After breakfast, we travelled to Asahikawa to check out the Asahiyama Dobutsuen (Asahiyama Zoo). This zoo is not big like most zoos but they have created quarters in which the animals can "enjoy" being in--they try to make it as natural as possible for the animal. When word got out about this, their popularity took off. When we got there at 10:30, it was -8C(17F) and there were already many bus loads of people there. Many were lined up to see the penguin parade at 11:00.
Instead of standing in the cold to wait for the penguins, Satoshi and I visited the different areas. We were able to see many animals like the polar bear, tiger, lynx, lion and seals. After the penguins returned from their parade, we were also able to see them. I think Satoshi was most intrigued with the wolves. They were howling and it was the first time for him to see/hear this. I told him when we were growing up, many dogs in our neighborhood would howl similar to this.
We then went to the Asahikawa Ramen Mura to have lunch. As ramen in different parts of Japan have different types of broth, Asahikawa ramen's broth is commonly shoyu-based. This place is actually a community of ramen shops. You choose the ramen shop you want to eat at and go in to have your ramen. We chose Aoba, which has been serving ramen in Asahikawa for over 60 years. The broth was quite heavy tasting but it was a nice way to warm up after walking in the cold.
From Asahikawa, we went to Sapporo to the Yukimatsuri (Ice Festival). This year was the 60th anniversary for the event. My parents and many people I know from Hawaii have gone to this festival over the years. I've always wanted to go but this was the first time Satoshi was able to get away from work.
The weather was forecasted for snow and snow it did, non-stop....boy, was it hard to walk in...We didn't have proper shoes. Skechers and Nikes are definitely not shoes to walk in the snow. I was constantly nervous about falling down, luckily I would just slide a bit and catch myself. Satoshi on the other hand actually went sliding like a surfer for several feet, not by choice though. A lot of people had those stoppers/cleats that you can attach to your shoes, but I saw a lot of these people falling down with them on.
The sculptures were beautiful and huge! several stories high. 12 big blocks of sculptures, they were all amazing. We had been looking forward to eating dinner at a noted izakaya (Japanese pub), but when we called they were booked until 23:00, so we ran into the first place we saw...a soup curry shop called Garaku. A couple of years back, soup curry was the craze. It is still quite popular and was a great way to warm up. I had their 15 vegetable curry (it really had 15, I counted) 950 yen (about US$9.50). Satoshi had their lobster seafood curry 1250 yen (about US$12.50) (it had a whole lobster head used to take the stock) as well as a lot of different seafood. This shop was good in that you could choose the amount of rice and amount of spiciness from 1 to 10. I chose #2 and Satoshi chose #3 but we think they got it mixed up because Satoshi said his curry wasn't spicy at all and mine was quite spicy. It was a great dinner though.
After warming up, we walked a couple blocks down to the Susukino area to check out their ice carvings, then made our way back up to the television tower. This tower isn't as tall as the Tokyo Tower (I think) but the line to get up to the observation deck was long. You can see the whole length of the Ice Festival from here. We waited a half hour to get to the observation deck and another half hour to get back down.
It was a long day, lots of snow, lots of adventure.
inside Asahikawa Ramen Mura
Soup Curry & Bar Garaku
2-7 Minami 3 Jo Nishi, Kushidori 2F