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Sapporo is for Ravens

In the morning I met my small Japanese roommate. She was about 70 years old, and her english was very good. She stayed with me in our room, talking about Japan and my travels. I loved speaking with her, she was lovely. Last year she became a breast cancer survivor, so that was why she was here. She wondered if I was also here for the conference, but I told her I was just here at the same time coincidentally. She was very glad for me that I did not have breast cancer. I mentioned to her that I had lost my camera in Nagano, and she told me that all was not lost. "You are in Japan!" She let me know. She said that if I lost something, especially something that is obviously foreign, as in a camera with english on it, that a Japanese person would right now be trying their best to make sure that if I go looking for it, that I will find it. This made me very hopeful, and she talked me into retracing my steps at the end of this week, and seeing what I came up with. I told her it really could only be in Nagano at the few places I visited after the Olympic Stadium where I took my last picture, and the train back to Tokyo where I didn't take it out again until I was almost in Hokkaido. I mentioned to her that if I were going all the way back to Nagano, then I would take a trip to see the Matsumoto castle that Bjarke told me was the best castle he visited in all of Japan, very old fashioned, and no new gimmicks. She said that after she defeated breast cancer she climbed the Japanese Alps just outside Matsumoto, and she asked if I was going to do the same. I wish I could, but I just didn't see me having enough time with only one week of the rail pass left. That was a 2 day trip as well, and I wasn't sure my hiking was up to the task yet (and here I was, telling this to a small, 5 foot nothing, 70 year old woman who had cancer... yeah, I felt real lazy). But I told her that next time I come to Japan, I would climb Mt. Fuji and then go to the Japanese Alps and do the same, even if I didn't make it back until I was 70. She patted me on the back with a smile that I thought would be "sure sweetie, you just keep thinking that" but it wasn't. It was a smile of "good for you, I am proud of you before you even do it." I well and truly loved this woman, and I wish her all the best, she is so strong, loving, and full of life, I hope to always remember her inspiration.

Now, since she wasn't from Sapporo, I didn't really get much advice on where to go, so I hopped on the internet while I casually enjoyed my breakfast.

What is Sapporo known for? (Other than their beer?)

The Winter Snow Festival!

Ahahahaha, you fell for it! Dudes, this is the northern hemisphere still... its summer. I just found these pictures on the internet while I was surfing for things to do in Sapporo. I know, it would have been so cool to see this festival, but hey, I missed the cherry blossom festivals as well, so timing is almost a bit of everything when you are traveling. Better luck next time I guess (yes, I do have plans to one day return to Japan for winter and spring... ^_^*) But until then, I am here now in summer, so I have decided to look at the many famous parks, the Art Museum, the Botanical Garden, the former governor's house, and the Former Hokkaidō government office building before heading further north to where I have my next couchsurfer in Abashiri, the closest city I could get couchsurfing to the World Heritage park at the tip of Hokkaido.

And yes, I still don't have a camera, so most of these pictures I went online in the evening to find so I could remember what some of these places looked like, even if I didn't take the picture myself.

First off, I got on the subway with a map of the city, and headed to the first large green colored area on the map (a park if my label translation is correct).

One of my favorite subway ads of the trip:


I don't get it.

Now, one of the most convenient and wonderful subway systems in the world! Here is the subway exit called Nakajima Park:


It is literally located inside the park! As you walk down that path, you are in the park! I love Sapporo (in the daytime when places are easy to find.)

Nakajima Park: Really nice, lots of trees, green rolling hills, a lake, and a european styled heritage building they were selling ice cream outside of. It was warm, mind you, maybe in the lower 20's (70's), but I just came from Tokyo where it was the lower 30's (80's), so I was tempted, but not enough.


There were also scattered bits of sculptures around the park that were fun to look at:


AND AN OBSERVATORY!!! When I saw a sign pointing for it, I almost yelped!


