugar manufacture declined, causing the liquidation of the beet manufacturing factory run by the Sapporo Sugar Company. In 1903, the Sapporo Beer Company purchased and remodeled the factory to use as a brewery.

Sapporo Beer Posters

Beer posters through the ages, notice the predominance of women, and yes, children.

A very good self-guided tour, with English translation cards, is available through the museum.  You can also take a guided tour for a small fee, which includes beer tasting, however, it was not available Christmas day as the tasting room was closed.

Some interesting facts about Sapporo beer:  In 1869, the Meiji government set about developing Hokkaido, establishing a Kaitakushi (the national government Hokkaido Development Commission). One of the businesses established under this commission was the Kaitakushi Brewery.

The following year the  Sapporo Brewery was born. It was originally slated to open in Tokyo, but wild hops were discovered in Hokkaido and the area was found to be highly suitable for both the cultivation of hops and also barley.

The first brewer was a Seibei Nakagawa, a Japanese man that had gone to Germany of his own accord to study beer brewing.

Since Sapporo beer was brewed in the German style, which relies on fermentation and maturing to be done at low temperatures, and since ice was easy to procure in Hokkaido, the area turned out to be ideal for beer production.  Also, at the time they had not developed the ability to fully remove yeast, which would change the taste of the beer if the temperature rose, so the ice was also needed during the transportation of the beer to Tokyo.

In 1937, due to a war economy, all beer production in Japan stopped. At the end of the war, the company was split into Asahi Breweries and  Nippon Breweries (now Sapporo).  The Nippon brand included Yebisu.   However, Nippon did not utilize either of those names in making beer.  In 1956, the unrelenting cries of fans pushed Sapporo Beer to bring back the name, and once again begin making beer in Hokkaido.  The sale of Sapporo Beer did not even go countrywide until 1964.

Labels of Sapporo Beer through the ages

Labels of Sapporo Beer through the ages

Sapporo Beer Museum

The Kaitakushi Brewery was established in the place where now the Sapporo Factory Shopping Mall is in downtown Sapporo. The inauguration was held at the brewery, and beer barrels were piled up in front of the building. These barrels were restored, and now stand in front of the Sapporo Beer Museum

The museum does not take more than a half of an hour, if the tasting room is open it could take longer, but what everyone goes for are the restaurants.

These are packed in the evening, so a leisurely lunch was considerably more inviting. There are five restaurants on the grounds, each with a slight twist on either its decor or its menu offering, but the big thing is that they all offer all you can eat and, should you choose, all you can drink.  The catch on the all you can drink is you have 100 minutes, and, more importantly, it does not include the premium beers.

Sapporo Beer Garden Genghis Khan meal

The reason people go to eat is the Genghis Khan.  You can order it as a meal (shown above) or as part of the all you can eat.  You grill your own strips of lamb and vegetables.

Ghengis Khan dinner Sapporo

As mocking you for improperly cooking your Genghis Kahn is de rigueur, directions are set before you so you are not teased by the table next to you.

fat Genghis Khan Sapporo Japan food

You begin by getting your personal, table-top, griddle covered in fat with the slab of lamb fat that comes with the raw meat and vegetables.

Sapporo Beer Garden Genghis Khan mealNext, you place the vegetables on the edges and the meat in the middle.

Sapporo Beer Garden Restaurants

Cook until the meat is no longer red, and your vegetables to your liking.

Sapporo Beer Garden Restaurants

Kessel Hall, the most fun of the restaurants that are open for lunch, is dominated by a giant Kessel.

In German the word Kessel (literally a cauldron) is commonly used to refer to an encircled military force, and a Kesselschlacht (cauldron battle) refers to a pincer movement. The common tactic which would leave a Kessel is referred to Keil and Kessel (Keil means wedge).

In German the word Kessel means cauldron.

Sapporo Beer Garden and restaurants

Notice the plastic bags next to the diners.  The smoke is so intense in the room when it is full that you, your hair and your clothing go home reeking of Ghengis Khan.  The plastic bags are provided by the restaurant to keep that from happening to anything that you brought in that isn’t attached to your body.

The green and yellow drink at that table are flavored beers, Sapporo also makes several types of soft drinks.

Next to the Sapporo Beer Museum and Garden is a shopping mall with a grocery store that I would pay good money to have in my hometown.  If you have not indulged in entirely too much beer, it is absolutely worth a stroll. There is an ATM, and as those that travel in Japan, know, those are not the easiest to find, so it is a great opportunity to get some cash.

