In my last post, I talked about returning to Sapporo for the third time in my life. Being a third time in Sapporo, I decided to head over to Otaru for the second time. This time, I was going to visit Otaru in the late summer rather than mid winter. As I mentioned, the entire island of Hokkaido has two main faces, summer and winter. Winter is a true winter wonderland. There is snow all over the place, and everything is quiet and peaceful, thanks to the falling snow. It helped, of course, that on my last winter visit, it was snowing most of the time as well. This time, I visited in the late summer and I had a small mission. Thankfully, I wasn’t let down by Otaru, even on this second trip.
For those of you who have seen my previous post on Otaru, I visited during the Snow Gleaming Festival. It was a very beautiful and romantic time in the city. This time it felt completely different. It wasn’t the same romantic town that I remembered, but at the same time, I wasn’t expecting it to be that way. When I got off the train, everything looked exactly the same, sans snow. The train station hasn’t changed, and the streets are the same. One of the better things to note was that I arrived in the late morning with the sun shining, and there were no problems walking around due to the snow. There were no ice sculptures, or snow sculptures for that matter. Everything was very clean and the sky was beautiful. It was also quite easy to get around. There was no snow on the ground so I didn’t have to worry about slipping and falling onto the ground.
The first place I went to was the old disused railway which has been converted into a park. When I visited here in the winter, it was the focal point for sculpted snowbanks with hundreds, even thousands, of small candles. It took at least an hour to walk through and enjoy all of the sculptures and interact with everything. At that time, the snow was compacted and the snowbanks were up to 1 metre deep. Where the snowbanks once were, there are now railway tracks. When it was covered in snow, it was hard to tell that the area was anything but a small alley that was converted for the snow festival. The park itself was pretty empty as most people headed to two places, the Otaru Canal and the shopping street. Most people skip this path which makes it an even better way to access the main shopping street as it isn’t very busy. It’s also a little fun to walk along the tracks, ala “Stand By Me” style. They even have train themed benches at one end of the park.
My main goal of the trip was to visit a famous glass maker, Kitaichi, or literally “North One”. It is located near the end of the shopping street close to the music box shop. As you walk down the main tourist shopping street, you first come to a bunch of shops selling various Hokkaido foods. Freshly grilled scallops are popular, and so are other various foods such as corn and potatoes. It depends on the season as well, but the smells and aromas are intoxicating. Once you pass these shops, you start to reach the souvenir shops and then Kitaichi’s area. They have three or four shops. A foreign brand shop, the main shop, a discount shop, and a crystal shop. Being a famous glass brand, and the fact that all items are hand made, things are priced accordingly. Don’t expect to enter and find really cheap products. If you are looking for something nice, this is a great place to go. Comparing it to western glass products, Kitaichi is very good. They have a very western feel, and yet they have Japanese style. Once you finish with Kitaichi, it’s a good idea to head to the music shop. Many people love this shop for the fact that you can enjoy buying a personal music box that will play everything from classical music to modern pop music.
Being summer, there wasn’t any real theme in the town. On the way to the main canal, there is a small access canal between the shopping street and the main canal. Along this canal, they placed various glass wind chimes along the way. It was a beautiful and peaceful experience to see. It’s easily skipped over by most people, but if you take the time to just enjoy it, it can be wonderful. The sounds of the wind chimes ringing and the hustle and bustle of people moving by can be very calming. I also took a little time out to look at a small corner across from the main canal. There is an interesting set of shops where you can enjoy some good food at tourist prices. The good thing about the corner is that it has a Chinese theme to it, which makes for interesting photography.
On this visit to Otaru, I had to visit the main Otaru Canal. It was a beautiful hot sunny day, but not humid so it was enjoyable. The summers of Hokkaido are a wonderful change from the typically hot and humid summers of Tokyo. It was extremely busy as all of the tourists pushed their way to get the best vantage point for photos. The canal was as beautiful as ever and looked crystal clean with various tour boats plying the waters. In the winter, there are candles set up across the canal, as it’s too cold to take tours up and down the canal. In the summer, there are various artists willing to do a sketch of you and your family if you are willing to wait for it. They are, by all means, willing to do one of you, as long as you pay for it. I wouldn’t say they are exceptionally good, but they aren’t terribly bad either, from some of the pictures I had seen. If you feel adventurous, in the summer, you can also take a rickshaw ride around the town for a fee. Most of the rickshaws leave around the canal area as the station is too busy with cars.
From here, I headed to my final destination, another visit to the Otaru Soku No. 1. It is one of my favourite places in Japan. It’s a little expensive, but the beer and food are great. I loved going the first time, and I had to go a second time. Needless to say, I spent several hours just relaxing, eating, and drinking. It’s not something that everyone would want to do, but after visiting Sapporo two times already, and Otaru once, there wasn’t too much left to see, at least I didn’t think so. I needed to have a good relaxing vacation, and this was one of the best ways to do it. It was mid afternoon when I entered and it was close to 5pm when I left. It wasn’t busy at all and service was really fast. The quality of the food was excellent. It hadn’t changed, aside from the seasonal specials. My favourite dish has to be the “Mozzarella and French Bread Bridge Roast”. It is a French Bread arranged into a bridge with slices of mozzarella places within the bread and toasted. It is wonderful to eat. As for beer, that’s really up to whatever you like to drink. I’d avoid the Hokkaido wine though.
A day in Otaru is more than enough, and the town probably changes even more at night. Unlike other small towns in Japan, Otaru actually changes like most of the big towns. I heard it gets even more romantic. It’s a town that I love to visit, but to be honest I probably won’t be going back anytime soon. If I do go to Sapporo, unless a friend of mine requests to go there, I won’t make any effort to go. I’d rather try to go to some of the other areas in Sapporo that I’m only starting to discover.
This is an update to my original post about Otaru in 2009. To read more about Otaru, please head over to the original post on Otaru.
Otaru (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6700.html
Otaru (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Otaru
Otaru (JNTO): http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/r…ido/otaru.html
Otaru (Sapporo City Tourism Site): http://www.welcome.city.sapporo.jp/e…ces/otaru.html
Otaru (City Website – Japanese): http://www.city.otaru.hokkaido.jp/so…/otaru-map.htm
Kitaichi (English): http://www.otaru-glass.com/english/a…_08/index.html
Kitaichi (Japanese): http://www.otaru-glass.com/japanese/index.html
Otaru Beer (English): http://www.otarubeer.com/main/compon…mid,1/lang,en/
Otaru Beer (Japanese): http://www.otarubeer.com/main/compon…mid,1/lang,ja/