Sapporo – Places to See

Sapporo is the regional capital of Hokkaido with a population of 1.9 million and there is plenty to see and do in and around the city.

Mt. Moiwa Ropeway


We took the ropeway (cable car) to the top of Mt. Moiwa, 531 meters above sea level to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and to give my daughter the chance to touch the rapidly melting snow, something she doesn’t get to experience in Malaysia.

This spot is also popular at night and is regarded as one of the Three Most Beautiful Nightscapes of Japan along with Kobe and Nagasaki.


Canal boat rides are available. Too cold for us!

Otaru is a 30 minute train ride from Sapporo. Otaru was a booming trading port from the late 1800s until its decline following WWII. The town has a nostalgic feel to it with canal-side warehouses, historic buildings and old gas lamps which have helped transform it into a popular tourist destination. Many of the old warehouses and buildings have been converted into bars, restaurants, shops and museums.

Iwanaga Clock Store in Otaru with carp roof ornaments.
This fire lookout tower is part of Denuki-koji, a tiny village of 18 food stalls in alleyways built in retro style.

Here too is a sign for the Rita Nikka Bar named after ‘The Scottish girl who married the founder of Japanese whisky’. This must refer to Rita Taketsuru (née Cowan), wife of Taketsuru Masataka, the founder of Nikka whisky. You can read an article about her here.

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Nice Coat!


This century old building contains Otaru Orgel Doh, a store with over 3,400 types of music box, the largest collection in Japan. OK if you need an overdose of cuteness.

One of Otaru’s specialities. I found the weather too cold for ice cream and opted for the Glühwein instead.



Noboribetsu is a hot spring town about 80 minutes away from Sapporo by train. Apart from the onsens the main attraction here is the Bear Park.


About 80 Ezo brown bears live in two or three enclosures here. Visitors can buy bags of tidbits and toss them into the mouths of the bears provided the greedy crows don’t catch them in mid air.

The park is reached by a 7 minute cable car ride. Apart from the bear enclosures there is a brown bear museum, an Ainu exhibition (indigenous people of Japan), a duck race and a great view overlooking Lake Kuttara.

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Sapporo City

Back in Sapporo there are a number of places to see. These include:



Maruyama Zoo is well worth a visit. We particularly liked the meerkats, the reptile house, the wolves and polar bears.


The Clock Tower was built in 1878 as a military drill hall for the Sapporo Agricultural College which, at the time, was under the leadership of Dr William S. Clark from the Massachusetts Agriculture College. It is now a museum.


Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade is one of the city’s many shopping districts.

We appeared to gatecrash a wedding at Hokkaido Jingu Shinto Shrine. Note the wedding party’s handbags lined up on a protective mat.

Hokkaido Jingu Shinto Shrine is the enshrined home of a number of deities including Sukuna-Hiko-Nano-Kami or the Divine Spirit of National Administration, Medicine and Sake Brewing. That seems an odd combination to me. The adjacent Maruyama Park is one of Sapporo’s best cherry blossom viewing spots.

There was one more attraction in Sapporo that we enjoyed which I’ll write about in my next post.


Sapporo Beer Posters

With hindsight, the last week of April was probably not the best time to visit Sapporo, the vibrant regional capital of Hokkaido, Japan.

The winter ski season was over though it was still cold with patches of snow about, especially in the hillier areas. Spring comes late in these northerly latitudes and the cherry blossom was appearing just as we were leaving.


Still, we had a good time and managed to find plenty to do. One of the highlights for me was a trip to the old Sapporo beer factory which is now a museum and beer garden.

I was interested to see how the brand’s label designs and advertising posters had changed over the decades since the brewery was established in 1876.

The first brew master was trained in Germany and the original brewing machinery came from there so it is not surprising that there was a good deal of German influence in some of the early beer labels.



The first advertising posters featured kimono-clad geishas to appeal both to domestic audiences and the export markets of Asia and further afield.


By the 1920s and early 1930s Japan was copying the fashions and styles of the West and this shows in this poster.


In the lead-up to World War Two Japan was turning nationalistic and this may be why this 1937 poster features traditional Japanese dress again.


