Finally getting to the last part of my Japan 2017 Spring Holiday recollections. It was a memorable trip largely in part because of the self driving experience which let us explore Japan outside of the usual touristy areas. I’m pretty sure this will be the mode of our travel for our future trips to Japan.
Apr 9-11 Hotel Nord Otaru
(images credit to Hotel Nord Otaru link above)
This hotel was chosen mainly because of its location, its right in front of the famous Otaru Canal. We drove so proximity to station was not a concern however it is a plus to know that this hotel is within walking distance from iconic Otaru JR station as well.
As the picture shown above, I’ve booked the Grande Family room(Western & Japanese style). It is huge at 57sqm. The tatami area was used to put 2 extra futons for us to sleep. This room can accomodates up to 6 though I do not recommend it, max 5 would be comfortable and it was spacious enough even for 4 of us. The pic only shows the sleeping room area. There is a walkway from entrance that leads to a pantry, 2 toilets and a big vanity and bathroom area as well, so yeah its huge by any Japanese standard.
Parking is a multi-level parking by lift (which is common in city area of Japan). Usually the hotel staff would do that for you, you just drive into the driveway, unload your stuff and let them do the parking for you. There is a daily parking fee of course at 1,000yen per day.
Everyone loved the room, its clean, smells fresh and yes they do have the origami cranes in the room as in the pic shown above. It’s close to S$300 a night including the parking just for the room without meals but I would reckon it is worth it since its more like a suite. If you are not driving just take note, its a slope down to the hotel from the Otaru station so while going back up the slope with your luggages may be a chore for some, you can take it as some form of excercise if you are healthy and fit.
Apr 11-13 Sapporo Excel Hotel Tokyu
This is a big hotel so expect it to be touristy, but maybe I was there off season? since I really did not see much of tourists here which I liked. The main reason this hotel was chosen because of its price since its off from the main Sapporo station. It is about 5 minutes walk to the nearest Nakajima-Koen station which is 2 stops away from Sapporo station. Since we are driving, the location was not much of a problem, parking is at 1,300yen per day. You can walk to the popular Susukino area as long as it is not too cold, its about 10-12 minutes walk.
I’ve booked the premium twin room(33sqm) here since the price was cheap at S$125 per room per night, that’s S$250 per night for us since we need 2 rooms. We were given the top floor which gave us plenty of peace and good views, I would say its a great bargain. The hotel and room is clean and modern, they literally have staff waiting at almost every area to welcome/greet you. I do not eat at the hotels I stay unless meals are included, there is a convenience just right across the road which makes me very convenient for us to grab our breakfasts. If you can find a good price like me, I would say grab it, do for the premium rooms, looking at the pictures of the standard rooms I would say it is worth paying a little bit extra.
Bonus: The room I was in has a whole block of USB points(6) for us to charge our electrical stuffs, we don’t have to take turns here. Wish every hotel has one, it is so convenient, plus it is a fast charger too.
Extras: View from hotel room on a clear night and on a sudden snowy day. Hokkaido weather as we learned can be unpredictable, be prepared anyway.
I had wanted to see the Penguin walk in Hokkaido Asahiyama Park but it was out of season but I found an alternative in Noboribetsu Marine Park while planning my route, so this became a stop for us enroute to our next destination in Otaru.
It is actually a pretty small compact marine park and I would say the admission at 2,450yen was on the high side. It was very crowded on the day we visited, with loads of tourists which marred some quiet experience. Because of this, we only caught 2 shows, mainly the Penguin Parade and the Sardine light show. Asahiyama Park is more popular than here but if it happens to be on your way why not drop by but I still find the admission price a bit steep, I recommend Otaru aquarium(which I will cover below) above this place.
For the penguin parade, there are lines depicting the route, so make sure you stay along the front to get a good view. The penguins are adorable as they wobble and walk and some curious ones get really up close to you. It is a fun experience to see penguins especially King Penguins so up close. I personally love the sardine light and sound show, it was a pretty sight to behold, just not sure if my pics tells the same story.
