Otaru is a small town in central Hokkaido, a couple of hours away from Chitose. The main attraction here is the Otaru Canal, where most tourists gather for a picture. Lining the canal are small stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs and you can even have your picture taken on the trishaws parked at the nearby junction.
Away from the canal, there are many little shops along its quaint cobbled streets, from eateries, shops selling fresh seafood and flowers to the Otaru Music Box Museum, where visitors can observe how some of the glassware is made. There, you can also have some a piece of cake with tea or coffee in a little souvenir mug and get to keep the mug afterwards!
It's a really enchanting town to spend a day or a few hours! But if you do not like crowds, visit early. If you are there in the afternoon, you may run into groups of teens from the nearby school, and also groups of visitors from other countries.
Odori Park is located in the middle of the City. In spring and summer, the flowerbeds are covered with flowers of every colour! It is a very popular place for the workers in the city to rest here, stroll here or come here during lunchtime with their bento boxes.
In winter, the park is also the place where the ice sculptures for the Snow Festival are displayed. If you don't like to jostle with other visitors during the Snow Festival, come see the sculptures sligtly before the festival starts - most of the sculptures will already be in place and you'll have the place to yourself.
The park is situated next to the TV tower, one of Sapporo's landmarks, where there is an observation deck and large digital clock.
If you visit Hokkaido in spring or summer, you'll not get to experience the very cold Hokkaido winter, during which the area is buried in snow and ice. But you can feel what it'll be like at the Ice Pavilion, where the temperature is kept under 0 degrees celcius and the walls and ceiling are caked in ice.
Don't worry if you have not brought winter wear, as you can rent a coat of your size to keep warm before entering. Inside, there are little nooks and crannies of ice and in one of these, there is a machine that lets you experience what it is like sometimes in remote Hokkaido when there are strong biting winds and the temperature drops to -40!
Of course, visitors from similarly cold countries may not be impressed, but visitors from tropical areas may be interested to experience this. After you exit the icy place, you can enjoy a hot drink around a fireplace in a cozy little cafe that also sells small souvenirs.
One of the attractions of the ice pavilion is also special tanks of tiny luminous blue and red sea organisms that survives only in the coldest deepest waters. They look like little shrimp.
The Nijo Fresh Seafood Market is typical of a market in Southeast Asia, with 50 small shops under one roof. The difference here is that the shops sell mainly seafood - fish of all kinds, Hokkaido's ubitquitous hairy crabs, unagi (eel), sea urchins, and so on.
In one of the nooks and crannies, you may find a little eatery. When I say 'little', I mean it can only seat 3 diners at one time. Try eating lunch there if you feel like some local food!
There are also fruit stalls - look at the prices and you might be shocked at how much a rock melon costs!
The Ainu people are one of Hokkaido's well-known native tribes. The village serves as a centre showcasing the Ainu tribe's culture and history. Here, visitors can learn about how the tribe survived by hunting and then later by bartering, their weapons and other hunting tools, and the clothes they fashioned to keep warm.
Visitors will also be treated to a performance inside one of the huts by some of the members of the tribe, who will sing and dance and also play traditional instruments. Look up at the roof and you'll see hundreds of fishes, which are being smoked to store in preparation for winter.
Wintin the village grounds, there're even a few bears and Alaskan huskies in captivity.
Mount Daisetsuzan is accented by dramatic columnar cliffs that are lined with picturesque waterfalls. Two in particular are worth stopping for - the Meteor Falls and the Milky Way Falls, which are conveniently located next to each other.
In winter, the falls freeze in mid-flow, forming a silver slivers of ice across the rockface, like a fragile jewel curtain.
If you have time, cross the road and follow the stairs up the opposite cliff and you may be rewarded with a great view!
If you never attended science lessons in the lab and don't know what sulphur looks or smells like, you'll find out here!
Hell Valley, or Jigokudani, is a sulphurous valley that is popular with visitors both local and foriegn. The air in the valley and the areas around it is heavy with the smell of sulphur, which visitors get used to after a while.