There is a taxi stand at the museum, but it was snowing on Christmas day and cabs in the snow in Japan are as rare as they are anywhere else in the world in the snow.  There is also a cab stand at the shopping mall, and it was frequented often, just a word to the wise.

KANPAI!

screen-shot-2017-12-25-at-7-52-26-pmSo just a small note about Christmas in Japan, known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. In many ways, it resembles Valentine’s Day.

We had a fried chicken dinner because fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for restaurants such as KFC and believe it or not you can put in orders in advance at KFC’s and other fast food restaurants that serve fried chicken. This most likely came about because of a 1974 advertising campaign by KFC called ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’ (Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!) which was very successful and made KFC popular for Christmas.

Meri Kurisumasu

and if you are really challenging me Merry Christmas in Hiragana is: めりーくりすます; and in Katakana is: メリークリスマス.

 

Dec 242017
 

December 24, 2017

It is Christmas in Japan, and Sapporo does it big.  Today we spent the day walking the German Christmas Fair, and yes, all the gifts and food are German.  You go for the lights and the people watching unless of course, you want to take home German gifts from Japan.

Snowman Building

Snowman Building during the day in front of lights that decorate the night.

The market has been held in Sapporo since 2002, when the city celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with its sister city, Munich, Germany. The stalls sell Christmas items, hot wine and cold beer, and German food.  The market is up for one month in Odori Park and ends on Christmas Eve.  Sapporo White Illumination, also in Odori Park, a tradition that began in 1981, is a  Christmas light show that stays up until Christmas day.

There are so many photo opportunities throughout the German Christmas Fair

There are so many photo opportunities throughout the German Christmas Market

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Saint Nick can even be found here and there

Saint Nick can even be found here and there.

There are lots of places to do “selfies” and posed shots, but the best vantage point is the 30th floor of the Sapporo TV Tower.

Sapporo TV Tower

Sapporo TV Tower

While Illumination Sapporo Japan

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Looking down on Odori Park from the observation level of the Sapporo TV Tower

Looking down on Odori Park from the observation level of the Sapporo TV Tower

the Noria Ferris wheel at the Norbesa Center in the Susukino Entertainment district, and ski resorts in the distance from the observation tower

the Noria Ferris wheel at the Norbesa Center in the Susukino Entertainment district, and ski resorts in the distance from the observation tower

To make your visit complete you must go back at night to see all the lights.  Start at the TV Tower Observation deck, this time with a long line of people, and end at Odori W8.

Odori Park at night from the Sapporo TV Tower Observation Deck

Odori Park at night from the Sapporo TV Tower Observation Deck

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The Ferris wheel not only changes colors but also changes patterns making for a wonderful light show from the observation deck.

Christmas in Sapporo Japan

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Christmas Eve in Sapporo Japan

There are decorations of light displays for 8 blocks, all different

There are decorations of light displays for 8 blocks, all different

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Tunnel of Lights

Tunnel of Lights

Sapporo christmas lights

Frozen bananas and marshmallow treats

Frozen bananas and marshmallow treats

There is all sorts of fun shopping both day and night

There is all sorts of fun shopping both day and night

German Christmas Market Sapporo Japan

Hot chocolate, hot wine, cold beer and lots of German food

Hot chocolate, hot wine, cold beer and lots of German food

Only in Japan would there be an entire building to take your dishes after eating.

Only in Japan would there be an entire building to take your dishes after eating.

The kids finished the snow man they were building this afternoon

The kids finished the snowman they were building this afternoon

Children in their Christmas costumes enjoying the Christmas lights

Children in their Christmas costumes enjoying the Christmas lights

The people watching continues throughout the evening

The people watching continues throughout the evening

Ekimae dori is a street off of Odori Park that is lined with trees that are lit up so beautifully.  These are up until February 12th.

Ekimae dori is a street off of Odori Park that is lined with trees that are lit up so beautifully. These are up until February 12th.

Minami 1-jo dori, in front of the JR Tower shopping mall also has a lovely light display as well, and it is up until March 14th

Minami 1-jo dori, in front of the JR Tower shopping mall also has a lovely light display as well, and it is up until March 14th

Walk and you will find spontaneous caroling, what more can you ask at Christmas?

Merry Christmas!