40 days, 40 nights

“There is no mountain high enough in all the world to see the whole world.”

I’ve been here in Sapporo the same amount of time Jesus spent in the desert. This has made me think, not that I am jesus in any way. But I guess I can feel the struggles he’s gone trough when he was put in a strange and desolate place.

My stay in Sapporo has been long enough for me to be comfortable enough to form a solid opinion of everything thats happened. I knew that the region was going to be cold, but I never expected it to as cold as it was. The amount of snow on the streets, all the buildings covered in snow. Everything, absolutely everything was white, like a blanked, but rather than keeping warm it kept cold.

Luckily, these past few days it has been getting warmer. It wasn’t until this week that I could finally see the street that hid under the layers of snow. In fact, its been so good. I’ve managed to fix the tire of the bicycle and gone for a ride. While cycling I was every now and then reminded of home.

Many of the places I’ve been to look oddly sad without all the snow. I guess it has to do with the fact that spring hasn’t yet arrived fully. According to the landlady it won’t happen until the end of April or May. Through my mind all I could think of was that we’re in a period of limbo. Where nothing is dead nor alive, very much a Schrödinger’s paradox. A sense of uncertainty stuck with me…

The Colourless Izakaya

“If you remember me, then I don’t care if everyone else forgets.”
2016-03-13 20.46.16

Eating and drinking out in Japan can be an interesting experience. Back in the Netherlands, when the weather allows us to, we go out terrassen. Well, in Japan people got to a typical Japanese bar/pub/restaurant. It actually cannot be described in any way other than the term they themselves use, an Izakaya. Maybe the closest term I can think of to use would be a tavern. Imagine Mos Eisley’s cantina but with a Japanese aesthetic rather than a Tunisian one.
It took us a while to find the place. Everything here seems to be hidden, you can only find it if you know about it. Most of the building look like residences but they are not. They all have multiple floors with each one dedicated to a restaurant or bar. It probably takes more time than I have to truly experience all of them. Luckily , I’m joined by two experts who now the city of Sapporo inside out.

We, Collin and I, went with our two ro
ommates, Alex and Abner (Abunai aka dangerous) and two other persons (our two experts) who help us out on Saturdays, Masa and Motoki. This was the fourth time we went out for dinner the six of us. Unlike the other Saturdays this time we did not want to spend that much money. So, Masa and Motoki brought us to this particular izakaya. Judging from our previous dinners, we did not hesitate when they said they know the best place, price wise.

As we had expected from our guides, the food was great, much better than I had personally expected. We stayed at the place for a few hours, just talking, eating and drinking. That night I had the opportunity to talk to one to he guys, Masa. We started out talking about movies and books. But then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

We were discussing our favourite authors when I mentioned that mine was a Japanese writer, he was curious. The moment I said it was Murakami Haruki, he just laughed. His reaction left me in shock. Was he laughing at me, did he agree with me. I could not read him at that exact moment. No more than 10 seconds later, he said: “I know Haruki-San.” Of course I thought, he is a very popular writer. He replied by saying: “No, I’ve met him. One of my friends is in his circle of friends and introduced me to him.” I was speechless… That literally made my night. It is such a simple thing, I don;t know him or never will probably but here I am in the presence of somebody who has. After that we talked for a while about other writers. Just before leaving I asked him what he still remembers about him, Murakami. Masa thought about it for a while. “I once asked him for advice about women. Haruki-San then told me: My friend, if you really want to hold on to someone you love. Tell her she is beautiful every day. Don’t ever let her forget that your care about her.”

Apotheosis

“I am not a man of words. But I respect the power of words, for that is what transformed me. I understood them, and they changed me.”2016-03-09 14.56.18

As I was sitting in the subway I was wondering what today was going to look like. My classmate and two roommates found a meet up for foreigners in Sapporo. We had decided to go there to meet new people. Once the the P.A. announced we had arrived at Odori Station we got off the subway.

Odori station is one of the biggest stations in the city, second to the main station. What makes Odori so famous are the underground ‘cities’ that are located near it, Aurora Town & Pole Town. Calling them cities is a bit too much. It’s basically various long interconnected corridors that are parallel with the streets above. There’s a huge variety of clothing stores, small ramen places, cafes, little stands with local goods and an avenue dedicated to art.

