I did manage to find a reasonable hotel but ultimately decided to expand my search via couchsurfing, another site I use now and then. A Japanese family of three - husband, wife and four-year-old son, offered to host me. Awesome.
The airline I booked with unfortunately does not fly out of Tokyo's Haneda airport, which is significantly closer to me. Instead I had to fly out of Narita, a healthy two and a half hours from my city by bus. Again, I must have waited too long, as the $10 airport bus from Tokyo was completely booked, so I had to settle for a $40 one direct from my local bus station. No matter, it's more convenient anyway.
With time to kill at Sapporo New Chitose airport I sat down for a bite at Mos Burger, a Japanese fast food joint (which is pretty good quality, definitely above the standard King's McFare you'd get elsewhere, although it's been decades since I'd eaten in one of them). As I feasted on my flavorful food, a tall handsome man came around the corner and greeted me. He asked to join me. We went back to his place...no, no, I jest. But he asked to use my phone to contact his friend who was supposed to meet him at the airport. Conflicted - I want to help people when I can but I am cautious at the same time, I chatted with him for a few moments and agreed to let him use it. His phone looked like it had been delivered by UPS, sporting a screen cracked all to hell and possibly marks from a feral cat. But he couldn't connect to the airport's wifi. I let him chat with his friend, although I do wonder if I could have been (or had been) scammed in some manner. We chatted for about an hour, this Australian being quite an interesting and insightful, if not quirky and offbeat, character. He told me how an airport staff person tried to help him but the language barrier was too great. In fact she came into the restaurant and checked on him, and he asked me to translate for him to get her number so he could stay in touch (she was quite a beautiful woman with typical Japanese friendliness, so I don't blame him). I did my best and they exchanged information, although he later said he just wanted business contacts. I wonder. He offered to buy me dinner even though I had already eaten, so we just continued our chat: travel, politics, philosophy, his job as some sort of escort; you can cover a lot of ground in a conversation at a fast food joint. I had to make my way to the train to meet my hosts, so we walked toward the exit together. Three flight attendants passed us and all six of their eyes were fixated on him, this tall blonde Aussie. He did the same and told them that they were all beautiful (they were). As they walked past they continued to look back at him, Nary an eye glancing in my direction, only two inches below. So that's how it's done, eh.
After about two hours of transit and waiting, my hosts picked me up at the train station and took me to a "soup curry" restaurant which was absolutely amazing. Soup curry was on my list of things to experience in Sapporo, which is the birthplace of this savory treat. Afterwards we went back to their place (for real this time) and I dropped off my bag and gave them some sweets I brought as a gift. I played with Gohta for a bit before heading out to the main site of the snow festival using a hand-drawn map provided by Tomo.
As is usually my Japanese experience, the crowds were nearly unbearable, even for this chilly Thursday evening. I managed to get some pictures and enjoy the snow and ice sculptures before coming to the end of my patience fuse and heading back to the house. The walk from the train station to my hosts' place was a healthy hike. Add to that over a foot of packed ice and snow on the sidewalks and most streets (I guess the municipality plows what they can and leaves the rest; the snow on either side of the road was higher than the cars fearlessly zipping along them) and I was properly exhausted upon my return.
The next morning we had a wonderful traditional Japanese-style breakfast which Tomo prepared while I played with Gohta. My stay would include lots of hanging out with kids, which was fine by me. Gohta took to me fairly quickly and enjoyed erasing the Magnadoodle art I created as soon as I finished something. After breakfast we went to another festival site, this one more for kids and families. There were rides, slides and sculptures, as well as plenty of food stands under a giant dome which I think normally houses sports or fight-to-the-death matches.
Okay, let me just address the highlights and get to some pictures. I waited for half an hour in line to go down a giant slide that lasted a few seconds, had a homemade dinner with the family and a friend of theirs along with her daughter (also four years old), played with some toy trains, read a book to the kids until they fought over who could turn the pages, had some lovely conversations and time to relax inside a warm house, carried a kid on my shoulders just long enough to mess up my back for the day, and visited the old Sapporo City Hall and had a foot spa on my way out of town to catch my flight back to Narita. Got in around 8pm, got a bus back to town, rode my bicycle for 28 minutes (normally only 17) against tropical storm-like winds, settled into my apartment and cranked up the heat.