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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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Asahikawa March 31, 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 “Asahikawa” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-9y

Asahikawa is a major city located in the middle of Hokkaido.  It is also known as the coldest city in Japan.  The city is served by a small airport that has daily flights to various major cities in Japan and special flights to Korea from time to time.  The easiest way to get around is to rent a car, or by bus.  The trains run roughly every 30 minutes making it difficult to plan anything.  The city is also very easy to navigate, so driving shouldn’t be a major problem for anyone, even a foreigner.

There are three major things to see or do in Asahikawa.  Asahiyama Zoo is the second busiest zoo in Japan, after Ueno Zoo in Tokyo.  It is well known in the summer for its bird display and various exotic animals.  They have many large cats and monkeys on display, but in the winter months, they are fairly inactive.  The main attraction in the winter is the sea animals.  The main attraction is the penguins.  There is a large pavilion where you can walk within the penguin pool.  It’s very nice to watch penguins flying overhead.  When you watch them swim from above, it looks like swimming, but when you are below them, it appears as if they are flying.  It’s quite beautiful.  The pavilion is also based outside where you can get very close to the penguins.  It’s possible to touch them, but you aren’t allowed.  In winter, you can also watch a “Penguin March”.  They take a nice slow walk around the zoo, but the main feature of the walk is that you can see the penguins without any glass in front of you.  You can almost touch the penguins, but it’s not allowed, of course.  The Penguin March itself is quite simple and boring as they have King Penguins, but from time to time, some Gentoo Penguins also join the walk.  These are much smaller, but more active, providing a better show for the audience.  While the penguins are the main attraction the second biggest attraction during the winter months are the polar bears.

These majestic bears tend to just sleep during the day, but they have a few unique attractions.  The first is an observation bubble.  You can pop your head up from a tunnel and see the polar bears resting.  It’s to simulate the feelings a seal would have if it were to be attacked by a polar bear.  The other attraction is the pool where the bears play around.  In the summer months, the zookeepers tend to add fruit encased in ice as a special treat.  Watching the bears can be fun, but it is very busy, and timing is everything.  The last attraction is the Leopard Seal pavilion.  Its main feature is a glass tube where the seals can swim up and down.  It allows you to enjoy a full 360 degree view of the leopard seal swimming.  It is a very cool sight to see and highly recommended.

The second thing to do in Asahikawa is to eat ramen.  Asahikawa is famous, like most places in Japan, for its ramen.  The ramen itself isn’t that special, but it does have a slightly distinct flavour.  It has a stronger fish taste to it, in general.  Myself, I can’t really tell the difference, but it is a very nice lunch if you are outside all day in the freezing cold.  The last thing to do in Asahikawa is to visit the Otokoyama sake factory.  It is one of Hokkaido’s most famous brands and it tastes wonderful.  It’s a nice way to end your day and pick up a few gifts for some friends.

If you are intending to go to Hokkaido for a vacation, Asahikawa is a wonderful place to visit.  It isn’t the best place as a base for your trip, but it can be a base for part of your trip.  In the winter, it’s good for a few days of skiing, but in reality, it’s not close enough to any famous ski hills.  In the summer, it’s good because it’s very close to Furano.  However, it is better to stay in Sapporo as Asahikawa can easily be finished as a single day trip.  As I have said in the past,  Hokkaido is a wonderful place to visit, and I hope you can enjoy a trip there someday soon.

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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