Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Welcome to Beer Garden

Originally posted on facebook on 5th August:

Hey, you know what else? The underground in Sapporo is awesome too! On some of the trains you can see the wheel-arches curving just above the level of the platform, and the trains seem to run on huge rubber tyres! They are pretty quiet on their approach, but when you`re on them the noise from the open windows gets deafening. But even this isn`t so bad because there are no doors between carriages, just big stretched hexagon gaps bridged by metal panels and thick, corrugated rubber; which means that when the train is quiet you can see all the way from end of the train to the other and watch it curling away as you turn a corner. This, plus the tyres means that the tube in Sapporo is kind of like a giant bendy-bus hurtling through a tiny tunnel, deep underground.

Today I went for lunch at a macrobiotic restaurant, good work that was immediately undone by a huge ice cream and perhaps a "flagon" or "tankard" of Sapporo Black at Beer Garden.

Beer Garden is a summer festival here in Sapporo that stretches down Odori Park, a huge segmented public space that runs horizontally across the city. In the winter the Snow Festival is held here, in summer - Beer Garden! Each of Japan`s major breweries has a chunk of park the length of a block and they create huge outdoor beer gardens, in a festival that is less about different sorts of beer than it is about just drinking lots and lots of the stuff. At least in that way it`s more honest than most beer festivals. Today we went to the Sapporo Beer Garden because one of my party was captivated by what we at first thought were children cavorting onstage in cow costumes. I hope they weren`t kids because at the end of the routine the compere woman bounded to the front of the stage, tankards of Sapporo were distributed and they all swug mightily to a rousing "Kampai!" Other entertainment included some guys from a town where they grow melons giving away melons to people whos birthday it was, and a prize draw. You could buy a fish cake in the shape of Hokkaido, though I was pretty daunted by my medium sized jug of beer already, so I passed. The Kirin beer garden was the most lively, as we walked back through there a gravelly voice was booming from the tannoy, leading the crowd in a sing-a-long. Each company had a different giant pitcher thing for groups, mostly in the shape of a keg or something, but Kirin had huge, terrifying perspex towers. Asahi was packed but a bit dull looking. They did have a series of hawaiian dance acts however! And Suntory was pretty lacklustre to be honest, no-one seemed to be having any fun there.

Famillies are welcome at Beer Garden, lots and lots of kids were running around, none of them even seemed interested in sneaking beer from their folks. I think when you`re a kid beer`s pretty gross really. Also it was run with spectacular efficiency: we sat down, one girl sold us beer tickets from a huge usherette`s tray, another girl then scooped up these tickets and went to get our beers. Servings were, as you might have figured, generous.

I also had a bit of a tour of downtown Sapporo this weekend, and learnt that in the winter I can pretty much catch the train to Sapporo and do all my shopping in one of the many underground malls and complexes without ever having to brave the snow and the -10C winds except between my flat and the train station at my end.

Also I can confirm, for at least one person`s benefit, Americans do love both tacos AND freedom.

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