Rainy Otaru

Rainy Otaru – maybe rainy is an understatement for what I experienced on my last Saturday in Hokkaido. It was a downpour. We had always planned to visit Otaru because of the Ushio Festival that happens every summer. The festival is one of the events we had planned on visiting even before coming to Japan. However, we did not anticipate the heavy summer rains that would last almost all day in Otaru.

yukata, umbrellas, and rain

This day, we were joined by a couple of our classmates – a young lady from Taiwan and a very young lad from Northern Ireland. When we left Sapporo for the 40-minute train ride to Otaru, we were hoping that things would get better. The clouds were dark and heavy, but sometimes rain can come and go quickly. We weren’t so lucky.

We wanted to watch the festival parade. Some helpful volunteers at the JR Otaru Station directed us straight down the main road from the train station directly to the water. That’s where we would find the parade. By the time we had walked a couple of blocks away from the train station, my shoes, socks, and feet were soaked right through.

the parade must go on

We did manage to catch a glimpse of the parade, but the poor people. They were doing their best and carrying on despite the heavy downpour. We managed to find a store overhang where many people were hiding from the rain. We were pretty miserable with our soaked shoes. I can only imagine those out walking in the parade and how soaked they must have felt.

Otaru’s Ushio Festival stalls

Around the corner from where we were hiding from the rain was the main festival food stalls. Normally, this place would be buzzing with people buying all sorts of summer festival goodies and food. However, even the stall owners were trying to stay dry and keep their wares from blowing away. It was obvious that a few stalls had given up on the day, closed shop, and gone home.

We walked on to the other part of Otaru where most of the tourist shops were. We trudged through the torrential rain. At times, the rain would let up a little bit. But it was already too late for my cold wet feet. We ended up going into a couple of shops here and there. Basically we went wherever we could to get out of the rain.

We were getting pretty hungry as the afternoon rolled on. One of our shared house mates recommended a little cafe on the tourist stretch. It was not obvious when we arrived at the cafe that there was a cafe there. There were some green cloth banners, or noren, with the cafe’s logo and the Japanese kanji for coffee. This was kanekichi shokachaya sakaiya.

The unassuming door of kanekichi shokachaya sakaiya cafe
kanekichi shokachaya sakaiya
floral decor in the cafe

It was fairly dark in the cafe, especially with the dark, rainy skies outside, but it was a very warm decor filled with wood everywhere. Since this was a coffee shop, I needed to have the coffee. The food menu wasn’t extensive, but it looked like the red bean mochi set was the biggest and most filling item on the menu.

red bean mochi set with green tea
a beautiful coffee pot set

There was a definite sense of elegance with everything in the cafe. The coffee set especially impressed me. The large copper coffee pot and the heavy teaspoons were solid feeling in the hand. The tiny cream pitcher was delicate and likely made by a local Otaru glass artisan. The coffee was also rich in flavour and aroma. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I think the beautiful coffee set really made the coffee taste better.

ivy-covered Otaru shop
rushing canal water in the rain

After our afternoon meal, we did some more shopping. We dove into the Orgel Musicbox Museum Store. We spent a good deal of time in there perusing all 3 floors of the store and drying our feet. I actually snuck away from the group to go to the washroom and dry my socks. Thank goodness there was an air dryer.  After warming up and drying my socks a little bit, my feet were much happier. Too bad I couldn’t dry my shoes. They wouldn’t fit into the air dryer.

a busy Otaru restaurant

Before we knew it, the sun was starting to set and shops were starting to close. It was time to find ourselves a little dinner. Our Taiwanese companion had an izakaya recommended to her. She wanted to try it out so we went out in search of the place. The izakaya was definitely off the beaten tourist path. We had to go up the hill behind the music box store, hang a right and head towards the railroad tracks to find the izakaya.

rainy izakaya search

These are the kind of places that travellers like me love to find. Most of the people in the izakaya seemed to be locals, or at least Japanese. In Japanese style, there was a room with tatami floor for which we had to take off our shoes. I was more than happy to kick off my wet shoes and socks for the next hour or so. The izakaya was very homey. There were even a couple of families with crying children. It doesn’t get homier than crying children.

izakaya’s sake selection
izakaya food

Apart from drinking, izakayas server lots of small dishes. You could almost think of izakayas as Japanese tapas bars. We ordered a variety of little dishes. For some reason, we even ordered french fries with a stick of butter slapped right on top of it. I’m not sure how we ended up ordering fries of all things. I even ordered a little sake for myself. It helped to warm me up a little on this cold wet evening.

What a day! It was wet and miserable, but we had great company and enjoyed the walks. My feet weren’t so happy for the most part, but the memories were well worth the trek through the rain and puddles. It was all dark outside and it was time to go back to Sapporo. We hopped onto the local train back to JR Sapporo Station. I’d be catching the airport bus early the next morning and saying goodbye to Hokkaido.

the local train back to Sapporo

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