Memo: as I write this blog, my website may still look strange here and there. As you may know, I recently moved my blog to the toeps.nl root, so that I can put everything I do into sub-sections here. This is quite a project, also because the blog was already from 2016, with code that I now think of as: yikes. Slowly but surely this site will be finished, but as most of you know: what you do very well for work, often leaves much to be desired at home.
Hello, from a hotel room overlooking the train station of a rainy Hakodate. Hakodate is the southernmost tip of northern Japan, the island of Hokkaido. On Friday I flew to Sapporo, the capital of this prefecture. This is where the Pokémon GO Fest was held last weekend: a live event organized by Niantic, the makers of Pokémon GO. I saw the announcement in the app and thought, “Hey, I can just go to this!” So where the rest of the internet complained – who organizes an event in a country you can’t enter as a tourist! – Japan enjoyed a national celebration. Spoiler alert: there were suspiciously many people from Tokyo. After all, a Pokémon event in cooler Hokkaido is also just the perfect excuse to escape the sweltering summer heat.
Diesel trains vs. Cheapo Air
So I thought, I’ll take the shinkansen, book a hotel in Sapporo…. But I wasn’t thinking too hard. Because from my house to Sapporo turned out, shinkansen and all, to take about nine hours. That’s mainly because of the last part of the journey, I discovered today, but more on that later. So I booked a ticket with the Japanese version of EasyJet, called JetStar. Also orange, but with a star. Makes sense. The plane was completely full, and in 1 hour and 45 minutes I flew with about 220 other Pokémon fans to New Chitose airport. From there, it was just a short train ride away.
Did I mention that Pokémon GO’s popularity in Japan is still undiminished? Well, when I wanted to book a hotel online for this adventure, I soon found out. Everything was either full, or between 200 and 400 euros per night! The night from Sunday to Monday suddenly turned out to be a lot cheaper – though of course that’s also because the weekend is over. Anyway. I decided to sleep in a capsule hotel for the first two nights, and treat myself to luxury after the event: a fancy hotel adjacent to the park where the Pokémon were to be found. “I must be tired afterwards,” I thought. I was right in thinking that.
Gotta Catch The Mall
(Can I get a round of applause for this subtitle? Greetings, dad.)
Anyway, the event wasn’t until Sunday, and I was already in Sapporo on Friday afternoon. I dropped my rolling suitcase at the capsule hotel and decided to explore the city. I walked towards Odori (Japanese for “big street”), the main street. At one point, I came across the famous tower, though I still think it looks like they ran out of steam at the top and thought, “Yo, just put an antenna on it, and it’s finished!”
I caught some Pokémon, as did the hundreds of others walking through town, with or without paper Pikachu hats handed out at the event and at the Pokémon Center at the train station. I got lost in the many tunnels and underground shopping arcades that Sapporo has. It reminded me very much of Seoul in that regard, and yes, underground passages are also just very convenient when it can get pretty cold. In the evening I viewed the city from the JR Tower. A 38-story tower, it compares itself to other famous buildings in its lobby and in its brochures. (A somewhat laughable picture, as the JR Tower stands out rather sadly). But, mediocre as it was, the view was nice, the venue nice and dark, and the live played classic interpretations of The Carpenters (“I’m on the top of the woooorld…” – Well, not really Karen, but whatever you want okay?) completed the whole thing.
Saturday, after a breakfast at the Starbucks, I decided to test out the local Off stores. I visited two combination stores, where Hard-Off, Hobby-Off and Off-House were all to be found. Conclusion: Hard-Offs on Hokkaido are (relatively) expensive! But when the 90’s Polaroid camera, which I took out of its original box and found with a dried out 90’s pack of film in it, spontaneously came to life a few minutes later back in the box, I had to buy it. I tried to haggle, but in Sapporo they wouldn’t hear of it. In Takamatsu that was fine at the time. Oh well.
In the Off-House I found a Barbie-pink randoseru (backpack, from the Dutch/German ransel) that I couldn’t resist. I also bought a vase and a few cups, which I stored safely in the randoseru. I spent the rest of the afternoon worrying about how to proceed with my webshop (because I’m not going to keep the randoseru, however tempting it might be), but I think I’ve made up my mind. The shop will be back soon, first without VAT connection, so then the buyers have to pay VAT and 4,- costs to PostNL themselves. This I will tell them in advance, of course. Later I can always register as a foreign company with the tax authorities, so that the VAT is pre-arranged. But for now it’s simple. I like to make things too difficult for myself, but after a day of pondering I googled up this PostNL page today, and as much as I hate that company, it contained all the information I was looking for.
