Winter on Hokkaidois not a frivolous season. Blizzards arrive continuously on the shrieking windsthat blow over the Sea of Japan, rising fully finished from the Siberian wastesacross the way, where storms are produced on an assembly line and shipped toHokkaido like a million gross of flying razor blades. Drive at night along thecoastal highway when such a shipment is due from Russia and you will hear theSea of Japan booming in thunderclap detonations. You will see the black waterleaping and thrashing about, gnashing at floating cakes of ice as if it weregrinding up the bones of dead beasts. The wind screams. The scene is a wildmidwinter nightmare. And this is the island of the 1972 Winter Olympics.
The snow onHokkaido rises many feet high, above the door tops at times. It lies in massivemattresses over the roofs. Soon after it settles, the snow turns gritty andgray in Sapporo and the towns of Hokkaido. Nearly every building on the islandburns wood or coal in its stoves and there is an interminable rain of sootfalling all around. As dusk approaches on each winter afternoon, the backstreets of most towns and the corridors of the ryokan, Japanese inns, arefilled with a dry, patient staccato sound. Clak-clak, clak-clak. It is amimawari, a volunteer fireman, making his rounds, tapping wooden stickstogether as a warning to all citizens that they must remember to bank theirfires or turn down their heaters. It is a precaution against fire in the night.Most of the houses are made of lumber dry as tinder, much of it unpainted.Despite the faithful efforts of the mimawari, there are dozens of deaths eachwinter, people killed because they did not heed that gentle alarm. Clak-clak,clak-clak.
To an Olympictraveler, one more accustomed to the sophisticated chrome and fur comforts of,say, France in the 1968 Games, Hokkaido looks like a hard and unforgiving land.Not much more than 100 years ago this northmost island of Japan was wilderness.It was as untouched as Idaho during the reign of King Tut or Alaska in the daysof Confucius. The citizens of the milder, more worldly southern islands ofJapan shun Hokkaido in the winter as if it were still some sort of Paleozoictundra. But they are wrong.
They are not wrongbecause the coming Winter Games will change anything. Next February's Sappororemains essentially the same. An Olympic Village has been built on theoutskirts of town, last stop on a shiny new subway line. There is a concreteski jump on a nearby hill, there is a starkly modern, mushroom shaped arena andthere are other venues hidden all over the place. There will be more buntingand flags, more foreigners. But the profile of Sapporo and Hokkaido won'tchange all that much. One must look beneath the Olympics to find Sapporo'scharm and maybe learn to love the place. The International Olympic Committeehas sent the Winter Games off to a strange corner of the world. It is almostimpossible to get there from here. But the IOC has not made a mistake. Not atall.
November 15, 1971
Despite the hardclimate, there are civilized charm and nature's beauty beneath Hokkaido'sfrozen crust. It was so during last winter when a band of pre-Olympians touredthere. They rode the back roads and skied the volcanic mountains, slept on thefuton beds of ski-village ryokan and dined in the roadside cafés on suchdelicacies as the leafy harusame (which means spring rain), the chewy shungiku(spring chrysanthemum); such stuff as shogatogohan (ginger and rice) and tara(dried fish) and ika (squid). I for one salute the pleasantries of Hokkaido inwinter. And so do my two traveling companions.
There was pleasantcompany for the trip. There was The Interlocutor, a congenial Japanese friendand winter sports fan from Tokyo who spoke impeccable English. The citizens ofHokkaido are all smiles, eager to serve, but they rarely speak any language butJapanese and become quite morose and moody when they are unable to communicatetheir goodwill. So The Interlocutor was indispensable. The other companion wasa short, plump and bumptious, red-haired and freckled fellow, an American whospoke the English of New York City's Lower East Side. He came to be known asThe Graduate because of his years in such worldly institutions of higherlearning as P.S. 147 on Henry Street, the elite delivery-boy corps of the StageDelicatessen on Seventh Avenue and the innermost circles (where elbows aresharpest) of Yankee Stadium sports photography. The Graduate spoke no Japaneseat all. However, he eventually mastered such basic terms as konnichi wa (goodday), ohayo (good morning), domo (thank you), plus a couple of other valuablewords—sukotchi uota (Scotch and water), biiru (beer), pokku choppu (pork chop)and d√¥zo no sashimi (please, no raw fish). The Graduate, it turned out, couldnot abide any form of fish, raw or otherwise. Since the Japanese diet is richwith such items as blowfish, octopus, shark fin and cod roe, The Graduate spenta great deal of time in the old pokku choppu feed bag.
