28 March 2012
Having survived an epic stack on the slopes in the morning, I decided to break away and go on an afternoon trip to the nearby port city of Otaru, on the recommendation of the hotel concierge.
The main reason for the trip, however, was that not many ATM’s in Japan accept foreign cards, including the ones in and around the hotel, and I was $20 away from effectively being broke.
After an 80 minute train ride, I had arrived, and immediately commenced strolling, if only to maintain warmth, as it was a balmy 5 degrees.
Established to cater for the fishing trade in the Sea of Japan, the town seems littered with European influences in its architecture, possibly due to a history of also catering to fishing fleets from nearby Russia. The highlight is the canal that winds its way delicately through a district of old warehouses that have been repurposed into restaurants, art galleries and the like. The presence of pedicabs give the impression it is a popular spot with local lovebirds.
However, perhaps it is the time of year, but Otaru didn’t seem as popular as it should have been. Despite being there for the afternoon rush hour, it seemed to lack the hustle and bustle you’d expect from a city of 138,000 people. The shopping streets were relatively empty and many cafes and shops were closed.
Yet there was noise. An eerie mechanical soundtrack not too dissimilar to polyphonic ringtones seemed to play along many of the city streets, definitely not the soothing soft pop music you would hear in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall. And the spoken words broadcast through traffic light mounted loudspeakers at pedestrian crossings briefly reminded me of the loud, intrusive public broadcasts that are a fact of life in North Korea, but I quickly put it down to the Japanese desire to ensure that every possible eventuality has had a sign warning of it installed.