I walked inside, and there was a man sitting at a computer who looked very excited, and apprehensive, about my coming in. "Sumimasen, Konichiwa" I bowed my head slightly, and he bowed his head in return. He asked me if I spoke Japanese, and I told him my usual tale. Then I asked if he spoke any english. He said none, or at least, he doesn't speak it anymore since he had forgotten most of it. I told him not to worry, and asked if I could see the, ah, er... I pointed at the large telescope in the next room that was pointing out of the dome. He was already several steps ahead of me however. By the time I could mumble "could I see that large thing over there?" he was already at the controls and pointing something out to me. "Do you see that?" he asked me as he pointed at the large reflection that was being projected on a white disk under the telescope. "Hi" I responded. "It is the sun" he told me, saying, "Sun, desu" I smiled at his attempt to speak in english terms. "I understand, thank you" I told him as he continued. It was amazingly beautiful to hear him describe the telescope to me in Japanese. His hand gestures alone allowed me to follow him through the operation of the telescope as it automatically followed the sun across the sky. This was equivalent to being told about it in english I decided, as most of the time I forget all the technicalities of what people explain to me anyways. What I remember is the experience of being there, of getting to see something in action that I already had a capable understating of. This was why I was so sad when we were robbed in Hawaii. Joe had a video tape of an engineer explaining to us how the telescope worked on the top of Mauna Kea. He told me all in english, but the amount I remembered from his over 10 minute explanation was, wait, let me go back and count it... 10 lines on this blog, which only made up 3 sentences, but you know me, I get distracted by periods, so I just use commas instead... or 3 periods to make up for all the missing ones I should have been placing between thoughts. There we go, nice use of sentence structure. Anyways, he then went onto show me sun spots (really cool, I got in close to take a look at some of them, and he was quite excited to see my interest even though we had a huge language barrier. Luckily, the Japanese had adapted much of their language to english, especially scientific terms, so a lot of what he was saying I could sound out and understand in english: "supeesu," "puranetariumu," "shisutemu," "enerugii," "purojekutaa," "kurodu," etc. He let me stay in there and watch the sun for a bit longer as I told him I studied physics at "Kento Diagaku" and was very interested in "asutoronomi." He seemed pleesed with my attempts to converse with him, but he was working on something in the other room, so showing great trust, he left me alone in the observatory to my own devices. I stayed only about 5 minutes more before moving on. I could have stayed longer, but for that I would have liked to talk a bit more with the man in the other room, and since we could not, I moved on.

Now I really had to use a bathroom, so I walked over to this amazing concert hall, gave myself a brief tour around the beautiful lobby, and then after using their pleasantly advanced bathrooms (Japan is full of these), I proceeded out and around the back to finish my loop of the park.


Around the back of this building is where my day began to turn for the worse.


As I walked, I noticed several very large ravens start congregating on the tree branches over the walkway. Now, these trees were very tall evergreens, so they weren't too close, but they were giving me this look that said if they were any closer, I might just turn around and go back the way I came. Underneath them I walked, and then, not a few feet forward did I make it than I heard rustling and crowing coming from them. They were not pleased with me at all. The crowing of a raven isn't as abrasive as the crowing from a crow, but it bellows, and it resonates. Crows can caw all they want, and you don't have to pay them any mind. But when a raven decides to be so harsh, you pay attention. I turned back to look at them, and I immediately ducked! They dive bombed me! I couldn't believe it! Really close, with rather large talons out for grabs! WTF? I was alone at the time, so I quickly stepped up my pace to get back from behind the building and into the park with everyone else. Then, again they came after me! This time I swung my plastic bag with my lunch up at them. What was going on?!?! I got out into the park's drive way and again, I was under attack, this time with people around to witness this. They were all shocked as well as I hurried away from the birds into a small pagoda.


They didn't follow me in there, but flew back behind the auditorium building, but I was shaken still. There were some looks from the people next to me, but other than that, it was just one of those strange things you see, think, hu, thats strange, and them move on with what you were doing. "I don't understand" I told to the boys standing near me. They simply shrugged their shoulders and moved on. Okay, then...

Moving onto finish my circuit around the park, I took a gander at the waterfalls, and then moved to head out of this crazy place.


