Hokkaido is blessed with an abundance of agricultural and fishing prodcts. Its many farms are famous throughout Japan for potatoes, onions, asparagus, melon, rice and more. Its seas are swimming with salmon, squid, scallops, and of course crab. When visiting a department store in Tokyo or Osaka, you might see displays exhibiting local produce from Hokkaido. You might see a lot of customers crowded around those displays, too. Department stores across Japan use food from Hokkaido to attract customers to their store.
Today, I'd like to tell you about the Sapporo Jyogai Ichiba, or Sapporo Street Market.
About a ten minute car ride from the center of the city is the Sapporo City Central Wholesale Market, and next to that the Street Market. The Street Market has about 80 stalls lined up carrying various produce and fresh fish for sale to general consumers. Every day it replenishes its stock from the nearby wholesale market, and every day locals and tourists line up for its great deals.
Looking out over all the delicious items assembled in the market, the crabs immediately draw attention! Swimming along in their tanks, I saw a lot of different kinds of crabs. There were red king crabs, blue king crabs, horsehair crabs, snow crabs, and more, all for sale based on type and weight.
Inside the Street Market there were also several restaurants and sushi shops. Piled high with slices of the freshest raw fish, I had a delicious sashimi rice bowl. This is exactly the kind of taste that you can only get at a market like this!
A mountain of shrimp, salmon, ikura (salmon eggs), sea urchin, and more in my sashimi rice bowl. I had a special large portion of the sea urchin!
The workers inside the market are a lively group, and they're always happy to offer advice to customers on what to buy. It can be fun to try and haggle their prices down, although it's not guaranteed to work!
If you ever have a chance in Sapporo you should definitely make the short trek over to the Sapporo Street Market!
Two big frogs in Sapporo's Odori Park?
Sapporo City Market access
By train:From Odori Station, take the Sapporo Municipal Subway Tozai Line about 9 minutes to Nijuyonken Station, 6 minute walk to the City Market
From Sapporo Station, take the JR Hakodate Main Line or JR Gakuentoshi Line about 2 minutes to Soen Station, 10 minute walk to the City Market
By taxi:From the center of Sapporo, about a 10 minute ride to the City Market
On 3 September 2008 I tried one of our Sunrise Tours for myself, and visited Nikko and Kegon Falls! Leaving from Tokyo, I got to experience all of the natural beauty of Nikko National Park, Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji, and the history of Nikko's Toshogu Shrine. Considering the pickup service, large lunch, and English guide, this was a great deal for only JPY 13,500!
(1) The big green sign is easy to spot!
(2) The Sunrise Tours counter is on the right immediately after heading down the stairs into the bus terminal. Check-in was easy - I just had to say my name!
(3) After checking in I was given my bus ticket and a sticker, and I was handed a JAPANiCAN fan too!
*Pick-up service is also available from 42 different hotels in Tokyo, as well as Tokyo Station. (Pick-up times and details are here)
I always get excited whenever I ride on a big bus! The tour guide cheerfully directed us to our seats.
Using the expressway, it took about three hours to get to Nikko. During the ride, our tour guide explained to us the history and significance of Nikko, and had plenty of pictures for us to see. To give everyone another taste of traditional Japan, she also passed around pictures from her Japanese-style wedding ceremony!
The highlight of every long car trip or bus ride has to be the highway service area! Lunch wasn't until 2:00 p.m., so our guide advised us to grab a quick snack. In Japan, highway service areas are much more than a fast food chain and a gas station quick shop. They showcase local culinary specialties (the soft serve ice cream was very popular!) and craft products (great for souvenirs!) and give everyone a taste of the local culture. We stopped in Sano, Tochigi Prefecture, and even just sitting on the bus I felt refreshed!
The main attraction of our tour was the UNESCO World Heritage Site Toshogu Shrine. Looking at all of the exquisitely ornate carvings, I was amazed to think of all the carpenters, painters, and sculptors who must have gathered at Nikko in the Edo period. The guided tour around the shrine lasted about 30 minutes. Our guide told us the stories behind the Three Wise Monkeys who hear, speak, and see no evil, the five story pagoda, and the Howling Dragon located within the shrine. If you stand underneath the Howling Dragon and clap the wooden paddles together, the reverberations from the floor and ceiling combine into a ringing sound like a bell. I was happy I stayed with the group to learn from our guide!
