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.