Hokkaido: Day Four

The Otaru Canal at night was quite gorgeous with the snow, icicles and candles strung out over the water- the one downfall is zero privacy as thousands of people gathered.

Today started, once again, with breakfast downstairs with the landlords. We were surprised with a full breakfast of miso soup with mushrooms, kelp onigiri and a greens and egg salad. They made us all coffee again as well. It was so delicious, and while we sat there, we talked with Keiko-san, the 82-year-old grandmother of the owner, though she looks like she is only 60. The owner’s name is Hiroko-san, and she runs it with her husband. Her sister is Naomi... we talked about actors, singers, and the differences in what is considered beautiful in the West and East. When we tried to explain to them that Japanese women are considered extremely attractive by the average western man, they kept saying ‘goma suri’, which means “grinding the goma” or... “You flatter!!” It was quite hilarious.

When I asked Keiko-san where she was born, she insisted that she had been born a French woman, but as she traveled down the Silk Road of China, her nose got knocked off, and so now she looks Japanese. She kept looking at her daughter and asking us why we thought her daughter hadn’t been born Western looking. It was a riot!

We were able to have a relaxing day, as we had no plans for anything until the evening. We went to Otaru, a thirty minute train ride from Sapporo, under a suggestion from my student. Otaru is an old fishing town, that had a fishing boom in the Taisho era, but has since seen a drop in their industry. It used to be called “Otarunai” in Ainu, which means “River of Sands,” but was later changer to Otaru, which means Little Barrel. Otaru is famous for its glass and shellfish. The train ride there is gorgeous, as the tracks run alongside the sea by only a few yards or so- it was quite moving, actually, and perhaps my favorite part of the entire day.

The main reason we decided to go to Otaru, however, is for the illumination of its canal at night. We arrived a little after 3pm, so briefly stopped into a restaurant known as La Campanella- a specialty fried food shop. We each ordered Hokkaido milk, and I got a sampler of fried fish cakes, which were absolutely delicious and kept me full the rest of the day. After our late lunch, we headed to the canal, and walked along it as the light faded. Prior to nightfall, there were crates of candles in glass buoys along the edges of the canal, and people were preparing the snow for extra illumination. The port feel of the city really reminded me of Mendocino, and I started feeling nostalgia.

On the western end of town, we looked into the glass stores that the city is famous for- the glass truly was gorgeous- entirely out of our price range, but indeed gorgeous to look at. In the end, Nicky talked me into buying a pair of glass earrings, as before coming, I honestly had my heart set on getting some glass from Otaru. They’re quite pretty, just little drops of glass with a pale blue tint to them.

On the way back, the sun had already set, so we took the main road and window shopped along the way. There was a really awesome woodcraft store where I looked around for some traditional woodcraft- and though I found several animal claws to possibly get for my dad, as Hiroko-san’s husband warned, anything made in Ainu fashion or by Ainu is extremely pricey- at this store, the Ainu style of wood carving instantly tripled the price! I hope to find something better when we go to the History Museum of Hokkaido (probably tomorrow). In the end, Nicky and I just bought a pair of red foxes hugging, linked together only by their legs. We were lucky enough to chance by K’s Blowing, a glass workshop, right before it closed, so we were able to watch a glass bottle being made. It was really cool.

Afterwards, it was time for the canal! As expected, it was truly a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, it was not quite “romantic” as the thousands of people gathered pushed and shoved and set up tripods, used flash photography, and every other manner of annoyance that comes with a tourist spot like this. I was able to get a few good shots, but in the end, I simply took Nicky down the unlit area of the canal, so that we could have some time to be alone and quiet together in the otherwise peaceful area.

While heading back to the train station, Erin surprised us and bought us a white glass egg as a memento, so now we have something a little larger from Otaru as memorabilia. The train ride home was rather uneventful, but, when we reached the ryokan, we were greeted yet again by the landlords (I will be sad to say goodbye to them on Tuesday) and a surprise dinner!! This time is was boiled cabbage in a meat broth with a Japanese style meatball. It was good!!! Nicky wanted to literally kiss the cook, so we went back downstairs, thanked them, and showed them our photos from the day. We ended up talking with them again, and when we noticed a show on Christian weddings in Thailand on TV, we noted how Japanese weddings are so much prettier-- this prompted Hiroko-san to run to the back and pull out all of her old wedding photos... she was so beautiful!! She also showed us the rest of her family photos, so I in turn showed Keiko-san and her pictures of my family. They said I resembled my dad. (^_^)

After a bit more chatting, we excused ourselves upstairs and now I am heading to bed..... tomorrow.... History Museum? We haven’t decided yet!