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Otaru Redux (2010) December 7, 2010

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 Redux (2010)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-wH

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 Information:

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/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Maps January 31, 2010

Posted by Dru in Uncategorized.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Maps” and other posts from this blog.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-maps 

For a time at the end of 2009 till 2010, I was creating maps to accompany my posts.  Unfortunately, I no longer have the time to keep this up.  I will continue to keep these existing maps online and you may continue to view them along with the posts that are here at Dru’s Misadventures.

Dru

MAPS:

Ajinomoto Stadium (2010-01-31)
Japanese Football: Kashima Antlers VS FC Tokyo
Japanese Football: Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo

Asakusa (2010-01-31)
Part I
Part II

Ginza (2009-10-25)
Part I
Part II

Gundam (2010-01-31)
Shizuoka

Harajuku (2009-11-01)
Part I
Part II

Japan’s Top 3 Views (2010-01-31)
Amanohashidate
Matsushima
Miyajima

Jingu Stadium (2009-12-06)
Japanese Baseball: Tigers VS Swallows

Makuhari Messe & Chiba Lotte Marine Stadium (2010-01-31)
2009 Tokyo Motor Show
Japanese Baseball: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles VS. the Chiba Lotte Marines

Nippori (2010-01-31)
Nippori

Odaiba (2010-01-31)
Part I
Part II

Otaru (2009-11-28)
Otaru
Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival

Samezu (2010-01-31)
Converting a License in Japan

Shibuya (2010-01-31)
Part I
Part II
Part III

Shinjuku (2009-11-15)
Part I
Part II
Part III

Suzuka Circuit (2010-01-31)
2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix

Toyocho (2010-01-31)
Renewing a License in Japan

Tsukiji (2010-01-31)
Tsukiji

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part I) April 28, 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 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ai

Note: Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change. It’s best to check just prior to going.
Every year in February, Sapporo holds its biggest festival.  The Snow Festival is by far the most famous and popular festival in Japan, during the winter.  In January, the Japanese Self Defence Force trucks in hundreds of tons of snow that will be used in snow sculptures that range in size of a one metre to the size of a small building.  All of the sculptures are located along all 12 blocks of Odori Park, which is where the main action takes place.  There is a secondary site located at Sapporo Dome.  This site is geared towards families and having fun.  A third unofficial site is located in Susukino.  This is actually the Susukino Ice Festival, and as the name implies, this festival contains nothing but ice sculptures.

The traditional starting point of the Sapporo Snow Festival would be the Sapporo TV Tower located at 1-chome of Odori Park.  Heading up the Sapporo TV Tower is something I would recommend, however, I didn’t go up as it was too busy.  From the observation deck, you’ll be granted with a beautiful view of the entire festival.  If you are in the mood, I’d also recommend a quick pint at the Otaru Beer restaurant located on the ground floor of the TV Tower.  1-chome is also the site of a small skating rink.  It’s reminiscent of Rockefeller Centre in New York, only the surrounding buildings aren’t as tall.  In 2009, they had a sculpture of Tsuyoink, which means strong ink.  It was obviously sponsored by Epson, as it’s their personal mascot.  1-chome is also the location of a small stage where they have a few concerts and lots of information for everyone.  This was one of the most crowded areas as well.

Upon entering 2-chome, I was graced with the sight of some beautiful ice sculptures.  This year, they had various tropical sea animals swimming.  They also had a sculpture to promote the Nippon Ham Fighters; Sapporo’s very own Japanese baseball team.  This section of the festival wasn’t very good.  It was very difficult to see the sculpture properly, and large ice sculptures didn’t come off well when they are as detailed as this one.  The smaller, simpler sculptures worked out better.  In my own opinion, it’s not worth the time and effort as you can’t get close enough to see the actual detail of the sculptures.

3-chome provided another dynamic to the festival.  In 3-chome, the festival had two different sculptures.  The first is a small shrine and maze for good luck.  They had a few special items if you walked the maze.  You could get a picture taken with Hiyokochan, a popular character.  I didn’t know this character at all, but they said they are popular.  The shrine is also a major place for people to pray and to bring some good luck to the festival.  Unfortunately, this attraction was closed when I visited.  The other attraction to see was the TAKA and TOSHI slide.  TAKA and TOSHI are a popular comedy duo in Japan who comes from Hokkaido.  This comedy duo designed this slide.  It was a nice and I wish I could try it, but alas, it was closed when I went.

4-chome had another set of commercialized sculptures.  Unlike 1-chome, these were more tasteful and had an actual meaning.  The first was “~Dreams~”.  This huge sculpture was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of Tokyo Disneyland.  It featured all of the major Disney characters.  Mickey, Minnie, and even Tinkerbelle were featured.  They also had a plane that had working lights to provide an interesting dynamic to the sculpture.  On the other side of the block was a huge sculpture to promote the possible Tokyo Olympics in 2016.  It featured 3 of Japan’s most recent, and famous, gold medalists from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Kousuke Kitajima was the prominent figure.  He won a lot of swimming medals and was pictured in his victory pose after winning gold.  On either side of him were Yukiko Ueno and Masae Ueno.  Yukiko was the pitcher and captain of the Japanese women’s softball team, and Masae was a Judo gold medalist.  Tokyo is currently in the running for the 2016 Olympics.  The other candidates include Chicago, USA; Madrid, Spain; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Currently, Tokyo isn’t doing well, but they do have a chance.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English):  http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese):  http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part I of a 3 part series .  (Part II) (Part III)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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