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2009 Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival April 14, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-9K

Continuing from my post about Otaru, I feel that the best time to visit Otaru is in the winter. In February, at the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, Otaru holds its own winter festival. While it may not be as spectacular, or as grand as, the Sapporo Snow Festival, it is still a very beautiful, and yet, different festival in it’s own right. There are three main areas for the festival, and it’s best to be seen at night.

To be honest, I’m not sure why they continue to use the word “gleaming” to describe the festival. While I do agree that it describes the festival very well, and it’s a literal translation of the Japanese title, but I’d probably call it a Snow Candle Festival. The Snow Gleaming Festival itself has dozens, if not nearly a hundred different snow sculptures. All of them done by various professionals and volunteers. The festival’s sculptures also incorporate a lot of candles, which is where they get the word “gleaming”. Otaru is known for being a romantic city, and this festival definitely lives up to that status.

The festival in Otaru can be seen in three main locations. One is along the canal. The canal area tends to be the busiest section of the festival. There is only one side of the canal that has a walkway, while the opposing side has a nice view of the old warehouses. This area of the festival can get very busy as most tour groups tend to come here first. When I visited the festival, they also had a group of carolers singing various songs. It was a little strange to hear upbeat songs, but it did set a good mood. While this area of the festival was very nice, the sculptures weren’t as good as the other two sections.

Another section to see sculptures is along Sakai-machi Street. There aren’t as many sculptures along this street, but they are of a better quality than the sculptures along the canal. The sculptures along the canal tend to be original ones with many buildings as a design. Along Sakai-machi, you will have a few artistic designs. In 2009, they had a family setting. Various winter animals were sculpted as a family. You would have a mother and her children, or brothers together. You will also see various different commercial characters such as Hello Kitty, Doraemon, and Anpanman. These are very popular characters in Japan, and you are likely to see more than one of each. I believe I saw three different Doraemon sculptures all over Otaru.

The final place to visit is a park that runs along an old train track. It was the first train line in Hokkaido and the third in Japan. It is impossible to recognize in winter as it’s completely covered in snow. However, the sculptures in this section are the best of the entire festival. As you enter, you will see hundreds of candles lighting the way. It’s a very beautiful and romantic setting that can also be enjoyed by the entire family. Along the way, there are several volunteers at a few sculptures that are there to help you take pictures. This is great for couples and other groups. They usually have two candles in ice that you can hold. You might have to line up at times, but it is worth the short wait. Along the tracks, you’ll also see a few interesting sculptures, lots of flowers and candles encased in ice, and an ice bar. While the ice bar was available in 2009, I can’t guarantee that it would be available in future years. This year, Sapporo had its own ice bar which looked very cool. I wish I had a drink when I was there, but I didn’t want to spend money on it, and it was a little too cold at that time. However, if I had a few days in Otaru, I would definitely enjoy a drink or two.

The bottom line is, if you go to Sapporo for their Snow Festival, Otaru’s Snow Gleaming Festival is another festival you must visit. It’s only 30 minutes from Sapporo, and you can return to your hotel in Sapporo very easily. I do recommend visiting the festival in both the daytime and at night, but if you don’t have enough time, you should definitely go at night. It is much better, but also far busier, so be prepared.


Otaru April 7, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Otaru” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-otaru

Otaru is a small coastal city that is about a 30 minute train ride from Sapporo. It is a famous destination for tourists and can be visited in a single day. Otaru can be summed up as a nice quite town and a good place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sapporo. It is also small enough that you can easily get around the town on foot, without the use of a bus or taxi.

Heading to Otaru from Sapporo is a very nice train ride. As you approach Otaru, you will be gifted with a beautiful view of the ocean. The train travels along the seashore allowing you to see a beautiful beach, snow covered in the winter, on one side, and mountains on the other. Once you arrive at Otaru station, the first thing that you will notice is how nice the station is. If you arrive in the daytime, the station will have a slight heritage feel to it. Unfortunately, the building itself is slightly obscured by the traffic lights and overhead wires, but it’s still a quaint little station. Outside the station, you’ll see the typical buildings that are close to almost any station in Japan. Large buildings with cookie cutter style shops and restaurants. In all honesty, it’s best to head straight for the action, which is located towards the waterfront.

Otaru’s best known sight is its canal. Also known as Otaru Unga, the canal is very picturesque, and a great place for a stroll during the day. I have heard that you can see many artists selling various goods during the summer months, but I visited Otaru in the middle of winter, so there wasn’t much to see in terms of buskers. At night, the canal is lit with hundreds of gas lamps. It provides a very beautiful, romantic, sight for everyone to see. Along the canal, there are several old warehouses. These have been converted into various shops and restaurants. The most famous of these is Otaru Beer Hall. Located right on the canal, the entrance can be tricky to find, but once you find it, you won’t be disappointed. The beer hall is fairly large, and seating makes you feel as if you are in a traditional German/European beer hall. There are long tables where strangers can sit side by side. The beer from Otaru Beer is actually very good, and the food is even better. If you order prosciutto, they will cut it right in front of you. Both the beer hall and main factory, also located in Otaru, are open for tours. You should check their website for information.

The second thing to do in Otaru is to enjoy the shopping street. While the shopping arcades, easily found close to the station, are nice, they aren’t very interesting. They only have the typical shops that every other shopping arcade in Japan has. You are better to head towards Sakai-machi Street. It’s a nice small street that is a short walk from the main canal. The street itself is simple with many shops. Otaru is known for its glass and music box shops. This street has many tourist friendly shops where you can buy typical Japanese souvenirs, like cell phone straps, to glass products. Most shops have similar goods, but the quality and look of each piece is very beautiful. It can be a little expensive, but well worth the price. You can buy everything from standard glasses to vases and even a beautiful sake set. If you feel adventurous, a shop called “K’s Blowing” will let you create your own glass mug, for a price of course.

Along Sakai-machi Street, you will also be able to visit a beautiful music box shop that is at the end of the street. In front of the music box shop is a large steam clock. It is fairly modern, but modeled after an older version in Vancouver, Canada. Both clocks are the same and every hour on the hour, you can enjoy a nice little show. The music box shop is very large and you can get almost any song to be played in a music box. They even have contemporary J-pop music. If you have money to spare, these music boxes are a very nice gift for friends and family.

Overall, Otaru is a quaint little town to visit. It’s a short trip from Otaru to Niseko, Japan’s most famous ski resort. You can enjoy the peace and quiet this town offers, and buy almost any souvenir at the same time. If you need to get away from the city, yet have the convenience of a city, Otaru is a nice place to consider. I may not stay more than a couple days, but I would definitely like to return again, someday.


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