After the War, kimonos were out and Western styles were back in favour. The model in this 1956 poster had something of the Audrey Hepburn about her, an actress who is still fondly remembered in Japan.


From the 1990s onwards, TV and sporting personalities tended to be used in posters. I prefer the old poster art but I suppose the modern adverts sell more beer.


A selection of beer brands on display at the museum. I haven’t come across Borneo Beer in my travels to Borneo so I guess this brand is defunct.


After the tour around the Sapporo Beer Museum we retired to the tasting room to sample a selection of beers.


I find that the taste of beers made by the major Japanese brands such as Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory are much of a muchness – all excellent quality and very refreshing but it would be nice to have a bit more variety of flavours and colours.



A Plague of Pilfered Plumbing?

Supermarkets all over the world face the problem of shoplifting.

But in the Semenyih branch of Tesco near Kuala Lumpur it seems things have got so bad that even urinal flushes have to be kept under lock and key.


There must be a factory somewhere which produces lockable metal boxes for flush fittings. It’s a funny old world!

Koi Mating Season

I woke up this morning to find the koi in our fish pond in an unusually frisky mood. They were thrashing around, chasing each other and jumping out of the water.


An hour later the previously clear pond was covered in a bubbly scum.

Seemingly this is normal reproduction behaviour for koi. The males become aggressive and chase the females around the pond, bashing into the females to force them to release their eggs. Once released, the males spray the eggs with their sperm, hence the mess in our pond.


If all the eggs hatch into koi-lets we’re going to need a bigger pond!


Oman’s Cultural Heritage

When I lived in Oman in the late 1970s it was often described as a cultural desert. There were no museums, no art galleries and no theatres. There was just one cinema in Bait al Falaj called the Star which mainly screened Hindi movies for migrant workers, though I do recall seeing a James Bond film there once (Moonraker?). Music concerts were a rarity. Sister Sledge (or was it The Three Degrees?) were scheduled to perform at the Intercontinental Hotel but the show had to be cancelled at the last moment since they were unaccompanied females and could not obtain visas to enter the country.

Painting by Salim Al Salami on sale for OMR 845 at Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art in Muscat.

On my short revisit to Oman earlier this year I was pleased to note that the cultural scene is much improved. I toured five museums and art galleries just within the Muscat/Muttrah area. No doubt there are more in the wider Capital Area and elsewhere in Oman. There is even a Royal Opera House which looks very grand indeed. Oman is still a very conservative country but they are proud of the their cultural heritage and have made the most of what they have.

Here are a few of the paintings, photos and exhibits which caught my eye during my look around the museums.

An old watchtower on the Corniche between Muscat and Muttrah has been opened to the public. There are nice views from the top.
Photo by Hamed Al Geilani on show at Bait Al Zubair, Muscat.
‘Fishing Trip, Taqah’ by the same photographer.
‘Masirah Sunset’ again by Hamed Al Geilani. 
‘Membam Village’ oil on canvas by Bader Al Atbi on show at the National Museum.
Eight hundred year old gravestones belonging to Sultan al-Wathiq, son of the Rasulid Sultan of Yemen, who ruled Dhofar from 1293 to 1311CE.  The stones are on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London to the National Museum in Muscat. In my opinion they should be donated permanently to Oman where they will be better appreciated and would be well looked after in this first class museum. 
Niche (mihrab) from the al-Uweyna Mosque in Saih al-Hail village on display in the National Museum, Muscat.
Gate of ash-Shibak Fort, Ibra, 1126AH/1714 CE on display at the National Museum. The carving features calligraphic and floral motifs together with a representation of the British Coat of Arms, signifying the strong commercial and political ties between Oman and India during that period.
A portrait of Sultan Qaboos during his younger days.


Chinese New Year Lantern & Flora Festival – Jenjarom


Preparations are almost complete at FGS Dong Zen Temple for the Year of the Dog Chinese New Year Lantern & Flora Festival which takes place at Jenjarom from14 February – 4 March 2018.