Unfortunately, the main sacred hall was undergoing renovations, so we were only able to see half of it. But, I did feel lucky to get a chance to see and appreciate the skill of one of the craftsmen applying lacquer to the shrine.
After the main hall we had an hour of free time. According to the guide, there are still many different things to see around Toshogu Shrine. As for me, although it was my third time to Nikko (I've been once before in elementary school, and once with my friends three years ago), I had never seen the famous Nemurineko (Sleeping Cat) carving, so I knew where I was going!
Nestled among peony flowers and dozing away in the warm rays of the sun, the cute little cat carving was inspired by the name "Nikko" which literally means "sunlight." (The shrine complex where the Nemurineko carving is located requires a separate entry fee not included in the tour price, JPY 520.) After passing through Nemurineko's gate and climbing the 200 steps beyond, I reached the mausoleum of the Tokugawa Clan. The remains of Ieyasu Tokugawa, who ushered in the Edo Period of Japan's history, are enshrined here. It was interesting to hear the history of such a great man earlier on the bus, and it made visiting his grave even more meaningful to me.
If you have about 10 minutes left, I definitely recommend Rinnoji Temple, located right next to the bus parking lot!
By the time 2:00 p.m. rolled around I was famished from all of my exploration! We all boarded the bus and went to a restaurant located down the hill. Vegetarian options were available, and our guide took all of our orders before we left the bus. The menu included a dried tofu and vegetable stew, spinach in a sesame dressing, salad, tempura, udon noodles, rice, pickles, and an orange.
After lunch our bus started the climb up Iroha Hill, a mountain road famed for its 48 hairpin curves carved through deep foliage. The twisting roads draw in hordes of leaf-gazers every fall as the entire mountain is consumed with blazing reds and yellows. The name "Iroha" comes from the fact that the number of curves is equal to the number of characters in the Japanese alphabet, each curve named after one character. The equivalent in English would be "ABC Hill." Climbing up the hill, we were all led in a rousing Japanese alphabet sing-along by our tour guide until we reached Lake Chuzenji at the top.
A cool breeze blew across our lofty position as we took in the view of the lake, refreshing us. Everyone did as they pleased during the short 15 minute break at the lake, strolling along the pier, relaxing on the benches, or admiring the beauty of the famously deep lake.
After leaving Lake Chuzenji, we climbed further up Iroha Hill to the most famous of Nikko's 48 waterfalls, Kegon Waterfall. This was the last stop of our tour. Surrounded by expansive nature, my breath was taken away by the power of the waterfall crashing into the pool below.
Leaving Kegon Waterfall, this time we zigzagged down the Iroha Hill road, and then back to Tokyo on the same expressway from the morning. There were two drop-off points, either at Shinjuku Station's West Exit, or Sukiya Bridge in Ginza. Our guide came by and checked with each passenger to make sure they knew how to reach their hotel from the drop-off points, and to chat about what sights they would be seeing the next day. At 7:30 p.m. we reached Shinjuku, and then at 8:00 p.m. Ginza, and our tour was over.
I had a great time talking with travelers from around the world, and with our wonderfully kind guide. I hope you will also take the chance to experience so much history, culture and beauty on our Nikko & Kegon Falls Tour!
I recently took part in the Tokyo Nightlife bus tour, which takes visitors across the famous illuminated Rainbow Bridge and through the dazzling skyscraper districts of Odaiba, Ginza and Roppongi. The tour not only has a professional English-speaking guide showing you around, but also includes hotel drop-off service, four different delicious dinners to choose from, and entry to the Tokyo City View observation deck on top of the Roppongi Hills complex--all for only JPY 6,500! This is really great value, as if you were to try and get all of this separately for yourself, I'm sure it would cost much more.
The meeting time for the tour was at 17:20 at Tokyo's Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, on the first floor of the World Trade Center building. Hamamatsucho is actually extremely conveniently located, being only 20 minutes from Haneda Airport by monorail and 10 minutes from Tokyo Station on the Yamanote Line.
