After our morning spiritual study and meditation, we had “hotto-tea” at Starbucks, and then took a walk to the Nijo Fish Market to have a look, and to take some photographs. It was only a moderate walk, but the blazing-hot sun made it seem longer, by the time we reached the one square block that is the market. It was interesting to see the giant-sized seafood – crabs, scallops, fish and shrimp, as well as sea urchin and salmon eggs – that Hokkaido is justly famous for, some quite alive in the fishsellers’ styrofoam or glass tanks, filled with water and ice. Although there are a couple of small restaurants right at the market, neither of us was hungry yet, so after photographing, we headed back to the JR Train Station that’s just a few blocks from our hotel.
After our day of city exploration yesterday, and the summer heat magnified by the pavement, we were ready to get out of Sapporo today, and we had decided this morning to take the JR train to Otaru, a port city on the Sea of Japan that is less than an hour by train northwest of Sapporo.
Otaru is a well known destination for Japanese tourists, because of the many buildings in its downtown area that were built of stone laid on wooden posts and beams, dating back to the Meiji era (late 19th to early 20th centuries). These buildings, with their beautiful restored exteriors, now house cafes, restaurants, all kinds of sweets shops, and craft boutiques, and in many of them the interior wooden framing has been retained, so it’s possible to see the bones of the original structures. Otaru is also especially popular as a summertime escape from Sapporo’s heat, since the breeze that comes from the Sea of Japan is so refreshing.
We started our afternoon in Otaru with lunch at a popular seafood shop, tasting the well-known specialties of Hokkaido that we had seen in the Nijo Fish Market earlier in the day – crab, scallops, and sea urchin. Hokkaido scallops, very large in size and very sweet in taste, grilled in their shells, were for me the standout. Afterwards, we had a very enjoyable time strolling the downtown streets with the other tourists, stopping into a store every now and then, or just window-shopping.
The most impressive store was the one devoted to music boxes, as part of the store was actually a museum-quality collection dating from the early 19th century. The level of mechanical sophistication of the older boxes (most of which are actually cabinets) is quite remarkable – some were made to automatically switch between a dozen different discs, some were designed to play pieces with three or four parts – and the sound quality of the beautiful baroque and romantic music selections was awesome. There’s such a harkening back to an earlier time, when tastes were
refined and gentle…I could have spent hours in this wonderful store, as it appealed to the same part of me that loves to see collections of old musical instruments in museums.
Otaru begins to close up a little after five, so we made our way to the train station and headed back to the Cross Hotel – this was for us a great way to spend our last day in this area, before heading north and east to the great national parks of Hokkaido.