Saturday, April 17, 2010

Off to Otaru for a Spot of Romance

 27th October, 2003 - Today we're off to Otaru.... the place to go from Sapporo. You can get to Otaru by either train (catch the JR train which runs on the half hour, and costs about 620 yen) or by road (either the toll-free road or the tolled Sasson Expressway which will cost about 1200 yen). 
Today T-chan and I are driving her Sera... 

Otaru has a strange relationship with Sapporo... it's about 37 km (~40 min) drive away (with the inevitable tunnels), and is often seen as the "romantic destination" for couples in Sapporo...

...but it's also where some of the outlets can be found (and hence cheap shopping), and as such it's a bit of a strange blend of attractions... but as such, there's something in Otaru for everyone.

Today we're at a small restaurant (called Fisherman's Harbour) that sits on the western edge of the Otaru harbour (Ishikari Bay)

The view over the water is nice... but then again, it's not exactly Sydney Harbour either.  Actually this goes to the whole feel of Otaru. Otaru started off as a trading port and fishing port. A job that it still enjoys... even though it no longer has the role of being a major import/export hub. That's gone to places like Ishikari and Tomakomai... we'll discuss Tomakomai more a little later on.

Otaru is semi-industrial, semi-commercial, and semi-historical. And it's very very hilly.... indeed one of the mountains looming over Otaru is called Tengu-yama (a tengu is a mischievous mythical creature in Japan with a red face, and a very long nose...)

Otaru is still famous for it's canals - or should I say canal as there really is only the one preserved canal remaining. It is however very picturesque, and almost impossible not to photograph.

That has a distinctive old world charm.... just ignore the apartment buildings crowding in from across the canal... Actually Otaru is one of those places that looks attractive no matter what season.

There's a lot of shops in Otaru... to be honest, most of the popular ones are related to the glass industry (for which Otaru is famous within Japan) and music boxes of all things. We went to a lot of these very attractive shops (yet no photos - sorry - you will need to wait to later trips to see them). Yet there are others shops to browse in, even if they are a little less distinctive... hmmm who's that over there...?

Astro Boy (or Tetsuwan Atomu in Japan) welcomes weary travellers over to the shop. The other two are just content to sit back and (rather creepily) take it all in.

This shop for example had a lot of collector memorabilia from 60-70's USA.... as well as your typical touristy knick-knacks. T-chan and I enjoyed our time browsing around here. Actually there's a lot of variety in Otaru, and you can spend a long time just wandering around. Unfortunately I think this shop's been converted into parking... *sigh* that's progress for you.

There is a strange fusion of old and...hmmm... how to say it... bad taste(?) in Otaru. Was that a bad pun?

Next time I might talk about the glass industry and the sorts of things you can buy here.

Yet the heart of Otaru is still strong with it's victorian character infused with a good dashing capitalist zeal. It's definitely a nice day-trip from Sapporo - and one that we've done on a few occasions now. And yes, it's a nice romantic place to visit. Don't have too high expectations, and you won't be disappointed. Actually, Otaru was featured (sort of) in a famous Japanese movie, Love Letter. Thoroughly recommend it!

As a an aside, on the way back from Otaru - if you're driving... I'd definitely recommend making a detour to visit Asari Dam. Not least of all for the really funky "UFO bridge" by which you climb to get to the dam wall itself. The photo here doesn't do it justice, as it circles around and around, and you feel precariously spinning higher and higher. Not good for the faint hearted... but worth while to get to the top. We came here at night, so the views were less than spectacular, but this is also a great place to see the autumn colours.

Just turn inland along the Asari Onsen Dori... which (as the name of the road suggests) also takes you to the local onsen as well. Truly, the roadworks in Japan are fantastic in scale... ok, they may not be up to the US super-highways, but they're a work of art and efficiency. Er... how far are we from Tengu-yama?... there's an eeriness about this place... and T-chan swears that she's met a Tengu back when she was twenty years old. I am happy for them to remain mythical please. Let's go!

It was a big day, and T-chan took the chance to catch up on some Z's. Actually, we had decided not to bring T-chan's Sera back to Australia; rather T-chan decided to sell it to her friend's (T2-chan) brother. This is a good deal for all as he gets a cheap car, we avoid having to pay for the scrapping of the car. This is a hard decision for T-chan however....    lots of tears. T-chan loved that car.

She's dreaming of her Sera...
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