We rented a GoldenStar taxicab in Sapporo, which is the capital of Hokkaido. We strapped our skisto the roof rack. We bought some tangerines in a red net bag for munching. TheInterlocutor and I nibbled tarn (dried fish) and nori (dried seaweed), whichcame in small plastic bags like salted peanuts. The Graduate nibbled realsalted peanuts. We all sipped at a bottle of Tokachi wine, a pleasantBeaujolais-like red which is produced in vineyards on the southern tip ofHokkaido.
We set out atnight through slippery snow on the streets of Sapporo for Niseko-Shakotan-OtaruPark, a lovely mountainous area about 45 miles away that reputedly offers thebest skiing in the north Pacific. The Aspen of north Japan. Maybe evenAlta-East. As we skidded through Sapporo it began to snow. This softened thecity sights, which was a blessing. However primeval Hokkaido may have been acentury ago, its cities have now become as cluttered and massive as the worstof our American gasoline society settlements. Eying the passing Sapporo scene,The Graduate grumbled softly, "Awright. So when do we get outtaBridgeport?"
As in most ofJapan, there is a cascading waterfall of neon signs in Hokkaido cities. InSapporo this becomes a shimmering, exploding kind of electric galaxy at night(unless, of course, one can read Japanese, and then it is all nothing but theshimmering, exploding burst of commercialism—EAT AT KIKIBUSHI'S DINER, BUY YOURBARGAIN RICE BOWLS AT SATO'S.) But the gaijin, foreigner, sees star bursts andsymphonies and moon shots and entire libraries of psychedelic poetry going onabove the city in those bubbling arrays of Japanese characters in yellow, blueand amber neon tubing. It is an esthetic delight, a work of art—particularlywhen viewed through the gauzy screen of falling snow. The Graduate fell silentin his corner of the cab. Then he said, "Y'know, this must be where all theneon signs in the world go when they die."
Hokkaido also isthe place where all the Coca-Cola signs go to die. There are millions of them.Millions. Always in English. That famed bright red circle with the thick scriptmessage glares out everywhere—stuck on shops in the remotest village, stampedon chopstick holders in rural inns, even on the back of every chair on the skilift at Niseko. The Interlocutor said the Japanese like the omnipresent Cokesigns because they remind them of rising suns.
When we arrived atNiseko the lower mountain slopes were lighted, a golden illumination made byrows of soft lamps on posts. A few late skiers made tiny flowing silhouettesagainst the glowing snow. It was about nine p.m. Then, suddenly, the lightsflickered off and Niseko was black. There were a dozen inns clustered at thefoot of the ski slope. The only lights now showing in the icy night were a fewsmall, isolated window rectangles. There was, we learned, no night life inNiseko. This was definitely not St. Moritz or even Grenoble, where Olympianscould swing the night through, drinking expensive Scotch in louddiscoth√®ques.
We removed ourboots in the cold lobby, climbed gingerly on stockinged feet up the icy stairsand discovered comfort of quite another sort. Japanese tatami rooms are warm,gently lighted and notably cozy. Dressed in robes, we dined sumptuously uponrice, seaweed, fish paste, boiled pokku, bean curd, shark filet, driedblowfish, slices of octopus tentacles (the tentacles are the best part, nomatter what they say), all accompanied by splashes of warm sake. When wefinished, no lights showed at all at the foot of Niseko. It was 11 p.m. TheInterlocutor nodded and said, "Japanese skiers are not swingers. They skihard, and when they come off the sropes, they want only to sreep." We, too,srept deep that night.
The Graduateimmediately became fascinated with the Japanese penchant for switching l's andr's in speaking English, as The Interlocutor occasionally did. Indeed TheGraduate, for all his rush to escape formal schooling, was a language buff.Whenever he traveled he carried with him a tiny leather case containing aminiature Scrabble set. On air-planes he always challenged seat partners togames, usually at $5 a throw. The Graduate had mastered a number of arcane andotherwise useless English words, such as zo, jo and so on, so he always wonmore than he lost.
