Thursday, October 17, 2013

Delightful Odori Park (札幌市大通公園)


Sapporo's Odori Park (Odori Kouen) *Map Link Here

(BGM: m-flo "Come Again" )

A moody late September's evening in Odori Park

Sapporo City Archive Museum
Japan is blessed with thousands of parks, but Odori Park (大通り公園)for me will always be the the one with the most soul. Splitting the city of Sapporo in two like a decisive giant cleaver, Odori Park is the meeting place, the chill zone and the undeniable aorta of the city's infrastructure. Sapporo is perhaps the easiest city in Japan for a foreigner to navigate, having been designed using a grid pattern rather than the chaotic, labyrinthine style of other Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka. (A comprehensive street-by-street guide of the park can be found here.) It was quite appropriate for my friends to show me this park first, so I could orient myself easily in my first days here. I had the rare pleasure of reveling in the beauty and endless variety of Odori's seasonal wardrobe over the span of a full year as she strutted stunning visions of vividly cheerful flowers, twinkling lights and shimmering sculptures.
Sapporo Terebi Tou (TV Tower)

Smiles as great as the food!
From that very first late September day, I quickly made a very satisfying routine of buying a crunchy, juicy cob of salt-grilled corn from the motherly-sweet toukibi vendor, meandering up and down the course from the romantic Sapporo City Archive Museum (built in 1928) with its pseudo-European design and sweet-smelling rose garden to the inspiring TV Tower at the opposite end of the park on 1-chome street. Odori Park is the perfect place to get your exercise while just enjoying the lulling rhythms of life in all its variety and color.

I would come out here to do homework, make private phone calls, drink in the scent of roses and watch the strawberry soda-colored sunsets until the mosquitoes came out to chase me away. In autumn, the park is awash in lavish golds and reds, the leaves of gingko and Japanese maple trees fluttering like tiny fans. Sometimes, the annual Chrysanthemum Festival is held here, where professionals and amateurs alike prune and pluck their prize giant chrysanthemums for the judges, training each petal with special tools to bring out their classic firework shape. But all year round, the cornucopia of Odori Park's ever changing flower-scape is a feast for the eyes.

The Chrysanthemum's toothy grin
 The name Odori can literally be translated to mean "large street." But in Japanese, it also sounds like the words for "big dance." Every June, Odori Park holds Hokkaido's largest dance festival called Soran Yosakoi Matsuri, where teams from across Japan (and now all over the world), gather to compete with their own interpretations of the yosakoi soran bushi dance. The dance motions are based on traditional fishing movements like pitching fish and hauling in heavy nets. The festival with its nationally-televised climactic parade is ear-shatteringly loud, crowded and vibrant. You can feel the pulsating rhyths taking over your own heartbeat with every snap of the dancers' wooden naruko clappers and droning bass from the sub-woofer speakers resting on the many stages erected down the center of the entire park. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly joyful. (Wearing earplugs to this event is highly recommended!) 

"A dokasho dokasho! A soran soran! A dokasho dokasho!" 

A Kirin stout and pad thai noodles! 
Around the time of the Yosakoi Dance Festival, the park springs to life with the cooling sounds of clinking "joki" beer glasses and sizzling sausages as the major beer companies in the area sponsor the annual "Sapporo Summer Beer Festival," an event that draws tens of thousands of beer lovers every year. Traditionally, "beer gardens" are little more than a makeshift string of glowing lanterns decorating the rooftop or balcony of some building, where office workers can escape the summer heat and share a tall, cool one with their friends. Sapporo's Odori Park, with its patches of soft grass and inviting fountains, makes the perfect backdrop for getting wasted with 13,000 of your buddies. I had a great time by myself just enjoying the ambiance, the bitter nuttiness of my thick-headed stout and the old 1950's rock-and-roll flowing in from one of the beer vendors. And boy, was I ever thrilled to enjoy one of my all-time favorite Thai pan-fried noodles while at it! Score another one for Sapporo!

Winter brings with it the delights of light-play upon gossamer sheathes of snow and ice. In chilly November, just after the snow starts flying, Odori Park comes to life with sparkling Christmas trees and light sculptures in the shapes of Hokkaido's official flowers, lilac and lily of the valley, at the Sapporo White Illumination. Best to come out here with a friend or significant other, however, as the sight of hundreds of young couples in love strolling hand-in-hand can otherwise cause severe depression for the single. You can see more of my photos of Sapporo White Illumination here).

Terebi Tou with Tree Thingie
I'm pretty sure this didn't win anything.
 And just when you think the park is done partying, Sapporo (and the late winter sun) literally "brings down the house" with the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival), where ice and snow carvers from around the globe compete in a cutthroat competition to chip and shape the biggest, most detailed snow and ice sculptures before Mother Nature's fickle heat waves send them crashing down. (More on my day at this world-famous event here). It's not the easiest event to enjoy on foot. People slip and slide, twisting ankles and bruising funny bones from sunrise to sunset, sloshing wetly through puddles of ice soiled by gritty car pollution. But for the chance to appear on Sapporo's local UHB TV and to see some amazing (and not-so-amazing) snow art, it's worth a little pain and humiliation. (Shoes with cleats can be easily secured for cheap at nearby Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade should you be the type who likes to save yourself any unnecessary pain).

Odori Park has so many delightful events, colors and tastes to enjoy throughout the season that there's always something to look forward to, whether it be a spontaneous flea market, a music festival, or a celebration party after a victorious game at Sapporo Dome. Some events grace the park on an annual basis as weather allows. Other events come and go. (Here is a month-by-month listing of events around Sapporo). But for me, Odori Park never disappoints. I'm pretty sure that if I ever get the chance to return to Hokkaido, right after leaving Sapporo Station, instead of making a beeline for my hotel, this is the first place I will go to stop, savor the welcoming scent of roses, chow on an ear of juicy sweet soy-sauce corn, and feel my heart resonate with the soul of Sapporo once again.

Copyright 2013 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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