Surprise find: We decided to lunch here before heading off and went into one of the restaurants in the park. Restaurant “Lindetraet” serves fantastic pastas. Both my kids ordered the spaghetti bolognese and are bowled over by it saying its the best they have tasted so far. They are famous for their ice creams too, so if you come here, do check this restaurant out.
Okay, technically speaking, this is not a museum. It’s more retail shopping concept with certain parts of it dedicated to displaying antique rare music boxes. They have a few building all along the same street and even better there’s no admission fees. It’s mind boggling the amount and type of music boxes they have in here, some pics below.
There are many other shops along this stretch of road where the music box museum is, such as the Taisho glass and Kitachi glass outlet as well as food and drinks many offering samples to try. You can spend some time wandering about and shopping. LeTao main store is here too which I will elaborate below.
Otaru canal/Otaru Station
Otaru is famous for their picturesque otaru canal in winter. I can’t say the same when it is not clad with snow, its just looks like an ordinary canal to me but its a place where I take my morning walks while everyone is still in dreamland. Otaru Canal is also lined with restaurants and shops, which we never tried any even though they are famous for the freshness of their sushi and sashimi since they are right next to the sea. We are not fans of sushi/sashimi you see. For those who are, you can check them out.
A last minute plan to visit the Otaru aquarium since we called off plan to visit Cape Kamui since it is a good 2 hours drive away and no one was keen on the long journey. It is a good choice I would say, with admission fees only at 1,000yen it was a steal with the many surprising offerings we find inside.
My kids thoroughly enjoyed the aquarium despite this being similar in concept to the marine park at noboribetsu which we visited only a couple of days back. In fact, Otaru aquarium has much more to offer compared to the marine park. Another advantage, it is not crowded, that is probably because we went on a weekday and it is not a public or school holiday. The place is huge and we really took our time exploring it. If want to see the cute little penguins walk(no King penguins here), they have it here too. The dolphin show was a highlight and we could really get up close to the dolphins after the show like right in front of them and one of them was a show off too, performing for us even after the show ended ^__^ (the one in my pic above). We caught the cute penguins show, seal show as well as the sea-lion show, I think we watched every show that is available!
However, it was a poor turtle who lost one flipper that caught the attention and heart of my kids at the aquarium. (pic below credit link )They lingered around it at the beginning and at the end. Pity I forgot its name but yes it was pitiful to see if swimming along with just 3 flippers.
We also loved the walrus family here(pic below credit Otaru Aquarium), the baby is only 1 year old but was already big in my eyes, the father is humongous but honestly I think the place given to them is too small in my opinion.
Fun fact: We paid a small fee for a bucket of fish to feed the sea lions and was given a stick. We were puzzled and wondered why? My son quickly chipped in to explain what the old man was trying to tell us, it is to ward off the sea-gulls. The area where the sea lions are kept is in the open,(see pic below of view of Otaru aquarium from the observation point) hence the sea gulls are every where, so while feeding, they will swoop in and take the food you are about to feed the sea-lions or seals. We learn a new thing everyday, it was fun trying to feed the sea-lions and trying to ward off the annoying sea gulls at the same time. Well they did get away with one or two fish. My girl was so upset with them stealing the fish haha but its their natural way to survive.
The link given is in Japanese since the English link just show general info of Otaru city.
Like the Otaru aquarium, this was not in the original plan. This was the substitute for Cape Kamui so as to say. This worked out well since this observation deck is just less than 10 minutes drive from where we stay and a stone’s throw away from Otaru Aquarium, killing 2 birds with one stone.
