Saturday was our last full day in the snowy north of Hokkaido.
Again, I assumed lemming position and rolled out of bed by the time the ladies had done their lady…ing. Yeah, maybe I should spend more time on my hair or, you know, wear makeup, but I like sleep soooo much more than mascara.
The Powers That Be (Crystal and Charlotte) decided that today was Ramen and Chocolate Day, and so it was. We hopped a train to a place I think was called Ramen Alley — the tip top floor of a huge department store that had a few dozen ramen establishments. They apparently represented ramen from all around Japan, each with distinct flavors and specialties, but, really? I mean, it’s noodles. In a soup. You can’t go wrong, but it’s hardly a diverse cultural experience.
It was still pretty delicious. It wasn’t as great as our first ramen place, though. The place was PACKED with people, and each tiny restaurant seemed to have a different theme. There was a place with a decorative train outside that beeped at 10-minute intervals. There was a rustic log-cabin type. There was one that played an American-sounding brass-band marching song? There was a yelling guy out front of one who I was scared to walk past, for fear that he would grab my shirt collar and forcibly tell me how delicious his Cup-O-Noodles was.
We went for the rustic log cabin. I ordered the spicy ramen and was sad to discover that I could eat it without tears running down my face, which is a failure in the spice category for me. My friends like to laugh when I eat wasabi because you can tell how delicious I think something is by how closely I resemble the “Leave Britney Alone” guy.
…Sorry, the simile well’s a little dry today.
Anyway, it was filling, and we were sufficiently warmed to continue on our way. Our next shop was a famous chocolate manufacturer which had recently been the topic of a country-wide scandal for futzing with the expiration dates on their products or something like that.
But we threw caution to the wind and decided to check out the chocolate factory, even without having Golden Tickets, as Dave reminded us we might need. (Rimshot) We met some other JETs on the train there, which was kind of neat, except that the majority of them had the “my japan” complex. A lot of people throw that term around, but I take it to mean that when you see other foreigners, you immediately look away. I noticed this phenomenon when I first got here, and I thought I’d get over it or adapt, but it just doesn’t sit right with me. I smile at people all the time. Japanese people, old people, cats. I just try to be friendly to anyone who passes and makes eye contact. Yeah, there are a couple places back home where that might get me shanked, but I want to tell the people of Japan, and anyone, really, that, “Hey, here we are both crossing a street, and I’m happy about it. Good day to you!”
But, no, see another foreigner here, and you might be bleeding out your major organs on the floor of the train, but damned if they’ll make eye contact with you. Maybe they think we’ll ask them for directions or something. Surly, surly.
Anyway, luckily one of the girls was friendly and asked if we were JETs and where we were going. We found out they’re from one prefecture over from us, and they were also headed to the chocolate factory. Unfortunately, in the middle of this bonding, Dave threw a “mis-aimed” snowball at Shereena, and it hit one of The Others square in the chest, not unlike John Locke from “Lost” might do to show his disapproval.
It was all in good fun, though, and we had a mini prefecture snowball fight.
The Factory was really cool, and we could smell it from 3 blocks away. There was a boring-ish museum part, followed by a birds-eye view of workers making the candies. I was especially intrigued with a guy whose job it was to throw away misshapen and slightly burned cookies into a huge delicious trashcan. I tried to get video of another Japanese tourist muttering “Dame, dame, dame” (“no good”) with every treat that was thrown away.
After relaxing in the top-floor cafe with some of the sweets, Dave, Crystal, and I went to a special kitchen area and got to make some cookies of our own. We stamped them into little shapes of cherry blossoms, mice, chickens, and all sorts of untraditional cookie shapes, and they were super delicious.
Afterwards, we headed back to the main part of town where the snow and ice sculptures were on display. It was still early, so groups of artists were still putting on the finishing touches. I think it was cool to see them in action. We saw a lot of popular Japanese icons: cartoon characters, political figures, comedians. Dave made friends with the local Japanese around every turn. One even made up a song in the style of a popular Japanese comedian’s song about not being able to speak English to his new friend Dave, but not really caring about it. (Sonna no kankei ne!)
The day before, we’d made an homage to Kevin Lo, who couldn’t join us, in the form of a snowman we named K-Snow. It was perfect and looked just like him, if I do say so myself. At one point, I started up a conversation with him, until I remembered he was a pile of snow. But when we got back to it the next day, not only was he gone, but there was a big footprint in the snow where he had been. Jealous much, Festival Organizers? Or maybe they just don’t like Kevin. Maybe it’s better that he didn’t come…
Finally, exhausted after such a busy vacation, all 6 of us magically agreed that we had had enough with Japanese food and culture, and we were going to an Italian place. After what seemed like hours wandering aimlessly along the streets, we stumbled on a place and ate as fast as we could. I can’t remember who, but one of us joked that they were so hungry, they could probably order a whole second entree. We all kind of laughed and looked around at each other until someone else said, “No, seriously. I’m getting another pizza.” And we all ordered a second huge round of food. We were all so mentally in sync. It was glorious.
The icing on the cake of the last perfect day was when someone casually mentioned Station Square in Pittsburgh, where I used to do stand-up. Like everyone who hears what I used to do, they asked me to recite one of my jokes. Maybe it was the good company, maybe it was the warmth of the inside after trudging around in the snow, maybe (probably) it was the delicious pint of beer I’d just enjoyed, but for the first time since I quit, I told them my old closing joke. And it killed. It brought back all the old feelings I had of making people jerk back with laughter, surprising friends who thought they knew me, but who now seemed to see a side they didn’t know I had. It was great. When I die, I’m going back to that moment on my life’s TiVo. (We get those, right?)
We sauntered back to the hotel, cheery and full, and packed our stuff for our departure in the morning. Although I usually feel like I need a second vacation just to recover from the bustling vacations I have, it’s always worth it when you have an outgoing group of people who just work well together. I hope to have a few more of those before I head back to the states. So, uh, get on that, friends!
Saturday was our last full day in the snowy north of Hokkaido.