Now, in Hokkaido,The Graduate listened to the Japanese English for a few minutes and quicklyinvented a game he called Hokkaido Scrabble—or "Sclabber," to beaccurate. Although it generally followed usual Scrabble rules, the new point ofthe game was to substitute l's for r's and vice versa whenever possible. Each Ior r used this way was automatically worth a bonus of 15 points. Thus in theinaugural game of Hokkaido Sclabber, I scored with the color "led," thefood staple "lice" and the King of Beasts "Hon." Strangely, TheGraduate did not put down any words for a long time. Then he cried, suddenly,"Now!" While I watched helplessly he carefully spelled out"irregarry." "Irregarry?" I asked.
"Yes," heshouted. "You know, like in the sentence, 'He parked the car irregarry by afireprug!' " The word, played on a double word square, with one 'r' on adouble letter square, was worth 166 points. We played Hokkaido Sclabber nomore.
At breakfast wefound that an Olympic traveler might as well forget the ham and eggs andhashbrowns except in the big hotels in Sapporo. Still, we dined beautifully,including a bit of the rare "fish of fantasy," roe of herring. TheJapanese have come to call it simply "gold" because it is veryexpensive—in part because the Russians seem to have control of the richestfishing grounds in the Sea of Japan. The Interlocutor allowed that "this issomething of a banquet. I did not expect to find such excellent food on theoutskirts of Siberia." The Graduate agreed. "This is extlemerycivirized," he said.
The skiing atNiseko can best be described as, well, cheerful. Loudspeakers are scatteredabout the slopes, on the apparent theory that Japanese skiers can't standsilence, and they serenade all present with music—sometimes the tinkly sound ofa children's choir, other times with such golden oldies as Anchor's A weigh andthe theme music from The Bridge on the River Kwai.
From the topslopes of Niseko one can see for miles across gentle valleys, across to theperfect Shakotan mountain. It is called Hokkaido's Fuji, for it has the samesymmetrical summit, the same whipped-cream snowcap, the same constant hoveringcloud that one sees at Honshu's more celebrated volcanic peak. On Niseko thesnow was pleasant packed powder on the main slopes. The light had a strangesoft coppery tint most of the day except when it turned leaden during frequentquick snow squalls that slammed in with mini-blizzard force for perhaps 10minutes at a time. The hills were thick with birches, all with a strangelybrass-colored bark. There were great pillows of snow suspended in the branches.It was a frail and wintry Japanese print come to life. Except for theoccasional kamikaze skier who plunged grimly on a straight-line course from topto bottom and except for the Coca-Cola medallions on the lift chairs, liftstations and refreshment stops in the birch glades, it was idyllic.
In our Golden Startaxi we rode across the island of Hokkaido to the hot springs of Noboribetsu.The place is set in a saddle of mountains that falls into chill shadow early inthe afternoon. It is on the Pacific Ocean side of Hokkaido, and there is thepungency of sulphur in the air. All around the town plumes of steam spurt fromthe earth. In Noboribetsu one is suddenly conscious of the eternal, terribleturmoil beneath the frail surface of our planet.
The central focusof the springs of Noboribetsu is a place called Jigoku-dani. The Valley ofHell. It lurks just at the edge of town. It is always cloaked in a cloud ofsteam. Beneath its ocher mounds and orange cracks bubble the famed boilingsprings that bring thousands to town each year. The scalding subterraneanwaters have been domesticated now, piped docilely into the various hotelsaround the village for the recreational and medicinal use of health-seekingtourists.
Gazing into theValley of Hell, one is reminded that most of Japan is on notably unstableground. All of its islands are the result of the upbursts of earthquakes andvolcanoes centuries ago. It is said by some that Honshu's celebrated Mount Fujirose abruptly out of the earth in a single hellish night, shouldering andchurning its way toward the sky amid red-hot rains and lava geysers during anearthquake in the year 286 B.C. That is only a legend, perhaps. No one seemscertain. But on Hokkaido, a few miles from Noboribetsu, it is a certifiablescientific fact that Mount Showa Shinzan did indeed come thundering steadilyout of the ground over the short period of a year and a half—starting in1944.
The Valley of Hellis much older. Its mysterious scalding waters have brought definite fame and atleast a touch of fortune to Noboribetsu: they are the local industry. ManyJapanese consider the Noboribetsu hot baths the best in the world.
Our Golden Startaxi pulled up in front of the Dai-Ichi Takimoto Hotel. It had been carefullyselected by The Interlocutor because, of all the hotels in town, this one hadthe super selection of hot baths and the grandest bathing area.
