Winter equals snow, and mountains of it! If you come from mid-late November through to end-March or early-April, you will need good snow footwear - sneakers won't cut it and you will suffer from wet, cold feet if you choose to wear them. Be careful of plastic soled shoes because you will kiss the icy sidewalk more often than you wish if you choose to wear these. If you find the shoes you have brought with you are hopeless, pop into a shoe shop and pick up a pair of ice-grippers. These little devices use elastic (no damage to your shoes- they go on, and come off easily) to put a grip onto the ball-part of the sole of your shoe. Cheap and very effective! It gets extremely cold in winter so take it into consideration if using photographic or video equipment outdoors. Our state of the art video camera choked when we wanted to do some night shooting last December! Watch for bears! Seriously! Oh, and bring your mosquito repellant.
Satisfying your senses
Initially, I felt that Otaru was overhyped and did not really want to make my way there. I'm glad I did.
The famous canal is way overhyped but I'd really recommend walking around the "Romantic quarters" on the Eastern side of town and taking the Otamoi cruise.
"See, Hear, Smell, Taste, Touch... and Feel"
Otaru hosts many sights - old warehouses, intricate musical boxes and glasswork, beautiful sea, the canal...
Musical boxes are a specialty craft in Otaru and even if you're not a lover of musical boxes (read: me), you're very likely to be tempted to pick up one item or two. I couldn't resist the tunes of "Fly Me to the Moon", "Theme from Romeo & Juliet", "Some of my Favourite Things" and "Totoro". Hmm, that makes four huh?
Smell and Taste - Hokkaido crabs, sashimi, sushi - all fresh off the neighbouring seas. Cutesy and beautifully packaged sweets and chocolates...
Touch and Feel - Stroll through the romantic quarters for that old nostalgic feeling. The beautiful tinkling tunes emitted from the musical instruments boost the ambience.
This actually was the highlight of the day for me. The cruise costs ¥2,050 but it's really worth it.
You first sail to the port town of Syukutsu - I think there is a old historical house of a fisherman or blacksmith (can't remember) which is a major highlight.
From there, you cruise the Otamoi. The seas are deep blue and choppy, the winds powerful, the craggy cliffs and rock formations awe-inspiring and the seagulls bold and greedy.
It's a really beautiful, beautiful place where you gape at the work of Mother Nature and feel the urge to become an environmental activist.