Today I took a day-trip to Otaru which is a small port town about 30 minutes train ride out of Sapporo. It started a little differently today because I got up before midday, I’ll wait till you all recover.
Done? Ok, good. Taking the subway in from Sumikawa to Sapporo station has become muscle memory to me now, and I’ve noticed that I even end up in the same seat every time – James’ seat. A quick reboot at Starbucks because Japanese cafes can’t do coffee to save themselves and I was on my way to Otaru. It’s 640 yen one way by JR Hakodate Train and you’ll usually find the carriages moderately empty. The view from the train is splendid and both sides are surrounded by snow covered mountains and it makes the already quick trip just that little bit faster.
The moment you leave the Otaru station in winter you are smacked in the face by a freezing cold ocean breeze. Seriously this thing should be the name of a new mint chewing gum flavor. There is a warning on the Otaru sightseeing website that reminds you to be safe when you walk in winter and they say it with good reason! The entire town is one giant slick slip ‘n’ slide so wear decent shoes if you do decide to check it out. Making your way to the canal, the focal point of the town, is fairly simple you walk out of the station and down the hill towards the ocean and you literally can’t miss the thing.
As I arrived there was a pretty busy area with people of all races milling about so I decided to take the road less travelled and head down and away from the people. It was slippery, but lovely. Aside from getting no warmth or vitamin D from the sun I do find it’s struggle to escape the clouds to be very beautiful and it added just that little extra to the place. The port is surrounded by mountains and they help frame what is a pretty little town.
I wormed my way towards the port and eventually found myself at the pier surrounded by Japanese Coast Guard boats doing routine inspections. I stopped for some famous Otaru sashimi and I was not disappointed by the hype. It is melt in your mouth fantastic and if you only visit this place for the sushi then you will walk away a happy person.
Rounding back I found yet another crowd of people in the same area as when I first arrived and I thought it must have been a culturally significant part of the town so I checked it out for myself. It turns out it was just a case of the lemmings, just a large number of people who seemed to think that because some people were there that it was special. Legitimately the exact same thing I’d seen but with way more people in the way. Everyone was taking selfies or group photos of nothing and waiting in line to do so. Sometimes the things you see…
I scooted my way out of there truly puzzled by what I’d just seen and made my way back towards the station. It was here the plastic connection for my gopro to my selfie stick broke and I swore my way up the hill, it must have been the cold making the plastic rigid. Ah well, photos by hand from now on.
I had seen some of the beauty of Otaru, but I couldn’t help but feel like I’d missed the point of the place. Was it a beach side getaway? A place to come eat seafood? An onsen town? There was just something missing about the place, like a true meaning for it other than a port. It might have just been the season and a lack of things to do in -6 degree weather but I wonder why so many people make the trip to see a canal. Maybe when the snow festival starts it’ll make more sense.
The return trip was once again scenic, and this time I had the window seat that could see the ocean crash against the rail barriers and I had to appreciate it’s beauty.
All in all it was a pleasant day, but I once again seem to have arrived too early in the season to fully enjoy the beauty this place has to offer. For anyone looking to enjoy their winter Snow Festival it begins on the 3rd of February and ends on the 12th. The canal would look spectacular lit up at night!