Upon arrival, I was given a sticker and a ticket with my seat number on it, and then I got on the bus.
Having left Hamamatsucho, we were taken first to have dinner.
Dinner was served at Sanjusangendo restaurant, which is located on the 22nd floor of the Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel. The restaurant itself has a commanding view over beautiful Tokyo Bay. We were able to choose between four meals, made using seasonal ingredients: sukiyaki, tempura, sashimi and a vegetarian option (udon noodles). Meals came with orange juice, oolong tea or umeshu (plum liqueur) to drink. The portions were big and the food tasted great!
After dinner, we headed to a place in Odaiba, from which we could see Tokyo's Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower. Our tour guide joked that from here one could take in New York (Statue of Liberty), San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge) and Paris (Eiffel Tower) in one unbroken view.
After 30 minutes of free time, we had a group photo taken.
Leaving from Odaiba, we crossed over Rainbow Bridge. Crossing the bridge, we could look out over Odaiba and the pleasure boats cruising Tokyo Bay. The bus then took us via the famous areas of Akasaka and Ginza to Roppongi. Seeing the bright lights of the glitzy area of Ginza by night was a real treat. Upon arriving at Roppongi Hills, one of Tokyo's main attractions, I first went to take a look around the lovely Japanese-style Mori Garden. After this, I headed to the part of the tour I had really been looking forward to: the observation deck on the 52nd floor. The night view of Tokyo from 250 m above street level was quite simply superb. It'd be great to come back and spend some time at the Mori Art Gallery, which is located on the same floor.
Having left Roppongi Hills, we were back where we started, Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, in what seemed the blink of an eye. Guests staying at one of Tokyo's main hotels were taken directly back to their door with the extremely convenient included drop-off service.Check to see if your hotel has a drop-off service!
With JAPANiCAN.com, you can book this tour until two days prior to the desired date. These tours are not designed just for groups; they are perfect for solo visitors, such as business travelers, too.
Since April 2008, the Tokyo Shitamachi Bus has connected many popular sightseeing locations in the eastern Tokyo area. Starting at Tokyo Station, the bus makes stops in Akihabara, Ueno, Asakusa, and more on its way to Ryogoku. Guides are available in English, Korean, and Chinese, so be sure to try the Tokyo Shitamachi Bus when you visit Tokyo!
As a part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Toei transportation network, the fare is equivalent to other bus lines: JPY 200. All-day passes that can also be used on other bus and subway lines can be purchased for JPY 700, a great value for the money!
One-day Economy Pass (Ichinichi Josha Ken) for Toei Streetcars, Toei Buses and Toei Subway Lines
The bus starts at Tokyo Station. Be careful, as it leaves from the Marunouchi Exit on the opposite side of the station, not the Yaesu Exit next to the Shinkansen tracks. Did you know that the Yaesu Exit was actually named after a Dutch sailor? Jan Joosten van Loodensteijn (1556? - 1623) was trusted by the Shogunate Ieyasu Tokugawa to live in old Edo at a time when foreigners were forbidden from entering Japan. Loodensteijn's estate came to be known by a contracted pronunciation of his first name, Yaesu.
Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit
On the other side of Tokyo Station, the Marunouchi Exit is contained in a historical red brick building. At the time it was originally built in 1914, it featured a rounded dome in an appropriately elegant style as the Central Station for the capital of Tokyo. However, in 1945 the building's dome and interior were destroyed in American air raids. Two years later, it was rebuilt, replacing the round dome with the current building's angular roof. The red bricks of Tokyo Station hold a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people, and as such in 2003 the building was named an Important Cultural Property.
Currently, restoration efforts are being undertaken to restore the building's original rounded dome, but it seems a bit sad to me to lose the 60 years of history of the current configuration.
Tokyo Station's Marunouchi Side
The Tokyo Shitamachi Bus leaves from Bus Stop Number 1, in front of the Marunouchi OAZO building at the Marunouchi North Exit. OAZO stands for "Office & Amenity Zone," and contains many offices, hotels, and other facilities.