This is a very scenic point in my view, from my limited photography skills, the pic still came off pretty considering these are taken through mobile phone. It is not crowded which will always be a plus point for us, in one of the pic above, you can see it also oversees the Otaru Aquarium right below. There is no admission fee too, if you do not drive, just take the bus to Otaru Aquarium(details avail from the Otaru aquarium website link above) and take a slow hike up, it is not a very long way up but it is quite steep so its not too easy (well at least for me with knee problem) but if you are young and healthy it shouldn’t be much of a difficulty. Alternatively you could just rent a car for a day in Otaru itself or take a cab. There is also a lighthouse observation point nearby, but we didn’t visit it since no one wanted to climb up ^^;
The famous white chocolate factory in Hokkaido that makes your favourite white chocolate biscuits above. There is an admission fee of 600yen per person. This was actually a disappointment for us, inside the ‘factory’ there was a lot of other displays which we felt was out of place, the only thing that interests and attracts us was seeing how these white chocolate biscuits was made. Other than that, you would be spending more time at the retail shop, advice is to buy stuff that is only available here since these biscuits can be bought almost anywhere else in Japan. We bought some ‘popping chocolates’ which we taught was unique (it makes popping sound as you eat them) as souvenirs, otherwise it was a very short trip here.
I am not a foodie expert, nor am I very particular about food, in fact I am easy to please so if it it appears here, you must try it. LoL.
The shop name:
My son was the one who recommended this ramen shop to us. It is a very short walk from Otaru station and not too far from Hotel Nord Otaru where we stayed. It is a very small store manned by 2 persons, the owner(also the chef) and his assistant. It was full when we went there and we had to wait before we got a place. The menu is not extensive just a few items but it is precisely these few items they specialised in.
After we placed our order it was another long wait since each of ramen is made only upon order including the soup base. The roast pork is friend separately before placing into the bowl. The fried gyoza is equally delicious, we had to order a second helping. Everyone of us finished up the bowl of ramen, including my girl who usually don’t eat pork, my hubby and son even slurped up all the soup. A spoonful of chilli is given to you to add according to your liking.
It is very popular, I think its name has spread by word although it is in quite a inconspicuous little lane and corner. We wanted to go by the next day for another meal but was sad that it was their off day of the week. So if you are in Otaru, be sure to check this one out, it will be worth it.
Side note: Hokkaido ramen is different from mainland Tokyo in that in Tokyo their soup base is mainly Tonkatsu or Shoyu. In Hokkaido, they specialises in Miso base soup which in my opinion is pretty tasty. I find that I love Hokkaido ramen more than the usual tonkatsu based ramen.
Hokkaido’s milk products is also very famous. Their cheeses, milk, fresh cream are simply delicious. being a diary lover, it was heaven for me. So don’t missed them if you are in the area.
LeTao is available for purchase in Singapore. I didn’t know that it originated from Otaru. They have the main store with a restaurant here, pic show above as well as a cafe just across the road. They hand out samples for you to try for most of their products, they are famous for their chocolate and cheese products. They are not particularly cheap but I do love their chocolates and cheese fromage cake. We bought some as souvenirs to be brought back home as well as popped over to the cafe across the road for the cheese fromage cake. Even if you don’t intend to buy, popped in for the free samples if you are visiting the music box museum. The cheese fromage cake is a must try unless you do not like milk or cheese products like my hubby.
Experiencing Jpop fandom
My girl is a Jpop fan as compared to many teens who are Kpop fans. One of her fav groups was actually having a concert in Hokkaido during the time we will be there. Unfortunately, we were not able to get any concert tickets since they were all sold out to their fan club members. So to lessen the disappointment, we decided to pop into the concert venue on the actual day to buy some concert momento. When we reach the stadium where the concert was held, all we could see was queues and queues of girls all dressed up and waiting patiently to get into the concert hall. We even see accompanying parents and some young parents with babies in tow. They are very organised btw and it was just interesting to see this scene and experience it since I never experience such things during my teen years.My girl was green with envy wishing she could be in the queue and knowing that she is so close and yet unable to attend it. But she is happy with the concert momento that she was able to buy to keep as a consolation.