The Interlocutorknew what he was about when it came to hot baths. The hotel's entire lowerlevel—an area that seemed about the size of the main concourse in Grand CentralTerminal—was given over to hot pools of water piped in direct from the Valleyof Hell. There were tiles and ornamented mosaics almost out of Roman antiquity,and it was dim and foggy, populated with the silhouettes of wraiths. There weremore than a dozen pools, ranging from small bathtub-size to official Olympianproportions. Each pool was posted with a sign in Japanese defining what sort ofhealing minerals its waters contained—there are 11, including sulphur, calciumand common salt—and the kind of ailment each was good for: boils or arthritisor women's disorders. Here and there were thick leafy plants. Most of them, itseemed, were being used by shy, young nude girls who dodged behind them asnaked men walked by. This was a communal bath, once popular but now a vanishingspecies in Japan.
The Graduateseemed inordinately eager to experience this new situation. While TheInterlocutor and I leisurely disrobed in the men's dressing room. The Graduatehurried well ahead of us into the bathing area, one of his cameras secretlywrapped in a towel. The door had hardly slammed behind him when he reappeared,looking embarrassed. In his hurry he had neglected to remove his kimono. Onealways removes the kimono in a communal bath. One removes everything. TheGraduate also had forgotten to take off his brown sweat socks. They slappedwetly on the floor as he returned to undress.
Although the bathswere enormously soothing, The Graduate became uncharacteristically grumpy upondiscovering that they also had a tendency to fog camera lenses. Still, this didnot seem quite so important when it turned out that 95% of all females whobathed at Noboribetsu averaged about 72 years of age.
Except for takinghot baths, there is not a great deal of sports life in Noboribetsu. There is avery small, very dangerous ski slope that is absolutely carpeted with crowds ofmadcap, lunatic skiers—no carved turns, no turns of any kind, straight down.There is a bowling alley in Noboribetsu. And there are the ever-presentpachinko parlors. In fact, if all the pachinko parlors in Japan were laid endto end, one could play pachinko all the way from Noboribetsu to Harolds Club inReno.
Pachinko is a gamefor slot machine fans, though it requires a certain dexterity. It features anupright, glass-covered board and several dozen tiny steel balls. One stands atthe board and attempts with a spring-loaded lever to shoot the balls up on theboard so they will fall into some proper hole. I found it impossible to master.The Graduate, who professes to murder 'em in Las Vegas, gave up, too, saying hecould generate no real desire to win. If one should win, the reward is a can ofsliced pineapple. Not a jackpot, a No. 10 can of pineapple.
But The Graduate'smood lightened immediately when he heard about the geisha. We had arranged tohave dinner that night with three geisha from town. We had ordered them fromthe front desk, and the service would appear on our hotel bill, which certainlyseemed civilized.
The Interlocutorwarned us, however, "They will not be first-class geisha. Such top geishawould never stay in a town like this. These will be, oh, maybe ninth-classgeisha." As it turned out, The Interlocutor was too pessimistic. TheNoboribetsu geisha were at least seventh-class.
They came to ourroom together, shuffling along with tiny steps, giggling lightly and bowingfrequently. The first was middle-aged, and she smiled winningly at The Graduateright away, displaying an impressive array of steel teeth. The Graduate bowedand muttered, "Love her dentist." The second geisha was young and quitepretty, with fewer steel teeth. The third was the leader of the trio, a stocky,lighthearted lady with a small Band-Aid on her forehead. She was heavilypowdered and dressed in the traditional geisha kimonos and carried a tinybottle opener in her obi (the sash around her waist). Her name, we learned, wasKomomo-san. That means, she said, Small Peaches. It turned out that she hadbeen close friends with a number of American GIs 20 years ago or so, and shestill retained a smattering of English. "Hubba-hubba," said Komomo-san."I rost my heart at the Stage-Door Canteen. Hubba-hubba." Welaughed—The Graduate's laugh actually sounded more like a strangle—and theparty got under way.
Now, before I moveon to the monumental drama of the evening—in which The Graduate challengedKomomo-san to the janken-pon championship of all Hokkaido—let me brieflyexplain about dinner parties in hotel rooms with geisha, whatever their class.There is about as much likelihood of sin or sex at such an affair as therewould be at the birthday party of an 8-year-old boy. Indeed, there is a greatsimilarity between a really smashing geisha blast and a child's birthday party.On this night in north Japan, amid gales of giggles and much flashing of steelteeth, we played games such as passing matchboxes and chopsticks from nose tonose, we did various balancing feats and, of course, we played a lot ofjanken-pon. It turns out that this is simply the ancient and honorable game ofpaper, rock and scissors in which one tries to outguess his opponent bydisplaying the symbol which defeats the other. (Paper covers rock, scissorscuts paper, rock breaks scissors, remember?)