The bus leaves every 30 minutes at the top of the hour and at half past every hour, making it easy to remember its schedule. With its unique shape it's easy to spot the Shitamachi Bus, but double check by making sure you board a bus on Route S-1.
The Tokyo Shitamachi Bus, arriving at Marunouchi
There were less seats than I expected and, due to the popularity of the bus, seats can fill up fast, especially on weekends, so I recommend arriving at the bus stop early.
Inside the bus are screens welcoming passengers to the bus and detailing the area around the next stop, including sightseeing opportunities.
After leaving Tokyo Station and passing under the tracks, the bus headed east. Shortly after turning left, it passed through the Nihombashi area.
Although it literally means "Japan Bridge," Nihombashi was originally conceptualized by Ieyasu Tokugawa as the origin of all roads connecting Edo with the rest of Japan. Thus, it was considered the center of Edo, and even today seven national highways originate there.
Unfortunately, in its current state the expressway built over Nihombashi obstructs the view of the sky over the center of Tokyo.
Nihombashi and overlying expressway
The Nihombashi area has always been home to many merchants. After crossing the bridge, I saw the Mitsukoshi department store on the right side of the bus.
Mitsukoshi was founded in 1673 and grew quickly thanks to its new business practices, like paying at the counter and fixed prices. Today it is still one of the largest department stores in Japan.
The next stop for the Shitamachi Bus was Akihabara!
From its beginnings as a collection of radio parts stores, expanding to Tokyo's electronics mecca, Akihabara is now famous worldwide as the center of Japan's otaku pop culture. As you might expect, there were many foreigners and Japanese enjoying Akihabara.
On its path north from Tokyo Station, the bus next entered Ueno.
As the terminal for JR lines reaching out into Japan's northeast regions, the Ueno area has hosted the hopes and dreams of all those coming and going from Tokyo to Japan's scenic Tohoku region. However, since the Shinkansen service now starts at Tokyo instead of Ueno, it's a little sad to see Ueno Station lose some of its prestige.
West of Ueno station lies "Mt. Ueno," an area always full with people visiting the many museums and Ueno Zoo on the weekends. It's also a famous cherry blossom viewing site in spring.
Right next to the Kakuyabashi bus stop is Kappabashi Kitchen Town, an area famous for selling all manner of cooking utensils and appliances. Of particular interest are the many stores that make and sell the plastic display food used in restaurants across the country. They might be plastic, but the detail and skill put into the sushi, soba, and more is enough to make your mouth water!
The bus finally arrived at Asakusa.
In front of the bus stop is Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) famous for its giant red lantern.
After walking through the many vendors and customers crowding Nakamise Street, where many popular traditional Japanese items and souvenirs are sold, I saw Hozomon, the second large gate of Asakusa. Originally built in 942, after several fires the gate was rebuilt in 1649. Unfortunately the gate once again burned down during World War II. Recently, repairs to the roof replaced its ceramic tiles with titanium. State of the art techniques were used to recreate the beautiful curves of the original tiles in light and durable titanium.
Take a second to admire the roof of the gate. Can you tell that it's actually made of metal?
The titanium-roofed Hozomon
For this trip, I stopped my ride on the Tokyo Shitamachi Bus at Asakusa. Next time I get to ride this bus I'll write about Ryogoku, the last stop on the route!
Earlier I wrote about the origin of the "maneki neko" legend at Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya, Tokyo. However, there is actually another place that also claims to be the birthplace of the famous "lucky cats."
About a 10 minute walk from Asakusa's Sensoji Temple lies Imado Shrine, built in 1063. Although it has all the respect and stature of a shrine with over 900 years of history, these days it is famous for a different reason. Its popularity has skyrocketed with couples and hopefuls looking to pray to the god of love enshrined within.
At the entrance to the shrine, I immediately spotted a friendly pair of maneki neko on a sign underneath the large torii gate. Looking closer, the cat on the left had black spots. He appeared to be a male, and his partner was female. These cats are the mascots of the Imado Shrine.
Although the grounds of the shrine aren't that big, it has a friendly atmosphere, being in the middle of a residential area. Removed from any high traffic roads, it's also very quiet and peaceful.
