Our hotel breakfast came with a choice of a Japanese breakfast at Sapporo Central Market Jogai (not to be confused with Nijo Market) or Hotel breakfast. We were picked up by a hotel shuttle.
We left hotel at 8.30am, had breakfast and returned to Sapporo station by 10.10am. Nice experience, but for the next 2 nights, we opted for the Hotel western breakfast. Possibly give Nijo market a miss. Unlike Tsukiji which even the locals and tradesmen frequent, Jogai Central Market caters to tourists. Hokkaido has a touristy feel. Most Japanese working there are connected to the tourism industry and arrived around 10-20 years ago, i.e. recently, to break away from the pressure of large metropolis lifestyle in Tokyo.
For lunch we had miso ramen at a stall on Apai Food Alley around Sapporo Station. Pretty good. Intense broth, about 740 yen per bowl. Locals were slurping their noodles, but we couldn’t finish ours.
After lunch, we went to the JR Information Desk at Sapporo Station (near our hotel) to purchase a ticket to Otaru.
We bought the Sapporo/Otaru one day pass for tourists, which was a good deal, it includes a separate ticket for unlimited one day travel on the Sapporo subway, which we decide to use on Day 3. The Sapporo Tourism Centre is next to the JR Information Desk, so you can do your research there, which we did to confirm our ryokan stay at Jyozankei onsen on our last day. There’re different counter staff speaking (fluent, I must add!) English, Mandarin etc and very helpful.
My feedback on Otaru:
1. Very convenient to get there: There’re about 4 trains per hour between Otaru and Sapporo. The airport rapid which plies Chitose to Otaru, takes about 30 mins from Sapporo, while the semi-rapid takes 45mins.
2. Stop at Otaru Station (final), if you want to visit the Otaru Canal and walk to the shopping/eating street (10mins). If you want to start off with the shopping street, stop at Minami (means “South”) -Otaru which is one stop earlier than Otaru Station. We missed the stop as it looked non-descript. No signages.
3. Five hours is more than enough. Most shops in Otaru close at 5.30pm (pronto). Some sushi joints, according to the Japanese guidebook, close on Wednesdays. We didn’t realise it, as it was still bright in summer, and the staff were in such hurry to close the shop and pack up. My conclusion, is that they’re from out of town and have to catch a train?
4. Visit Otaru if you’re making a pit stop from Niseko to Sapporo. Or you’re utterly bored in Sapporo. Or its winter and you want to visit the Snow Festival. In summer, if its to see the Otaru Canal, this is it – the entire length of the Canal.
5. The glass souvenirs? Hmm, nothing to shout about and the Venetian Glass museum, is well from Venice.
6. I highly recommend Le Tao, as a place to rest your feet and enjoy their superlicious cream cheese cake (must try!). Have pasta lunch there, if you’re early. If you miss Le Tao, don’t fret, you can get it at Daimaru food basement in Sapporo. Plus frozen ones to bring home.
7. Maybe I’m a bit sore because I missed buying the Otaru souvenir, a hello kitty cup/ saucer for my mom. There’s a glass cabinet outside the shop, showing what you’ve missed. Shop is at the start of the street, next to the Post Office if you’re coming from Minami Otaru station. Otaru was the “wall-street” of Hokkaido, some 100 yrs ago. But I don’t see much old heritage buildings around.
8. Have an ice-cream at the stall beside the Venetian Glass Museum, next to Le Tao. Very good. Much, much better than the one we had at a random shop near the Otaru train station (frequented by locals). My favourite flavour is the orange- melon. 3 flavours in one cone is most value for money. Beyond that, your tongue can’t taste the difference, although there’s an option for 5 flavours.
9. Catch the last rapid airport at 7.30pm unless you want to take the local train. No worries that you’ll miss anything. We left at abut 6.30pm as most of the shops were closed anyway. There’re hiydrangeas growing wild around the Minami Station, that’s how interesting the horticulture is.