We docked in Otaru, another small fishing port. As the crew tied us up, a flea market came to life on shore. Tents, tables, and a sound stage took root before our eyes and crowds of locals gathered to shop, eat, and enjoy. We examined the items for sale through our binoculars and could see there wasn’t much for sale for the likes of us. This was a local soiree. Across the street we could see a long line of our fellow passengers forming, waiting to take the free shuttle into town.
But we decided to take a longer ride to Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido. The guide handed out maps where she had marked countless shopping and eating opportunities, but otherwise there didn’t seem too much about Sapporo that was remarkable. Our tour booking had warned that our activities might be delayed because the Yosakoi Soran festival was taking place. That meant nothing to us at first, but after we got off the bus we were so glad that we had picked this day to visit Sapporo.
Hundreds of dance troops from all over Japan and a few international ones as well, gather annually to compete in a style of dancing we have never seen before. The dancing takes place in the street and the squads move forward as they dance. Their dance music is a mixture of what sounded like traditional old style Japanese mixed with a modern, thumping beat. Each squad was lead by a decorated truck with mega speakers blaring out their music. Some of the music was prerecorded; some was live. Squad members had colorful costumes and over the top make up and hair colors. They carried castanets, which we couldn’t hear over the thumping of the music coming out of the speakers. The dances looked faintly militaristic and were complex with stylized moves. At the end an extra strong man or two carried huge flags and waved them to and fro.
Many of the groups looked high school or college age, but there were also participants who looked like they had been around the block a few times. Before they danced in the street they gathered in Odori Park and made little speeches to each other, building enthusiasm and the spirit of competition. Some of the groups that participated were not really competing, but used this as an opportunity to perform. It was a marvelous photo opportunity. I always feel shy taking candid photos of people, but the performers were there to be seen and flashed the traditional “V” for victory sign with their fingers whenever they noticed our lenses pointed at them. It was so much fun to watch, we missed lunch, the opportunity to shop, a chance to look around central Sapporo. We’ll have to come back to explore the city on a less eventful day.
Sapporo first came on my radar in 1972 when the Winter Olympics were held here. The Okurayama ski jumping arena is still intact and we took gondolas up to the top and peered down, way down to the landing area where the competitors came to earth. The city was built on the flat land near the sea, but has expanded right up to the mountains ringed around it where the Olympic events took place.