top 5 otaru is my recommendation for a wonderful little japanese town off the beaten path. i like to think of otaru as being at the end of the world. i’m not geographically right, but it is located in the far end of hokkaido and it’s tiny, quaint and surrounded by water.

5. miyako st. shopping arcade. it’s a traditional gallery, a mix of pachinko, old shops and restaurants. i even remember a stuffed seal with a wool scarf around its neck… the street takes you from the train station to the sushi alley. don’t miss a meal there! hokkaido in general and otaru in special are famous for their amazing seafood! or try the genghis khan grill. don’t forget to order the local brew: otaru beer.

4. otaru canal. it’s advertised as the thing to do in otaru. it goes along the harbour and the warehouses. it is also where the snow light path festival takes place yearly. in 2013, it will take place between the 8th and the 17th of february.

3. any of the glass blowing workshops. do not leave without buying little figurines. or perhaps even making your own. they will pack the pieces perfectly, you don’t have to worry about them breaking on the way back home.

2. mount tengu. it’s otaru’s highlight! you take a bus to the cabin stop (in our bus, there were a few kids carrying snowboards. imagine how cool it would be to do that in your city!). you take the otaru tenguyama ropeway uphill. from the top, you look down and see the town and ocean at your feet. ski or snowboard down the slope or just enjoy the view while having a hot snack or drink from a machine. do not miss: the tengu statue (it seems to solve a lot of problems!) and the ski museum. small but very interesting. totally worth it!

1. otaru aquarium. perhaps you will not find it so special but it’s where i became quick friends with a walrus bull. he is my only friend in otaru! so the aquarium is the top of my list. it has regular tanks with fish and sea life. also, it has penguins, seals and walruses outside. and two separate shows: seals and dolphins!

but i must tell you about my moment with the walrus. him and his wife and their baby were swimming in their tank with one glass wall. i could see them going back and forth, the baby following the father in his tours, while the mother was just sitting inside someplace. the father stopped in front of me every time he came around. he was checking me out just as i was checking him out. i touched the glass where his face was. he was telling me something with walrus sounds. it was not wild and it was not inarticulate. we had some kind of a talk and i loved it that he thought i was interesting enough. after the father peeled himself away the baby was checking me out while swimming away. i had a very hard time leaving.

if you are in hokkaido, try to go to otaru. you will enjoy it!

photo credits: little aesthete