Pretty sure I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I have a bit of a soft spot for small towns. Not sure how I’d go living in one for a long time, but they sure are lovely places to visit. One of my most favourite places in Japan was a small rural town: Otaru is located somewhere west of Sapporo, in Hokkaido, and we visited on February 8th.
Otaru is only about half an hour from Sapporo by train. Things like this amaze me because sometimes it takes over half an hour to get from one part of Brisbane to another by train – on one train line, travelling through the same city!
A few friends of mine (BL, RX, MC) were also in Sapporo for the Snow Festival, so KF and I met up with them in the morning, and we headed off to Otaru together. The train was surprisingly packed for mid/late morning on a weekday. Nevertheless, we got some good views of the sea as we neared the town (Otaru is right by the coast of Hokkaido).
The Otaru Fish Market is quite close to the main train station there, so it was basically a given that this would be our first pit stop. Of course, it wasn’t really massive or anything (like you see in Tokyo or other big cities) but it had that ever familiar market atmosphere with shops and stalls brimming with fresh seafood of all sorts, and friendly people at every door to sell the goods.
There’s also a scattering of restaurants along the fish market, where you can sample the seafood without having to do any of the prep yourself. One of my most memorable meals in Japan was from this fish market: sashimi salmon, scallops and sea urchin, served with rice, and soup on the side. Just absolutely frickin’ delicious, fresh seafood. It made all the difference.
After lunch, we set off to explore the town. The main reason I included Otaru in our itinerary was because of the Snow Light Path, which, I suppose, is Otaru’s answer to Sapporo’s Snow Festival, and to Asahikawa’s Winter Festival. So, basically, we had all afternoon to wander around, and wait for nightfall.
The great thing about small towns is that you can get pretty much anywhere by just walking. A short walk from the fish market is Le TAO Bakery, which is famous for its amazing cakes. Well, my friend told me they’re famous – I mean she must’ve heard about them from somewhere, so I suppose they’re famous to some extent. Anyway, the cakes were amazing – a pretty decent selection too. Besides, can’t go wrong with reputable Hokkaido dairy, right? I enjoyed every bite.
After Le TAO, we stumbled upon a little mall not dissimilar to the main one in Sapporo – just scaled down a bit, and less crowded. Down a little side street from this mall, we found a quaint little shop selling miscellaneous snacks and other edible goodies. In the back of the shop, there was a window through which you could watch a man make these pea cookies (I really don’t know how else to describe them). I bought some for the sake of it, and they were so good – nice and crunchy. And because they had peas, I could convince myself that they were at least somewhat good for me.
I have a photo of the shop front, but I’m saving that for a future Thursday Doors post. If I ever go back to Otaru (which I should if I ever return to Sapporo, which I fully intend to do), I’ll be sure to visit this shop again. Hopefully someone will still be making these pea cookies.
More wandering led us to another cute cluster of cafes, restaurants, etc. For a small town, there sure were a lot of places to eat out. It was in this marketplace – which turned out to be Otaru Denuki-koji – that we found a little crepe shop. And because on holidays it doesn’t matter how much dessert you have, I didn’t need much prompting to go in. I would include a photo of my crepe but the photo doesn’t do it justice (I kind of just took the photo quickly, without much thought, because I just wanted to start eating).
After all this eating, we continued walking up and down some random streets, looking at souvenir shops and searching for some ice-cream shop that’s supposed to do squid ink ice-cream. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up finding this ice-cream shop, but I still had a good time walking around and checking out the buildings, and just absorbing the small-town atmosphere of the place.
This was one of my most favourite photos from our wanderings because of all the snow 😀
Maybe I was just high on sugar and exhilarated by the cold, but I could not resist collapsing into all that snow. At one point, I also tried to instigate a snowball fight (more just playfully throwing little snowballs around than anything resembling a real fight), and made a tiny snowman somewhere. Good times, good times…
And after all this, I’m sure we’d only just seen the tip of Otaru’s metaphorical iceberg! If/when I make a return visit, I think I might stay a night or two, and do some more exploring (and eating!)