Earlier this year, in March, we were on a skiing trip to Niseko together with our two children. In between skiing, we wanted to do and see something else than a ski resort in Hokkaido. We had purchased Japan Rail Pass for us and naturally the train was the mode of transportation we wanted to use between Niseko (Kutchan train station) and Otaru.
I did not know much about Otaru prior to visiting it, I knew it was a town by the sea in the Northern parts of Japan, and having Russian town Vladivostok opposite side of the Sea of Japan. The initial plan was to go to Sapporo, which is the “capital” of Hokkaido, but simply ending up using to many hours on the train, Otaru seem like a more tempting option, only 1,5 hours away.
Otaru did not disappoint us.
We arrived to the town in the afternoon. I felt so good walking in snow filled streets, something that is nothing special or exotic for a person who was born and has lived for many years in Finland, it´s just snow, but it brought back memories from childhood. Our children, they were over the moon in the snow! They have seen snow maybe 5 times before. They threw themselves to the piles of snow, spent time on sliding, jumping and throwing the snow on each other while we adults tried to slowly progress forward Chuodori Street. Slowly, yes, it took forever, but I did not want to spoil their fun by hurrying- we were on a vacation, no hurry anywhere!
We visited the harbor area (Pier number 2. and 3.) passing Tourist Information Center and saw for example how cars and some pieces of cars were loaded into ferries with huge cranes. We admired the little canal passing through Otaru (Otaru Canal) and just wandered around, many tourists gathered to Asakusa Bridge to take a picture or a selfie. Honestly, I was so afraid to see some of them falling into canal when posing and forgetting how slippery the streets were time to time (not to forget the “selfie-stick danger”).
Everything looked magical and cute, since there was snow and icicles covering signs and symbols. It did feel little awkward to see Rickshaws with passengers on these snowfilled streets. If Otaru was beautiful in winter, then it must be even more pretty in the summer time when everything is green!
Many places were closed for the winter, but we managed to find “a market hall” next to The Bank of Japan Museum. We adults had a wine tasting menu- yes, Hokkaido wines are fruity and similar in flavour to wines from Northern Europe. The children enjoyed their ice cream while we talked with a very charming sommelier about the wines at Hokkaido Wine Center.
There would have been a possibility for a sightseeing bus, canal cruise, few museums, shrines and temples, but we decided just to enjoy the town itself. I mean I would probably ever see enough shrines in my life that I would get bored, but sometimes I need to listen and see how do the other family members feel about chasing a shrine or a temple area.
As we got hungry, we knew we would like to have sushi and sashimi or maki rolls, rather than some exotic looking seafood. We did find a good place, I´m pretty sure it was a hotel restaurant at Rinkosan Street. I did not get the name, unfortunately. We were watching as the chef prepared our meals for us, he was using his knife as a tool to complete the fine art of preparing sashimi. The kids enjoyed the meal as well, they got both chopsticks and spoons, this way the eating went very well. We did get a cucumber roll for the kids, but as the cucumber in it was pickled, they ate everything else and left the cucumber… Kids!
There were some shopping streets as well, (Sun Mall, Hanazonoginza, Yanagavadori and Miyakodori Shoppin Streets), I noticed all kinds of glass figures and beads seemed to be popular item as a souvenir. All these streets very close to the Central Station, but when you have enjoyed a lovely dinner and everyone is having a good time and not whining about the walk, I did not want to go after anything.
Once we got back to Niseko and East Village (worth mentioning that there is a very good and reliable bus connection from Kutchan bus station, also taxis are available) we were all tired. But not tired enough not to climb on top of a snow hill and slide down, never too tired for that kind of fun!
More about our skiing trip in Niseko will follow soon, stay tuned 😉