We dined, seatedon the straw matting in our kimonos. We drank pints and pints of sake. Welaughed heartily when Komomo-san crossed her eyes and pretended to be drunk. Wegiggled merrily when the geisha with the steel teeth hiccupped. Oh, such fun.And then the All-Hokkaido janken-pon championship Super Bowl occurred.
No one expectedit. But before we knew what was happening, The Graduate and Komomo-san wereboth on their feet, standing nose to nose, shouting a Japanese chant aboutbaseball that includes such rousers as "out-u, safe-u, yoyoi noyoi!"
The rules ofjanken-pon with geisha dictate that every time a player loses a round he mustdiscard an article of clothing. The Graduate seemed at an obvious disadvantage,since all he had worn to dinner was his kimono, a sash, a pair of Jockey shortsand his famous brown sweat socks, now dried out. Komomo-san was dressed as atraditional geisha should be—with four separate layers of kimonos and shifts,plus countless sashes and bands and a pair of socks with those split toes.
The Graduategrinned at us cockily and said, "She don't know it, but she's dead. Lissen,I used to beat every damned Italian kid on the whole Lower East Side of NewYork at this game. This is my game, you guys! In fact, I am probably the bestrock-paper-scissors player in all of America!"
Komomo-san thenannounced that she was the best janken-pon-playing geisha on Hokkaido, perhapsin all Japan, even the entire Far East. The two champions bowed formally toeach other. The stage was set.
For more than halfan hour the contest went on. The Graduate was magnificent, as promised. Earlyin the going he lost his sash. Then his kimono. Even his brown socks. But withonly his shorts remaining, he settled down and, incredibly, Komomo-san wentinto a losing streak (at one point her paper was cut by The Graduate's scissorsseven times in a row). One by one she removed kimonos and sashes until asizable pile of clothing lay in one corner of the room. The other two geishaceased giggling and began to look rather pained. We shouted again, "Out-u,safe-u, yoyoi no yoi!" Komomo-san shrieked. The Graduate's rock had brokenher scissors. She removed the last sock and now stood in her shift, herabsolute final article of clothing. She blushed and bowed to The Graduate,indicating she wanted to quit. He refused. She pleaded. He was adamant. Withbowed head and lowered eyes, she agreed to the final round—but only if theycould play it in the entryway of the room, where the rest of us could notwatch. The Graduate agreed.
We could only hearthe chant of the two of them—"Out-u, safe-u, yoyoi no yoi!" Then agreat bellow went up from The Graduate. Komomo-san shrieked again, giggled,then shouted a single word before she shuffled back into the room, still in hershift: "maerimashita!" The Interlocutor nodded. "It means 'Isurrender,' " he said. The Graduate stalked arrogantly into the room, madea deep and serious bow in his Jockey shorts. "Hubba-hubba," he said. Hewas the janken-pon champion of Hokkaido. It is a title he still holds and willcarry into the 1972 Winter Games.
When one is inNoboribetsu and the baths have been taken and the pachinko and janken-pon havepalled, there is one other thing to do. Visit the Kuma Bokujo. That is a bearranch. Which is almost exactly what it sounds like—a place given overexclusively to bears. On Hokkaido the bear is rather a sacred beast. The firstJapanese—the aboriginal Ainus—held religious ceremonies based on thepersonality of the bear because he offered them both meat and clothing. On thestreets of Noboribetsu one can see six-foot wooden statues, not unlike thecigar-store Indians of America, of a woman with a bear cub feeding at herbreast. As The Interlocutor explained, "This means that the Ainus so lovedthe bear that his women would suckle the babies. Without the bear, the Ainuscould not live. Without the bear, maybe Japan would not be."
At the bear ranch,which one reaches after a pleasant, swaying cable car trip to the top of amountain, one can see the Pacific Ocean glistening in the distance. One alsocan see a beautiful peak called Mount Tarumai. Rather giddy with a tourist'seuphoria, I said to The Interlocutor, "The translations of Japanese namesinto English are always so poetic. What does Tarumai mean?"
The Interlocutorpaused for a moment, thinking, then replied, "It means 'the front side of abucket,' I believe."
