Japan: Otaru, Hokkaido
So, as with the previous post, I would like to post a series of photos with little captions to give you a photo essay of our trip to Otaru, near Sapporo, in Hokkaido. Otaru is a port town very popular with tourists, and although we normally avoid those types of places we couldn’t travel too far due to J’s ankle injury and it was an easy train ride from our hotel in Sapporo. We actually enjoyed it quite a bit- it was a lovely day, the ocean smelled wonderful and it wasn’t too crowded. Of course there were the usual touristy restaurants and shops but overall it was a great experience and completely different from anywhere I’d been during my seven years living in Tokyo.
The 35 minute train ride from Sapporo was very scenic – with the last 10 or so minutes being right on the coast:
We arrived at Otaru station and one of the first things I noticed were these beautiful glass lanterns:
Otaru is known for their glassmaking. With the decline of the herring fishing industry in the 1950’s, the makers of glass buoys decided to get into the fine glassware business. There were many glass shops and even a place where tourists can make their own glass:
Another famous landmark in Otaru is the Kitakaro sweets shop. J and I walked in and were happy to see that many of their yummy confections available to sample, and sample we did! Kitakaro is best known for their version of Baumkuchen, a German cake made of many layers, or rings.
Also known as “The King of Cakes,” Baumkuchen, literally translated means “tree cake” and is sweet, moist and delicious with tea. You can see the pre-cut Baumkuchen here:
We also had a soft-serve ice cream cone since Hokkaido is famous for their fresh dairy products. A lot of sweets come in milk flavor, unlike the States where vanilla is the predominate ice cream of choice. The freshness of Hokkaido cream doesn’t need to be masked by any flavorings and the soft serve was so good that J and I ate it before I could even whip out my camera!
Although we didn’t stop to sit and eat a meal during our day trip, we sampled enough food to keep our tummies really happy. There we many seafood markets offering freshly grilled scallops topped with a dollop of fresh, Hokkaido butter (YUM) and a splash of sake:
We also walked into a few small historical stores like one that sells konbu, or dried seaweed, and sampled some konbu tea while looking at their vintage housewares:
….and then bumped into what seemed to be a tiny museum filled with old knives, typewriters, magazines and other tools:
After we were finished window shopping we walked off of the main shopping street toward the famous canals. Though the canals used to be bustling with small ships that had to unload the larger ships coming into the harbor, modern facilities made them obsolete and they’ve since been restored and have become one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
We saw a few more things, including this cool sake shop where, of course, they let us sample some of their goods. The old, wooden floorboard creaked beneath our feet as we walked through and looked at the gorgeous bottles covering the shelves:
J and I really enjoyed our time in Otaru and were glad that we decided, in spite of J’s twisted ankle, to make a go at it. It really is a beautiful little town and I’d recommend it for a half-day trip if you ever find yourself in Sapporo. Definitely go hungry- with almost all of the shops offering samples of their food, it’s easy to feel satisfied even if you don’t stop for a sitdown meal. In addition to the cake, scallops and sake we tried some amazing Darjeeling tea chocolates- J loved them so much that we walked by each of their three locations (all on the same street!) and got samples at each. Unfortunately they had to be refrigirated so we couldn’t bring any home, but they were absolutely divine and unlike any chocolates we’d ever eaten.
More Japan reports to come, I promise!