Musings of a Gaijin MD

Life in Japan as a Foreign Doctor

Yuki Matsuri February 12, 2012

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 6:25 PM
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The annual one-week long yuki matsuri, or snow festival, of Sapporo wrapped up this past weekend, and I attended on the last day.  Both native Japanese and foreigners flocked to see the ice sculptures lined along Odori Park; many food venders also provided plenty of hot food and drinks in order to help spectators keep warm.

The Japanese military trucks hauled tons of snow from the mountains into the city center in order to create these massive sculptures.  While I had initially wanted to keep my expectations low in order not to be disappointed, I was happily impressed by the intricacy and magnitude of the sculptures.  A happy combination existed of traditional sculptures, such as castles and marine life, and cute cartoon characters; some were just about 5-6 feet tall while others were 2-3 stories high.

It’ll be nice to come again next year although my frozen fingers and face may not appreciate such prolonged frigid exposure.


Snowmobiling February 10, 2012

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 12:35 AM
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Since I am athletically challenged and do not know how to ski or snowboard but still want to participate in Hokkaido’s winter activities, I decided to try snowmobiling.  On arrival to the snowmobile company at the edge of town at the base of the mountains, I was greeted by numerous staff members just for lil’ ol’ me, which of course, made me feel a bit awkward.

Anyways, 2 options were available: 60 minutes or 90 minutes; I decided to go with the shorter version.  The company provided all the clothing, gloves, helmet, and boots.  Prior to our going up into the mountains, the guide and I practiced for a bit so that I could get used to operating the snowmobile.  I must say, it was a bit harder than it looked to accelerate smoothly.

Afterwards, we made our way up the mountain, slowly in my case, which did offer gorgeous views that I would not have otherwise seen if I were just walking.  Unfortunately, when we arrived on the top, we could not see the cityline given the weather conditions; still, the surrounding mountains’ scenery was worth it.

Overall, a very fun experience for all, even for the typical winter sports challenged!


Drift Ice February 7, 2012

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:28 PM
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One of the more well-known activities in Hokkaido includes making a trek to the north/northeastern part of the island to look at ryuhyou, or drift ice.  Apparently, the Russian Amur River’s freshwater freezes in the winter and floats down the Okhotsk Sea where they can be viewed at Hokkaido’s coastline, one of the southernmost points you can observe them before they melt further south.

Well, I participated in said activity by way of bus.  After several hours, we finally arrived on the coast and boarded the Garinko, a boat that took passengers out to the sea to view the drift ice.  This boat was an icebreaker that could go through ice up to 0.5 meters thick.

The entire experience was interesting although I was disappointed not to have seen more than 4-5 pieces of drift ice; it may have been a little too early in the season.  Another damper during this time was my seasickness despite having taken medicine for it beforehand; needless to say, my entire attention was focused on trying to keep my stomach contents where they belonged.

Anyways, if given the chance, I may not necessarily go again although I may consider joining a tour that allows people to walk on the drift ice and dive (wetsuits available).


Maid Cafe February 6, 2012

Filed under: Sightseeing — GaijinMD @ 10:03 AM
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On a return visit to Tokyo’s Akihabara, or electric town, I not only just went inside a cosplay/maid cafe (like the last time), but I actually sat and ordered some food.  While not as shocking and overwhelmingly pink like the first time, the servers’ high-pitched, girly voices still became a bit grating after a little while.

The cafe served food ranging from appetizers to entrees to desserts.  Since I only wanted some ice cream, I ordered the ice cream package as it was not available a la carte.  The package included an ice cream parfait, drink, mini 1×2 inch photo with one of the “maid” servers, and a surprise “gift.”

While the package itself was ok with the exception of a cheesy gift (I got a lighter for which I won’t use), the entire cost of this “experience” just about broke the bank.  A sitting fee of 1000 Yen (~ $13 USD)/person was charged in addition to the ice cream package of 2000 Yen (~ $26 USD) for a grand total of 3000 Yen (~ $39 USD)/person for ice cream and tea.  I must say, it was and probably will be the most expensive ice cream I have ever eaten; I sometimes questioned if the ice cream contained gold.

All in all, a unique experience that will break the bank.