As I walked closer to the elegant main building of the shrine, I noticed two larger lucky cats. Once again, the male on the left had black spots, and both cats were raising their right paw high, beckoning to me.
The shrine offers small ceramic figurines of the two cats said to bring good luck in love, called Imado-yaki, for a small donation (as a Shinto shrine, this isn't considered a business transaction). Unfortunately, the extreme popularity of the cats after being featured on TV and more means that those seeking true love have to order two or three months in advance from the single maker of the cats.
Those couples lucky enough to actually find love thanks to the powers of the shrine often come back to give their thanks to the maneki neko by returning the cats. I snuck a peek, and I saw many beckoning cats that had been offered to the shrine. The size of the figures was a lot smaller than I expected, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Were all of these cats left by happy couples?
I couldn't buy a maneki neko, so I decided to draw an omikuji fortune instead. Omikuji are fortunes written on small pieces of paper that forecast your luck in the future. There is a box containing omikuji at most shrines and temples. At Imado Shrine, the fortunes of course come with a small lucky cat. There are six different cute cats available, and they would make a great souvenir!
Compare the cat's size to a pen
As part of my first week working at JAPANiCAN, I was sent on the Sunrise Tours "Panoramic Tokyo" one-day excursion through some of Tokyo's most popular sightseeing spots. Tough job, but someone's got to do it, right? For two years I've lived in the quiet countryside of Ibaraki Prefecture, but the neon-lined alleys and megalithic skyscrapers of Japan's metropolis have drawn me in, and now I find myself a newcomer to Tokyo. So, of course I jumped at the chance to learn about the history and culture of my new home!
Waking up bright and early to get to JR Hamamatsucho Station at 8:45 am (earlier than going to the office!), I found the Sunrise Tours counter pretty easily. Mai, our tour guide, introduced herself to the 20 or so assembled travelers, and we were off! The first stop was Meiji Jingu Shrine. The clean, simple architecture of the Shinto shrine, compared to the more colorful Buddhist temples, was a quiet, peaceful way to start the day. Mai explained to everyone how to properly cleanse your hands, enter the temple grounds, and make an offering, a procedure that can be a bit daunting for first-timers. Everyone on the tour got into the spirit and tossed in a coin or two into the collection box before asking the gods to listen to them for a brief moment. We had to be careful not to throw in a 500 yen coin by accident!
Later in the day, after marveling over samurai statues, towering government offices, Imperial stomping grounds, and more, I began to appreciate the benefits of having a chartered bus take you across town as we headed towards Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Instead of slugging it out through all the train platforms and transfers myself, I let Mai and the driver handle things. Tokyo is a wonderfully convenient city with public transportation reaching out to basically every place you could possibly want, but by leaving the transportation worries to the professionals I was much more refreshed to explore once we arrived at our destination. Sensoji Temple and the surrounding area in Asakusa was one place I think every visitor to Tokyo should put on their to-do list. Visiting Sensoji and Meiji Jingu in the same day was a good way to illustrate the differences in Japan's two primary religions. Sensoji, a Buddhist temple, was full of bright red lanterns, menacing guardian statues, and many, many tourists. I understand now why Asakusa was once the entertainment capital of Tokyo.
After weaving through the bustling crowds at the souvenir shops in Asakusa's Nakamise Street, I was ready to relax a bit, and luckily lunch and the Tokyo Bay Cruise gave me a great opportunity to do that. I chatted with the other the travelers who had come from Europe, Australia, America and Asia. Everyone seemed to enjoy the breeze and the sights of the Rainbow Bridge and the ultramodern architecture of Odaiba moving past our boat.
Getting off at Odaiba, we had some time to walk around and explore the Fuji Television building, which immediately attracts attention with its crisscrossing walkways and pillars, and giant spherical observatory area. But all too soon it was time for the tour to finish, and we boarded the bus back to the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal. Concluding the tour, I took advantage of the drop off service, boarding a separate bus which made record time back to Shinjuku. Since I'd been riding instead of walking all day, I was ready to continue my Friday night at some of Shinjuku's bars and clubs!