They calmed me down a bit, but I was still edgy anytime I passed by these enormous birds. Like they knew I was wrong somehow. This was doubly embarrassing because my character in the story has an affinity with ravens, so... shouldn't I be cool with them too? As I walked I came up with a story plot line where the raven's attack my character at an early age, before she mastered controlling them. And even now, today, she is explained as not being completely in control of them, but being their dominant, and as long as she puts down any challenges from her flock, she remains the leader, not out of loyalty like a dog, but out of fear like a lion. This also gives her a nice rise to power as she has to fight for pack dominance, not simply being crowned queen because she is both raven and human. Thinking these thoughts made me feel stronger about the raven's in the real world as well. Japan is littered with these birds, probably more so than any other type as I have seen, and I would have to gain control of this fear if I was going to do any more hiking or exploring through nature.

Parting glance at the park:


(And yes, this really is a picture I took with my phone, pretty cool huh?)

Freaking ravens from hell! They are everywhere!


Next I headed for the Art museum, but it was closed for remodeling or something, so... I decided to have a picnic in the modern art sculptures that surrounded the museum. At first I was not alone with this idea, but that wouldn't last as I was eventually amongst a myriad of tiny Japanese babies about 1 - 4 years old, many of whom came pushed in strollers or pulled in wagons and yes, they even have wheeled playpens.


After lunch on my way to the botanical, I passed what had to be the governor's house:


Very nice place, very european amongst the Japanese architecture found everywhere else in this country. And they just let you wonder around it. When I was walking through the backyard they were cutting the grass on the large driven lawnmowers. There were also a few guys cutting limbs off trees and the such, and they seemed to think they were in my way, rather than the other way around. Very nice atmosphere. Then, surrounding the building was a small park with a series of creeks and pagodas. It was really nice that they turned it into a public park because so many people were loving having their lunches surrounded by children (I think there were a lot of daycares here today). Lovely atmosphere, very good for calming the nerves and nurturing healthy daydreams about assassinating people (back to thinking about the Kung Fu assassin novel with Reivan's backstory).


I also crossed over the central line of parks in Sapporo and there were many great fountains and statues of European men for whatever reason.


Then I finally made my way to the Botanical Gardens.


It was only like $10 to get in, and I hadn't actually spent any money on admittance into anything yet, so I felt it was a necessary expense. Inside the greenhouse there were the usual themed rooms with amazingly beautiful plants all placed in easy walking around fashion. But then there was this man who was insistent that my Japanese was better than I boasted (which was not at all). He was a larger man, in his 40's or 50's, and in a wheel chair. His wife was short, and smaller built, but still large for Japanese standards. She would laugh and giggle as she would see me struggle to follow his story. "Do you know about Japanese Shoguns?" Yes, I told him, I knew what they were. They were military dictators in Japan. I'm not sure if I was right about this, but I likened them to sherifs, or medieval nobility. The term I remembered most from the 2nd Kill Bill movie when the small child tells Uma Thurman that she would like to watch her favorite bedtime movie... Shogun Assassin!


礼文敦盛草, レブンアツモリソウ, rebun-atsumori-sou

He was trying to tell me that they would use this plant somehow for assassinating people, but I cannot really explain how. Something about they would be really really quiet, and something about stepping on something, I don't know if it was in invaders who would step on this something, or if the shogun would step on it, but then something would happen to the guy they wanted to kill, and he would fall down dead! "Wow, is that true?" I would ask him, only making him more excited to continue on with this story. Eventually his wife told him, "Come on now, she didn't travel all this way to hear you go on and on," or something to that effect, and she just grabbed him by the wheelchair and pushed him along. "Thank you! It was nice talking with you!" I called at them, both thanking him for his stories, and thanking her for letting me off the hook, because I could only fake understanding for so long before he realized all I was saying was "yeah, mmhum, really?, wow, no kidding," and the occasional, "I don't understand," just for good measure.

Outside the greenhouse it was a little sparse with displays, but the forestry the gardens were interspersed in were lovely enough on their own.


Damn ravens! I don't know why they hate me! Why do they flock to me?!


