Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chocolate Making Fun

No, I did not pick the cacao seeds and grind them to powder before adding milk to make paste that hardened into chocolate. I melted already made chocolate and poured it into molds. However, due to technical restraints I have right now, I wasn't able to upload pictures here or to Flickr so you can read all about my afternoon and evening of fun on my new craft blog and there are a few more pictures on my page about the technique of molding chocolate. Enjoy. (I do beg your patience on my color scheme. I'm still deciding what my background will be.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sapporo Snow Festival 2012

After seeing the Chocolate Factory, as I posted about last weekend, we got back on the train and went back to downtown Sapporo, Japan to see the 63rd annual Snow Festival. There are three sections to the festival: one parkway has huge ice sculptures with smaller snow sculptures in between that get judged at the end of the week, a boulevard of smaller ice sculptures that will get judged as well, and a park outside the city that had a huge slide for tubes, a maze, and other things designed to entice international travelers. This is my second time at the festival and I've yet to get to the third place but I'm not upset. I seem to have gotten less used to cold weather so I've never pushed to explore Sapporo. When I go out we usually stick to the plan and don't stay out too long. :)
Once we got to the festival, we walked as much as we could and took a lot of pictures, which are on my Flickr page, and tried to enjoy the afternoon. Unfortunately the air pressure, cold air, long work week, and long day of sightseeing got to us both and we both got headaches. Luckily mine was less than my friend's was so I still got a lot of pictures but we headed in as it got dark. We wound up eating supper at a German bar that had very little German food but the Japanese food was good and either being inside the mall or eating basically got rid of my headache while it was too late for my friend. She slept off her headache on the train and bus before we got ready for bed and she seemed better the next morning.
It was a fun visit to Sapporo, I just wish the weather was a little colder. As much as I was cold and my fingers were numb from taking pictures on my Ipod (that's what I get for forgetting my memory stick), it was rather annoying that we were there on the second day of the festival and the sculptures were already melting. A mermaid on a guy's back had lost her arm at the shoulder, we passed a freshly fallen bust of a girl the police were circling, and there was a sculpture labeled "Raising Dragon" that I would have loved to see but it was only a set of legs by the time we got around to it. However, the huge Disney scene, the animal scene, and the huge buildings were still lovely so I can't really complain.
All in all it was a fun trip and am not surprised the Snow Festival made it into my book on where to visit before you die. It is definitely an amazing place to be.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Chocolate Factory: Sapporo, Japan

Last weekend my friend and I went up to the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan and visited the Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory in Sapporo, Japan and the 63 Snow Festival. To get there we took a twenty minute bus ride from where we’d slept to the train station and a seventy minute or more train ride up to Sapporo, passing Hiroshima on the way. By the time we got to the Sapporo train station it was lunchtime and we were hungry. I remembered from last time I was here that there was a shopping mall on the floor under the train station so we went hunting for lunch and found a pasta place. Neither of us spoke Japanese and they didn’t have an English menu so we went to the entrance and pointed to what we wanted to order. Now, try to picture this: there are about ten dishes of pasta and rice in three rows at the bottom of the display case, all on the same level with two shelves of drinks and desserts above them and two American women who don’t speak Japanese are trying to point at our dishes and drinks to two Japanese people that don’t know English? Are you laughing? We were by the time we were done ordering. Luckily we got the dishes we’d ordered but I got a lemon-ish soda instead of the blueberry shake-looking drink I’d tried to order. Oh well, the seafood pasta covered in slightly spicy ketchup with extra salt was rather good and there was miso soup and the complementary water to wash it down with.
After a little more navigating (the nice way of saying maps can only get us so far) we got to the Chocolate Factory. It turns out the factory is part factory, part museum. It seems they gathered a lot of collections from collectors, such as chocolate tins, hot chocolate tea kettles and cups, and Columbia themed things and arranged them in exhibits relating to the history of chocolate candies before showing how chocolate is refined from the cocoa beans to usable chocolate. Then they explain how their famous cookie, a thin square of white chocolate inside two thin butter cookies, is made and large windows show the actual production line in a large room beneath us. After that we went upstairs where we could have baked and decorated the butter cookies, bought sugar-craft items (such as a lady in a hoopskirt made of sugar), or had hot chocolate and cakes. The next floor held more exhibit rooms they didn’t bother to connect with chocolate such as the gramophone gallery and a few themed rooms full of toys from before the 1990’s or so.
After stopping at the store to pick up some of their famous cookies, we went outside in time to see the Chocolate Carnival. “A parade of jolly singing and dancing mechanical dolls,” as their brochure says, occurs every hour on the hour that the factory is open. The courtyard is a village of children’s houses and roses (covered for the winter when I went) and everywhere I looked something was moving to the music. A parade of mechanical animals circled the clock tower, chefs were singing and dancing on one all while other mechanical chefs across the courtyard played trumpets and birds swayed to the music. The three little pigs from the nursery rhyme peaked out of their houses and a dog stood up every few minutes.
After we toured the small village of play houses it was time to get back on the train for central Sapporo to see the Snow Festival, but that story and all those pictures will come out next weekend. If you want to see more pictures of my trip through the Chocolate Factory, check out my Flickr page.