Hi Blog. My second column for the new Sapporo free paper SAPPORO SOURCE came out a few days ago, again as last time talking about something completely different: The weather. Last time was the hell of Sapporo Winters. This time the heaven of Sapporo Summers. Enjoy. I am. Arudou Debito in Summery Sapporo
Complete magazine downloadable here.
HOKKAIDO’S SUMMER OF LOVE. EVERY SUMMER.
Column 2 for the SAPPORO SOURCE “DEBITO” column
To be published in the July 2009 issue
Last column I talked about our wretched Hokkaido winters. Now for the polar opposite: our seductive summers!
Come what May, Hokkaido bursts into color. Unlike down south, where the flowering trees stagger their blossoms (first plum, then cherry weeks later), we go full bloom practically overnight. Like fireworks beginning with the finale, then tapering into a latent green. Like black-and-white Dorothy opening the door to a Technicolor Oz.
Then by June visits the long-awaited perfect summer. And I mean perfect. July, August, and half of September are usually sunny. Not too hot, not too cold, with a cool breeze at night. While the rest of Japan swelters and kvetches about stuff like “heat islands”, few Dosanko even buy air conditioners.
No wonder. Although during Hokkaido winters you hunker in your bunker, summers you open up your heart and let the outside in. My windows are apert 24-7. In my first apartment I even removed my sliding balcony doors, and had no wall for two months. I was effectively camping out all the time.
I’m not alone. The entire island of Hokkaido — all 78,000 square kms of it — becomes a playground. Take any mode of transportation you prefer (me, bicycle) and explore the outback. Thousands of motorcyclists escape the south to meadowcrash, pitch tents, sleep cheap in people’s garages, and just plain tour — sampling barbecue, seafood, and produce from locals taking advantage of the summer windfall. It’s the Happy Season; even the lonely parts of Hokkaido are awash in cash.
Hokkaido summers are better for early birds. If you check a Universal Time map, Hokkaido is on the far eastern edge of our time zone (Sakhalin, directly north, is an hour behind, and the Russian province due north of Nemuro is two hours back). Moreover unlike Russia, Japan won’t institute daylight savings time, so Hokkaido’s outback sleeps through a 3:30AM sunrise at solstice. Even with sundowns at a wastefully early 7PM, our long calm twilights, with the smell of outdoor grill wafting through the curtains, still bring out the night owls.
Hokkaido summers are a celebration of life and creation. The forests are growing full blast (after all, they only have a window of five months), all the crops you love (from hops to potatoes) are ripening, and anything green and flowering is filling the air with fresh oxygen and fragrance. Everyone is getting some while they can. Birds are doing it. Bees too. And humans?
Well, summer’s peak is for me the beer garden in Sapporo Odori. Bacchanalia beckons an orgy of unbuttoned shirts and diaphanous skirts. Like every northern territory worldwide (consider Scandinavia), everyone’s outside getting their licks and kicks while they can. Guzzle any night and you can sense pheromones, ringent rosebuds moistening, and windows of opportunity opening. It’s sexy. Even the flowering acacia trees smell like nocturnal emissions. Afterwards, the revelers repair to Susukino. Or maybe a block or two beyond.
Summer is what keeps me here. The first time I suffered through that long cold lonely winter, I wondered how why a million people would ever congregate in Sapporo. Then in 1988 I experienced my first July and August. Got some, got plenty. I cycled the city practically every night, listening to crickets bray in gardens, weird bug-birds caroming through the night, and fading police sirens chasing revving motorcycle gangs, all echoing down the warm dark cityblock corridors.
It was a siren song. I was smitten with Sapporo then and I still am now. Like the first time you hear a great melody, and it introduces you to an entire musical genre you explore for years, I’ve spent my life trying to recapture the peace and calm I felt those nights.
To this day, I still cycle Hokkaido after sundown, sometimes all night, to see how far I can get (I’ve reached Asahikawa and Oshamanbe). Why travel outside this August playground when all you need is right here?
To be sure, Hokkaido summers almost — and I stress, almost — make up for the dire winters. It’s still worth the wait. You can experience the Summer of Love in Hokkaido. Every summer. Take advantage. Get some.