Then, I realized what my purse had on it... I had 2 raven feathers! Could they have noticed that? Did they think I had killed one of them? I went to toss it on the ground, but then really didn't want to, so I stashed them inside the bag. They hardly fit b/c my purse was just a little sack of cloth, but I got them shoved in, and I zipped the lid shut. Later in the day I passed a sign with a drawing of one of these huge ravens and it said "Warning!" And explained that it was mating season for the birds, and you are not to approach anywhere that could have a nest... like trees! OMG, I was brave, but only brave enough that I took the feathers back out while walking through the city, but would turn my purse around so the feathers were facing in when I was in a park... yeah, I'm a bad ass.

Later research shows, its not just me:

Crows in Japan

Here are some relevant excerpts from that sight:

Crows are particularly aggressive in the spring nesting season when they defend their territories from perceived intruders. At that time of the year there are hundreds of reports of crows swooping down and attacking from behind, kicking and pecking their victims head. Occasionally they draw blood.

Crows have largely lost their fear of humans. Attempts to shoo them away are often futile. The crow simply hop a couples steps out of harms way. Mothers are so fearful of crows they clear their children out parks when mobs of crows show up. People have been hurt falling while pursued by crows and even seriously hurt after being struck by a vehicle while fleeing.

An exterminator who takes down about 250 crow nests a month in the spring told the Washington Post, "People are scared by these crows. They are big, black, with big beak, and kind of scary." One 38-year-old housewife told AP, "When I see a crow, I usually run away."

Vanessa: "Jesus Christ!"

Crow Problems in Sapporo Area

Back to the botanical garden's:


Here is the Canadian garden:

And the best rock garden I had seen yet in Japan:

And here is the taxidermy house:

And the rose garden:

And then a series of herb plots:

I could have stayed longer because there was so much to see, but the sun was getting low, and I wanted to make sure that I got on my train to Abashiri with time to spare. I was a little tired of rushing at night to figure out where I was supposed to be. So without any need to delay, I crossed the street and saw the former Hokkaido government office building.


I obviously was hitting it from the back, but just like the travel guides said, it was really apparent that it was the governor's mansion. The architecture was just all so very wrong to find in Japan.

The gardens around the sides of the building:



And then I was off. I went back to the hostel and picked up my gear, then made my way back to the train staiton:


Very cool looking during the day. But before I left, I took my roomy from this morning's advice, and I went to the police just outside the train station. I explained (using my Japanese picture phrase book), that I had lost my "bideo kamora" in Nagano, and was wondering if they could contact the Nagano police and see if anyone turned something in. We finally discovered that I must have left it at the train station, and that the train station (just behind us) would probably be of better assistance to me as they have multilingual staff and were the ones who would most likely know about the camera. So this really nice older cop took me to the lost and found desk, explained to the man there what my issue was to the best of his understanding, and then we all waited there together for a woman who spoke english to come and help me. Once she arrived they waited while I explained my situation to her. She smiled, and very quickly translated. "Very good!" The officer told me as he complemented my Japanese since apparently he had a similar working story already in his head from my poor description. Then the woman got on the phone and called the Nagano train station. They said they would call her back, and until that time, she led me to some sofas to wait. She talked to me for a good long while about what we could do if the train station didn't have it, and she gave me a phone number I could reach her at as I was leaving Sapporo pretty much as soon as Nagano called us back. Everyone was being really helpful like the woman from this morning told me they would be, and so I settled down a bit, knowing I was doing everything I could right now short of dropping ever getting to see Hokkaido and just high tailing it back to Nagano. The station called back, and they had no news about the camera, but they would now be looking for it and checking lockers to see if it was left behind inside. She wanted to stay with me longer, and work out some sort of plan, she didn't know what plan she could come up with, but she was determined that we could talk and talk until the video camera just magically appeared, and she wouldn't rest until that happened! I told her that she had already done all she could, and not to worry, and that I was sure that when I would make it back to Nagano something would click and I would remember where I left it. This seemed to satisfy, so she let me go and board my train. Very, very nice, but still, very depressing, I had such hopes, but I also knew better.