This event is always well worth attending for its colourful lanterns and beautiful orchid and floral displays.

You can find more information here.

Muscat – Then & Now


I had a stopover in the Omani capital of Muscat last week, a place where I worked for a few years in the late 1970s / early 80s.

The capital area has grown enormously since I was there and is today built up all the way from Seeb Airport to old Muscat town, a distance of around 35 km.

In this blog post I am showing a few photos of the historic Muscat harbour area to show how it has changed over the years.


Muscat in 1904. This old photo shows the city walls and gates which were locked at 6 pm every evening and anybody venturing out after dark had to carry a lantern.


Sultan Said bin Taimur, father of the current Sultan. Under his reign, Oman was a feudal, backward and divided country. There were almost no roads, schools or hospitals. Citizens had to obtain the permission of the Sultan to buy a radio or to wear spectacles. He was overthrown by Sultan Qaboos in 1970.


By the early 1970s the town looked much the same. The rugged mountains surrounding Muscat are made from ophiolite, a rock formed from magma under the oceanic crust and uplifted and exposed above sea level. Oman’s outcrops are considered as some of the best examples of this type of landscape.

muscat-bait-greizaBait Bait Greiza (above centre) was built in the early 19th century and demolished in the 1970s. The name Greiza originated from ‘igreja’ (Portuguese for church) as a church once stood nearby.


Bait Mughub served as the American Embassy until 198o, following which is was demolished, along with the nearby British Embassy, to make way for a new wing of the Sultan’s palace complex.


Bait Faransa was built between 1820-1840. It became the French Consulate in 1896.



Bait Faransa is now the Omani-French Museum and showcases the long standing relationship between France and Oman, which is a bit of a cheek because the Gulf region was never really France’s bailiwick. Britain has had a much deeper relationship with Oman but has no museum to commemorate it. Still, it is a nice museum and here are a couple of photos on display inside:


Jean Béguin-Billecocq, Vice Consul, pictured in 1904 feeding his parrots on the terrace of the Consulate in Muscat, probably wishing he had studied Vietnamese instead of Arabic at l’École des Langues Orientales de Paris. At least he had his wife Louise for company.


Louise Béguin-Billecocq at Sur (Oman). Oddly she appears to be wearing a Japanese kimono but perhaps she found the silky material and full length cut to be more appropriate for local climate and cultural conditions than typical western attire of the period.


Al Khor Mosque is one of the oldest in Muscat although it has been renovated a number of times. It is overlooked by Al Mirani Fort.



Al Mirani Fort is one of the twin forts guarding the entrance to Muscat harbour. Both forts were built by the invading Portuguese who bombarded and burnt Muscat around 1507 AD. The tower on the right is a more recent addition and conceals a lift shaft. Unfortunately neither fort is open to the public.


Al Jalali Fort is the other fort guarding the harbour. It served as the country’s main prison up until the 1970s and jalali was the generic term for prison during my time in Oman.


Left to Right: Al Jalali Fort, Extension to the Royal Court, the 1970’s Al Alam Palace. A semicircular lawn has been added in front of the palace on reclaimed land. A couple of modern naval guns are mounted on the sea wall to provide additional protection against sea-borne attackers.



This is the same harbour front in the 19th century. The British Embassy (where my parents lived and worked in the 1980s) was on the left. The taller building sticking up behind the British Embassy was the American Embassy.


The Al-Zawawi Mosque, built inside the city walls at the beginning of the 20th century, is unusual for its square tower minaret, said to be built in the Portuguese style in favour in India at the time, and looking rather church-like.


Facing the Al Alam Palace a red-paved mall has been constructed, perhaps imitating the one in front of Buckingham Palace, flanked by gardens and stately colonnades and leading up to the impressive National Museum of Oman.

You could cash a cheque here if you had a few hours to spare.

This is how The British Bank of the Middle East, Muscat looked in the 1970s when I worked there. The building was completed in 1956. Prior to that the bank had operated from premises in Bait Faransa.


The bank is now demolished.


One of our competitors at the time.


Thanks to Muscat Gate Museum where most of these old photos were obtained.