Halfway through Pole Town we turn to the exit on the west, up to Tanukikoji. The famous shopping arcade, known for the plethora of shops that covers over eight city blocks (approximately 1km). The meet up was somewhere between Nishi-chome 2/3, between the second and third block. It said on the website that it was between a parking building and a ramen place. It took us much longer to find than we expected, but when we did, we had passed it twice already.

Once we found the building we went in. Upon entering we were met by a large staircase. The walls were covered in black paint, with no posters or decorations, which I found particularly odd. This was a tell tale sign of what was to come. At the top of the stair case the host greeted us and we entered the auditorium.

To the left a bar was located with someone serving drinks, however, what kind of drinks they were serving was unknown to me. To the right chairs were arranged in rows facing the podium. On the podium there were a drum set, two guitars, a bass and a keyboard that appeared to be left behind, maybe from the previous event that took place? The persons present were mostly foreigners, which makes sense. Hence the foreigners meet up.

After taking a seat we were asked to make introductions. Saying our name, age and occupation. Once you had spoken the person in front of you asked a question, any question that came to mind. The Q&A session served to briefly introduce the meet-up. We met different people of multiple nationalities. This lasted no more than five minutes. Afterwards we had to make two rows of chairs facing each other, speed dating style. For this part we had to recommend a place we like in Sapporo that we would suggest to someone else.

Things quickly changed for us then. What looked like a simple meet up with other foreigners quickly turned into something else. It was a religious meet up. We had walked right into a Christian group looking for new members.

The conversation about recommendations was interrupted after only two turns. The aula was rearranged, some of the people that were talking walked over to the podium and started tuning the instruments. Then the host appeared and told us that they were a Christian group and that it was now time for ‘mass’. To be honest, it wasn’t a regular mass. It was basically them sinning pop rock with religious lyrics, in both Japanese and English.

As to not seem impolite or rude, we stayed for a while, but after two songs it became too much. I had never felt so out of place in my life. I didn’t expect the day to end up like it did. Luckily, we were told to go to a great curry shop, where my friends and I had the best curry in our lives. We can thank God, literally, for the curry shop recommendation.

Kotobuki [寿]

2016-02-25 12.45.14‘The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.’

Near the local fish market you will find a building of not more than two floors. Inside the building multiple small pubs and coffee houses are located. Each place seemed to be rectangular shaped measuring about 6X2,5m. What the venues lack in space is made up by the overall atmosphere each place gives off. Particularly the first coffee house you find at the entrance, just before going up the staircase.

Originally, the idea was going to one of the smaller pubs, have a drink, read a book, and if I was lucky, chill out for a bit. But as chances would have it none of the pubs were open. Most pubs do not open until 17:00. Unlike back home where you can, in theory, start early. Either way, most of the pubs did not seem to be of my liking, the majority of them were sport themed, each locale specialising in football, baseball or rugby. On my way down I saw the little coffee shop again.

Upon entering I immediately felt at home. There are times in your life when all the pieces just fall right in place. The instance I put a foot inside, I knew this was one of those moments. Soft jazz was playing and the whole venue smelled like fresh coffee and cigarettes. Behind the counter the barrista was preparing a costumers drink.

I grabbed my book, ordered some coffee and started reading. But I got distracted. The care that goes into making a single cup of coffee was hypnotic. As is expected by Japanese standards every single act carries a certain craftsmanship. It’s a way of life. Even the smallest thing is given a 100% of attention. This search for perfection in the most mundane of things is inspiring.

Once I finished my cup of coffee I lingered for a while at the coffee house. I looked outside to see if the snow had cleared up. The bicycle that was outside was now completely covered in snow. I remember it only being half covered when I entered for a coffee. Before asking for the bill and paying it, I finished listening to the song that was playing.

On my way out I looked back and thought to myself that this coffee house most definitely deserved a second visit. Just before crossing the street I checked the name of the place again, Kotobuki. The barrista told me what it meant: “Long life.”