On the slow train to Abashiri the weather took a turn for the worse, and I was glad I got all my Sapporo touring done while it was sunny and beautiful. The cloud cover was a steady light grey, and occasionally it would drizzle just enough to let me know it was raining, but not enough to ruin my view out the window. There was one point when we were driving past a huge lake and I saw these trees growing from out of the lake, only the tops showing, as if they were bushes just floating by, that inspired me to write poetry. God, I haven't written poetry since, well, I couldn't remember. Sometimes when life is too busy, stressful, or nice even, poetry just doesn't flow. A rainy day while on a train by yourself after your partner just left you or you left him, whatever, you were free... is free the correct word, I was probably going for something else, like separate, but free seems to express the feeling you need to have for poetry, and separate just comes with the territory.


How unique this tree
Born against the water
Solitude for health


None of those pictures were what I saw out the window, but I feel that the combination of the 6 gives the idea of the rainy lake scene I was inspired by to, yes, write poetry.

Arriving in Abashiri I got soaked as I walked to June's place. Her directions were good, but I got messed up on the last part, and so, as usual, I had to get retrieved. "Just stay where you are, I'll come and get you!" She was so awesome. Here she came, running down the road in her cutoffs and no shoes. "Come on!" She rushed with me back to her place. There she totally made, no forced, me to feel at home, and the two of us stayed up talking for almost the whole night. She got my entire life story, and seemed really really interested! I even asked her to give my voice breaks, so I heard all about her life and living in Japan. Then, she wouldn't have me going to sleep depressed, so she made me look up the phone number for Mc Donalds (I know, I never go to Mc Donalds, but for some reason I just remembered I stopped in there for some unknown reason, b/c it couldn't have been for food, could it?) and she also made me look up the phone number for the Toyooka Hotel (the one where I stole free internet). I couldn't find Mc Donalds number for the life of me, only USA numbers, but I did get the Nagano Toyooka Hotel. "Okay, had me the phone!" She told me her Japanese was rudimentary, so she wasn't promising anything, but she would give it a go. Then, out of left field, she started speaking in what I understood as perfectly fluent Japanese. Sure, she did it slowly, and with acute pronunciation, but she had good sentence structure, a vast vocabulary, and she never needed to ask for clarification of what the other end was saying. The only thing she would say that let you know she was in fact having to try a bit, was she would interject "Slowly please, very slowly" as Japanese people have a habit of speaking really fast, especially when they know you speak Japanese, and are not just relying on a phrase book. I followed along with her conversation as best as I could, and I almost cried when I heard her say "Sugoi!" over and over again, she just kept saying "Wonderful, amazing, I can't believe it, wonderful!" They had my camera! No, fuck it, I cried. I had her tell them I could come and pick it up in 2 days if that is okay, and they said they would hold it for a week! June literally jumped out of her chair and came down to the floor and hugged me! It was like I knew her all my life. I don't think I have connected with a couchsurfer so well in all my travels. And on top of being an immediate friend who I could gossip with until the sun came up (we both agreed that we were too lazy for that and needed at least 7 hours of sleep to be happy), she was a life saver! Now, I could go to Shiritoko tomorrow, and enjoy myself knowing that I would get my camera and all the memories stored in it back. ^_^*

Posted by - Rain 20:07

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I love the Raven story! so glad you found a great, creative way to make it work in your favor, (and lived to tell about it!) Also, your poem is beautiful, and I didn't even need the pictures because your visual images were amazing!I can just picture your relief when they said they found your camera, something good needed to happen sometime! yay!

by georgi r

I second all of what your mom said. I think free is a great word to use. Freedom isn't always what people expect. And to be free, sometimes you need to be alone, so every decision you make is yours. That is a beautiful thing, but sometimes it gets tiring, and you wish you had someone to make decisions for you. But making your own decisions makes you strong. Maybe your newfound strength will help you tame those ravens the next time you're in japan.

I love the shot you took with your camera phone, and I'm glad that everything worked out with finding the camera. Japanese people seem so helpful and accomodating. What a lovely culture. I think summer looks like the perfect time to be there. Everything looks so beautiful. Although I'm sure the blossoms in the spring are a sight to behold as well. And if you're looking for a mountain climbing partner down the line, I could keep you company. I bet japanese mountains are intense.

by laurr

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