There were 124bears to watch. There is damn little Teddy in the Hokkaido bear, nor does helook to be a fit companion for the Goldilockses of this world. Our guide lookedout toward the Pacific and his voice was hushed. "We are very afraid of ourbears," he said. "Each year 400 cows are killed, 80 horses, 1,800goats. Always one or two men."
We fed the bearssome peanuts, throwing them a long, long distance. Judging from the size of thebears, the statistics just might be correct. Still, this is a scene better thanany Bronx Zoo. The Hokkaido bears are an Olympic must.
The Graduatesurveyed downtown Sapporo, a bit of soot dappling the top of his reddishfreckles, and made an Olympian pronouncement. "This town," he said,"is like two Bridgeports."
Hold on. Sapporois an industrial center, true, and perhaps an odd place to pick for the 1972Winter Games. Yet it is earnestly charming and its folks look forward eagerlyto February's excitement. Everything is ready. Above the city, high overlookingthe plain that leads to the Sea of Japan, the ski slopes swoop down with snowygrandeur. The backdrop for the men's downhill course, steel-blue Lake Shikotsu,may be the most perfect setting for any Alpine ski race ever. The bobsled runsnaking down just above the Sapporo suburbs is made of a million perfectlymatched ice cubes, actually a work of modern art they should hang in some giantgallery after the Games. The ice arenas are suitably noble. The air is festive.Standing on the hillsides, craning to see racers sweep into view, the Japanesespectators carry bright red-and-yellow thermos jugs on straps around theirnecks. "Would you care for some tea?" they ask strangers. "It'sdericious; It is indeed dericious; for one thing, they put some sort of boozein it. The drink makes spectating a joy.
And the citizensof Hokkaido, isolated by winter, are perhaps the world's greatest spectators, astatus that promises to make every Olympic competitor an authentic hero. Anobviously out-of-condition Westerner, strolling fatly through the lobby ofSapporo's Park Hotel, is mobbed by chirping platoons of uniformed schoolgirlsbearing autograph books, all convinced that he is at least a gold medalist. Anda genuine athlete finds his every move watched by thousands of admiringeyes.
For visitingjournalists, all this eagerness to see international action, plus thetraditional Japanese penchant for politeness, might well shatter one of theold-time Olympic traditions—the post-event interview. Well, it is an affairthat needs breaking. After each event the custom has been to herd the threemedalists into a press room for an interview. In Europe and more recently inMexico, this scene has become a scrambling, jostling crush of sharp elbows andshouted questions, most of them banal, such as: "How did you like thecourse?" (The winner usually replies, "Well, since I won, I liked thecourse fine.")
Not in Sapporo.Diffident, shy and ineffably polite, the Japanese newsmen pack the room, allright. But then they stare at the winners, nodding smilingly and lovingly buttoo restrained to interfere with private thoughts of victory. It is a custom wemight well copy.
Back downtown,inside the sprawling city of one million, we sampled the night life. It is,after all, an unofficial Olympic event. Despite the dizzy effervescence of neonand the charm of the bar girls and dance hostesses, there seems ultimatelylittle to choose from between after-dark Sapporo and, say, Saturday night inDuluth. There is an unbelievable number of tiny, cubbyhole bars. More than3,000, they say, in the honky-tonk section called Susukino. (In translation,The Interlocutor says, it means "giraffe grass." Figure that oneout.)
We dined on Kobebeef—from steers that had been raised on beer and massaged daily to give themeat the right amount of marbling—and the celebrated giant hairy crabs. Wesipped sake, and much Black Nikka, the excellent Japanese Scotch. And then TheGraduate discovered the Sapporo Bier Garten—the local brewery—an event thatwould make any pre-Olympian's trip complete. There, right smack alongside agiant old vat, one can order up monster steins of excellent beer and dine onsuch Japanese delicacies as good old Munich sausages and, every night alongtoward closing, join in the singing and table pounding. The Graduate lookedaround contentedly in the smoky light, at the familiar crowd, at the waitersscurrying through carrying trays full of foamy, sloshing beer mugs. "I waswrong," he declared. "Sapporo is outta sight!"
We drank a finalmug or two and left. Outside, the city was ready for the Games, a year ahead.Stadiums were completed, lovely ice sculptures dotted the streets. All that wasleft was to hang out the Olympic flags, though there hardly seemed to be roomamong the neon signs.
Then we turned upour collars. The night had turned menacing. The wind was beginning to blow andthere were sharp filings of snow in the air. Another blizzard was about to beshipped in from Siberia.