Weird Conversations at a Small Japanese Town Where We Didn’t Plan to Stay (But Did)

dinner at the Sapporo factory

Yakiniku (grill your own meat) dinner at Sapporo beer factory. I wore a bib.

There really isn’t much to see in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Besides the Sapporo beer factory, the town is a collection of 1950s dilapidated office buildings featuring a small red and white replica of the Eiffel Tower with a restaurant on the third floor. As we quickly realized when we arrived, most tourists only drop through on their way to ski in the nearby mountains, or to soak in a hot sulphur bath at an onsen in a lakeside ryoken (a Japanese natural springs spa hotel). You need to have a car to do both—and you need an international driver’s license, which neither Olivier or I have—to rent a car. So we found ourselves spending more time than we anticipated in Sapporo. We made the best of it by renting bikes:

In the end, we had a great time visiting, because: the people. In particular, the sushi chef, his wife and two businessmen we met the first night we had dinner in town.

The restaurant was a hole in the wall on a back alley, where the kettle heated on a coal stove. We found this restaurant not through Foursquare or Google. Instead, it was recommended to Olivier when he walked into what he thought was a liquor store (or so said Google) to buy sake…which turned out to be an office without windows for the sake museum:

sake museum Sapporosake museum Sapporo

One of the workers spoke English and sold Olivier a magnum 1.8L-sized bottle of sake—and recommended that we eat at a sushi restaurant across the street.

sake museum Sapporo

When we arrive at the restaurant, the 70-ish year old chef and his wife look surprised to see us there. We think it’s because they’ve shut down for the night (there’s no sushi in the window and no other customers). But then a businessmen walks in. And, seeing that we speak English and no one else there does, he calls his friend—who comes for dinner to help translate. And we realize the chef and his wife are surprised to see US.


Here’s a sampling of our conversations (with the chef’s quotes translated by Businessman #2):

CHEF: Why the hell would you come to Sapporo? (With disbelief; he asks this twice—once when we arrive, and later toward the end of dinner.)

US: To come to your restaurant. (This elicits a BIG (proud?) smile from Chef.)

CHEF: Do you know Jean Gabin? Alain Delon? Gigi Lollobridida? (These are all pretty random actors from 1950s French films, the last of which Olivier didn’t recognize. This made the chef look skeptical of his French credentials.)

CHEF: Do you eat this? What about that? (Gives us samples of the most random gooey stuff he has and looks pleased with himself when we look confused. But then again, he only charged us 2000 yen per person, or $20pp, for the entire meal of 15+ sushi and sake.)

CHEF: I feel very lucky you came to my place.

US: We feel lucky to have found it.

US: (To Businessman #2—who says he works for a coal mining company). Do you know who Trump is? (He says yes.) What do you think of him?

BUSINESSMAN #2: Japanese people are afraid of him.

Sapporo sushi restaurant

CHEF’S WIFE: (Barely spoke the entire dinner—was in the back flipping through papers. Bored, I figured. But then, toward the end of our meal, she brought over a circa 2004 local magazine from the pile that featured their restaurant. She pointed to a photo of a middle aged woman sitting at the sushi bar.) She sang at the Vatican.

sushi restaurant wife of chef Sapporosushi restaurant PR Sapporo

CHEF: The Americans and Dutch built Sapporo. The city is only 130 years old. And a lot of Americans still live in Sapporo. Do you think America isn’t number one any more?

US: It is, for now…

CHEF: If not the U.S., who would be number one?

US: China.

CHEF: (Scoffs.) China lies. (Japanese and Chinese hate each other–like France and the U.K. once did–explained Olivier.)

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