The valley itself is bare and barren, save for a few patches of sad looking grass. You'll see that the orange and brown earth is covered in parts with a yellow substance - sulphur. You'll also notice that the earth, ponds and steams are emitting smoke or steam. In fact, if you observe carefully, you'll find that some of the stones on the wall next to you are steaming!
Don't worry, visitors are not allowed to stroll upon the hot earth, but on conveniently constructed pathways. Visitors may also meet some eggs vendors - get a taste of hard-boiled eggs that were boiled in the hot springs of Hell Valley itself!
Sorry to say but the red light district near Susukino in South eastern Sapporo has really great tasting food to offer. City area marked by the strange looking clock monument. Ramen, Gengis-khan (sp?), Yakitori, Udon, to name a few cuisines.
Something that seems to delight Westerners, as these music boxes are getting rare and not normally available for sale outside Otaru!
Remember the name for these boxes is "ORGEL". I forgot and asked the locals for directions to this shop, using Japanese equivalent of the words "music box". It didn't work! It was after some lengthy explanation on what I meant, that struck familiarity into the minds of the locals.
Sweeter smelling and less pungent than Western varieties, the Japanese lavender is a must-see in the summer months starting 2nd week of July to end August. Best viewing areas are located in the East-central areas of Hokkaido, where the air is cooler and fresher.
As you emerge from the Nakafurano JR Station, take a right and you will see this bridge. Walk through it to get behind the station, and walk straight down that road. A map will be present as you emerge from the end of the bridge. A map is also present outside the Station before the bridge.
One of the key attractions of Hokkaido in the summer months, is viewing lavender.
There are several farm locations in the Asahikawa area, though I would highly recommend "Nakafurano" over others like "Lavender Station" and "Furano". "Lavender Station is most central but trains getting there are irregular and only at certain times of the day. More trains go to "Nakafurano" which is therefore the most ideal location.
From Nakafurano Station, you can walk to farms located 10-15 minutes away. Large maps in English-Japanese of the area are erected in key locations you just cannot get lost!
Pictured here: Nakafurano Lavender Fields, 15 min walk from Station.
Melon season is around June-August, therefore prices of melons are competitively low. The Hokkaido variety is more tasty than melons from the rest of Japan so it will be good to try some. Melons from Hokkaido cost more in other parts of Japan.
Melon-flavoured snacks are also available, like Melon ice-cream, Kit-Kat in Melon, Melon flavoured chews, etc.
Pictured here are melons from a street market in Otaru, Hokkaido.
If you're travelling free and easy on a short trip in Hokkaido, here are the places you should get to, and are easily accessible by train:
Otaru - quaint old town with rich culture
Nakafurano - Lavender (summer) and skiing (winter)
Noboribetsu - Hot spring baths "on-sen"
Hakodate - a self-contained islet between Hokkaido and Honshu peninsulas
Sapporo - busy city, heart of Hokkaido
Shin-Sapporo - modern extention of Sapporo City, newer generation lifestyle.
Teine - Pronounced "tay-neh", a shopping haven.
Asahikawa - New industrialized city in mountainous zone of central Hokkaido.
Otaru - Shopping and sightseeing. Preserved fish, fresh fruits cheaper than in Sapporo.
Pictured here is the picturesque town of Otaru where very old buildings are juxtaposed with very modern ones. Indeed an experience not to be missed!
Lake Mashuko is probably THE most beautiful body of water in all of Japan. The downside of trying to see it is that it is often covered with fog or mist (to the point where you can't even see you're own hand right in front of you).
The best times of year to visit Mashuko are said to be around October when there tends to be less mist.
There are some funky green algea-like bobbing thingies you can buy in the gift shop and a million other things.
The green things look like something from Dr. Seus and apparently come from the Lake down below.
2-5-2 Chuoku kitagojonishi, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 060-0005, Japan
Good for: Couples
Let's start by saying that this hotel was quite a bit outside our normal budget of about 10,000 a...more
This hotel is located about 30 min. by car from Otaru Station, though there is regular free shuttle...more