Friday, February 17, 2012

My Favorite Part of Sapporo

The second week of February, Sapporo, Hokkaido, hosts an international snow sculpture competition as a part of their Snow Festival. In addition to sculptures, there are performers, food stalls, and parties. In other words, there's something for everyone. This festival is one of the reasons why I came to Japan in the first place over a year ago.

But I have a confession: the festival wasn't my favorite part of Sapporo.

Aizu Tsuruga Castle

Don't get me wrong--they were just as awesome and breathtaking as I had hoped.


The true stars of the festival were the sponsored sculptures. Unlike the ones that were competing which were of a much more reasonable size, the sponsored sculptures were absolutely stunning. It's not just due to their attention to detail either. The sheer magnitude and size of them is not something that can easily be captured on picture--some even towered over nearby buildings!

The Taj Mahal out of snow

But again I must emphasize, they weren't my favorite part.

Sorry, no picture of the slopes (too cold, try around 5°F/0°C), so only the aftermath...

It also wasn't traveling to nearby Niseko, arguably the snowboarding capital of Japan. I'm not a snowboarder by any means, but even I as a beginner could appreciate the heaps of powder on Hirafu. And the open-air onsen right after finishing? You know how much I'm a sucker for onsens (why I love onsens), but even this much deserved and best onsen of my life wasn't my favorite part of this trip.

Of course... bragging about ramen on Twitter is just as important as eating it. #OnlyInJapan

It wasn't even the ramen (my love of ramen). Sapporo is famous for it's Butter Corn Ramen. Rightfully so--it is fantastic. We even had it twice while there. Once at Tokeidai, a Hokkaido-only chain that started in the heart of Sapporo (next to 札幌時計台, Sapporo's Clock Tower, which is rated one of the top 3 most disappointing attractions in all of Japan). The second time was at ラーメン横丁, or Ramen Alley, a narrow street lined with small shops all specializing in their own version of Sapporo's finest (as featured on No Reservations, as well as many other travel shows).

Yet, this was still not my favorite part of Sapporo.

Damn, that's (a) sexy (beer)...

My absolute favorite part of Sapporo was Sapporo. The beer, that is. And to be clear, this isn't your normal Sapporo.

Let me explain.

Japan is into making various products limited edition, whether for a limited time or within a specific area. Limited edition America Burgers at McDonalds, seasonal Kit Kats, and guide books telling you were to find the local 名物 (specialties) are just a few of many examples of this "limited edition" craze that Japanese consumers go crazy for.

Sapporo has their own version of this.

Sapporo Beer Museum. 500 yen. 3 Beers. 10 minutes until closing. No problem.

You may know Sapporo Draft as one of the big 3 beers from Japan (Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo). What you probably have never heard of is its sexy and mysterious sister, Sapporo Classic. The Sapporo brewery produces this golden elixir in addition to their normal domestic and international brew. Except this version, you can only find in Sapporo.

飲み食べ放題 madness at the Sapporo Beer Garden

The thing is, though, the beer itself is not what I loved the most about Sapporo. It's not about taste. (Though at the beer museum, there is a ジンギスカン or loosely translated Ghengis Khan Barbecue, which is an all-you-can-eat lamb-fest that paired with the beer, is simply bliss.)

No, my favorite part of Sapporo is an idea: loyalty. It's about how loyal Sapporo-ites are to their namesake. They only serve Sapporo at most establishments. Even in such a short time, we grew to expect it everywhere we went. It got to the point where we were confused and even a bit irked when we went to a club and they only served Asahi Draft. (Though should've known with a name like 'Booty'...)

To be a Sapporo-drinker isn't an exclusive club either... We were taken by a friend of a friend to a 390 yen bar with karaoke. That's not 390 yen a beer--I mean 390 yen for 30 minutes of 飲み放題 or all-you-can-drink. It's an every-man beer.

I swear this post is not sponsored by Sapporo.
(Though @Sapporo, if you need a spokesperson, my contacts are to the right...)

It could end there, but this loyalty goes both ways--in return, Sapporo takes care of its customers and its city by providing them with a beer exclusively for them. It's not just any old beer either. I'd argue that this is better than their more popular, Sapporo Draft. Although they could easily distribute, sell, and market this beer throughout Japan and the rest of the world, they've chosen to keep it only for their most loyal customers: those in Sapporo.

Found in any convenience store for the same price as a normal beer--assuming you find yourself in Sapporo

So cheers to you Sapporo. Not only do you have an exceptional Snow Festival, located next to some phenomenal slopes and onsens, and serve as a foodie's paradise, you have unlimited, exclusive access to an amazing brew.

And though I may be jealous, I wouldn't have it any other way.


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