I have to admit, on Friday I was almost ready to instantly leave the capsule hotel again, and spend a few hundred dollars on a fancy suite. Although I knew what I had booked (a sort of boarded up bunk bed in a mixed dormitory), the website made it all look just a bit better than it actually was. I entered a dormitory with about 20 beds, lots of slippers and boys’ shoes, and rolling suitcases. There was a light behind some curtains – a number of boys were reading, and one or two I heard snoring. Behind a door were three shower stalls, three sinks, a urinal and one normal toilet. “I’m not going to sleep here, and not be able to go to the bathroom…” The latter was true, but fortunately in Japan they have the most luxurious toilets in stations and shopping malls, so that problem was solved in no time. As for sleeping, I was wrong – I plopped my earplugs in and slept like a baby. The mattress in my wooden coffin was formidable.
The next day I spotted the guest sleeping in the bed above me, a boy of non-Japanese descent. A Japanese boy spoke to him: “Do you play Pokémon too?” The boy turned out to be South African, and he was indeed here for the event as well. But where we had tickets for Sunday, he had already played in the park that Saturday. I stuck my head out of the curtain and started talking along. In half Japanese, half English it became a very nice conversation, in which useful tips and friend codes were exchanged.
And then it was Sunday, time to go to the park! A Pokémon event like this is very well constructed: the app detects that you are on location and then the tasks begin. The park is divided into different zones, for example there was “Frozen Lake”, where ice and water Pokémon could be found. The assignments send you to different places each time, for example you had to photograph an Abra in the section where the psychic pokémon could be found, and you had to walk several kilometers with your buddy pokémon. Furthermore, there were photo-ops in the park for flesh and blood humans as well, such as a giant inflatable Pikachu.
I felt like a bit of a rare Pokémon myself, as I was approached by two different ladies asking if I wanted to become friends with them. Now this white woman just lives in Hachioji, but I was still able to make them happy with a little red bird that could only be caught in Europe last May. For me, they didn’t have anything special (that was also a bit on me, I didn’t have enough stardust to make expensive trades – okay, end of nerdspeak) but that didn’t matter. I saw that one of the ladies even set the bird as her buddy. Totally happy, and therefore so am I.
Anyway, after a morning of criss-crossing the park I was pretty tired. So with a few snacks from the convenience store I decided to go to my hotel. There was also an afternoon research task (aka game), but there was no set time or place for it, so that would come later.
And oh yes! Sunday was my birthday too! So in the evening I phoned my father, Riemer and Maan successively. Four hours later and I was also mentally exhausted. My luxury hotel was dusty and in need of a large-scale modernization, but I slept well. Monday morning: off to Hakodate!
Actually, I still wanted to get rid of my luggage. At least, part of it. I needed my clothes for the next few days, but the randoseru and the polaroid cameras in the box were just a pointless hassle. I actually wanted to take them to Yamato Transport Sunday morning, but I had just put the cameras in my suitcase, instead of in the loose bag they were in before. So I thought, I’ll figure that out later.
When I walked to my hotel on Sunday, there was a bus from Yamato at the door. The delivery man was delivering a load of suitcases to the hotel. “But if they do that…?” I was hoping to have my stuff shipped from the hotel to my house as well, but I needed a cardboard box. Yamato offices have those cute boxes with their bus on them, but the hotel of course doesn’t. And I was also quite tired, so I didn’t feel like having difficult conversations in Japanese either. “I’ll just go and look for a Yamato branch near the station on Monday morning…”, I thought. Did I feel like it? No. But I had to do it.
But then I checked out, and next to the suitcases that were ready to be picked up, I also spotted a box. Would they then…? “Sumimasen, nihongo wo…” I tried to tell the member of staff that I didn’t speak Japanese very well, but then I saw his badge. English, it said. “Probably good to use a box,” the man said. “They’re 300 yen.” My tired head couldn’t remember my own address, and when I grabbed the note in my phone, the best man offered to write down the kanji. For a moment I felt like a loser, but a successful loser who had handed in her extra luggage. So I was doing fine after all.
Okay it’s now 23:30 local time, so the Hakodate story will come tomorrow. The train ride here went well, but now it’s raining cats and dogs, emergency text messages about flooding are coming in, out the window I see the train station flooding, and all the trains have been cancelled. More rain is predicted for tomorrow.
This morning I had already prepared myself for a day of sitting inside, but now I wonder if I will get out of here according to plan…. So, cliffhanger. I’ll keep you posted.