Near Sapporo and want Beer? Try the Otaru Beer restaurant in the city of Otaru.
I think the Otaru Beer spot in Otaru is a better deal than the Sapporo Beer Factory or Sapporo Beer Garden in Sapporo. Otaru beer is more unique and tasty, and the environment is just as good if not better in Otaru. The Otaru Beer shop also has some quality souvenir mugs, glasses, and mini kegs for sale. If you like beer and find yourself in Otaru you should check it out. The food is nothing to write home about, but they go with a German theme so have pretzels and sausages as good as any that you’ll find in Hokkaido.
ProTip: Winter 2016 the Otaru Beer restaurant had a hot honey beer and a hot cherry beer available. The hot honey beer was not good. Repeat, not good. Skip it! The hot cheery beer was passable, but still not great. Stick with the Otaru Beer staples. I personally like their Weizen, also known as their “banana beer.”
You can get to Otaru from Sapporo by train in about 30-40 minutes.
The Sapporo Beer restaurant is located right on the main drag near the canal so it’s easy to find. In this age of Google I’ll leave the mapping to you. You can’t miss it!
Mingus Coffee has excellent and strong coffee, yummy cakes, and traditional jazz playing on vinyl to keep spirits up. It’s also located in the center of the city close to Sapporo TV Tower so you can stop by after doing some sightseeing.
Mingus Coffee is a smoker-friendly environment, so there’s that. When we were there on a Monday morning there were no other customers, so we didn’t have an issue with smoke. At other times you may be enjoying some second-hand smoke with your coffee, but hey, that’s usual in Japan.
The shop has a nice rustic look with old cameras, jazz record jackets, and coffee equipment filling out the scene. There are window seats though they don’t offer much of a view. The coffee menu is straight forward, but has the nice touch of having the strong coffee options clearly labeled “strong” (though in Japanese only). So if you like your coffee with a kick you can be sure to find something you like.
It’s -3°C here in Sapporo! The locals tell me it’s usually colder.
It’s not even “real” winter yet here in Hokkaido. Whenever I get into a cab the driver inevitably tells me that last year there was three times as much snow on the ground this time of year. Regardless, it’s cold, and there’s a lot of snow. Pretty though right?
Most of the people around Hokkaido Shrine this month are either Japanese going for their New Year visit, or tourists from Asia.
If you find yourself in Sapporo, Hokkaido Shrine is definitely worth the visit. It’s the biggest Shrine in Hokkaido and very beautiful. Here are some photos from today! Notice the icicles hanging off of everything and how thick the snow is piled up. Brrr!
If you’re near Hiroshima, or if you just love rabbits and want to make a trip to Japan to see more of them, consider going to Okunoshima! 大久野島
We made Okunoshima the destination for a two-family with kids trip and it was a good time. It’s basically an island rabbit petting zoo where the rabbits run free and come and go as they please. Great for the kids! The location is also interesting enough to keep the adults busy as well. You can also swim in the ocean as there is a nice beach, and there are also historical spots to check out. The island was a secret location used to produce and test poison gas during WWII. Apparently rabbits were used as test subjects. Now it’s a rabbit paradise!
You can get to Okunoshima by taking a 15 minute ferry from Tadanoumi (忠海). Tadanoumi is about 30 minutes from Mihara (三原) on the Kure Line, and Mihara is about 30 minutes from Hiroshima on the bullet train (Kodama), or about 1.5 hours from Hiroshima on regular trains.
Mihara is known for octopus, otherwise not much is going on there really. We travelled to Mihara and arrived at about 5pm after spending the day sight-seeing Hiroshima. We stayed the night in an inn in Mihara, and then left the next morning at about 8am to take the 30 minute train to Tadanoumi to catch the 9:30 ferry to Okunoshima.
You can find the Tadanoumi to Okunoshima ferry schedule here. Click to enlarge. It may change over time, but this is current as of July 2014.
After spending the better part of the day with the rabbits we left the island on the 2:30 pm ferry. The return ferry was MUCH smaller than the ferry going out to the island. The ride is only 15 minutes, but if you’re traveling with young children get to the ferry port early so you can be sure to get a seat. We travelled straight back to Osaka the same day we left Okunoshima and were home by about 7 pm. It wouldn’t be easy, but you could probably day trip Okunoshima from Osaka if you got an early start!
An elderly man working the ferry stop at Tadanojima started chatting with me and asked how I found out about the island. He then said that this year (2014) they have been getting a large number of foreign guests, especially from Northern Europe. He says they mostly claim to have simply discovered the island on the web, and have come to see the rabbits. That’s a pretty maniac trip if you ask me! From Northern Europe to see some rabbits?! I posted some links to media coverage of Okunoshima at the end of the article if you want to see what hype is being created.
The island itself is a good time. You can’t miss the rabbits, they are everywhere. You can buy food for the rabbits on the island, but you can also bring your own cabbage, lettuce, or carrots to feed them. We even saw one guy carrying a huge bag of rabbit food that he brought in himself… Probably to save money.
Planning to visit Okunoshima? Here are some tips:
– Bring human snacks. There is only one real restaurant on the island and their service is incredibly slow. It took us about 30 minutes to get our food, and the beers came out like 20 min before the edamame. Guess they are on island time. At lunch time the place gets very crowded, so plan to eat early if you’re going to eat there!
– Rabbit Poop. There is a lot of rabbit poop everywhere, so consider wearing shoes instead of sandals if it’s not too hot. So, you know, you don’t get rabbit poop on your feet.
– Rent a bicycle. You can rent a bicycle to get around the island. It’s a pretty significant walk from one location to the other, so a bicycle is a good way to get around.
– Bring a stroller. If you’ve got kids, bring a stroller. The walk ways are nice and smooth, so it’s great for wheeling around. The ferry boats are also big enough to take your stroller over on.
This summer I went to the Earth Celebration on Sado Island, a three-day festival centered around the amazing taiko-drumming of Kodo.
Sado Island (佐渡島 sadogashima) is the home of Kodo (鼓童), the most well-known taiko drumming group in Japan, and probably in the world. I had seen Kodo perform indoor concerts, once in Kobe and once somewhere else, but this was my first time going to Sado for the festival.
Imagine what these drums sound like live. It’s like precise and rhythmic thunder. Truly amazing and totally mesmerizing. Also notable are the physiques of the players themselves. Those guys are ripped. Anyway…
The festival itself is an extremely family friendly environment. Many people brought their children and even babies to the event. Our group included my family, which included a 1-year old and my wife, another couple and their 3-year old and 1-year old, another adult, and mother with a 5-month old and a 3-year old. I also saw a dude walking around with a ferret, and regular teenagers and seniors as well.
There are also classes and workshops available each day where you can learn to dance or to beat a taiko drum. Most of the workshops require reservations and fill up months in advance of the festival, so if you want to participate in one be sure to plan ahead. We did not take part in any of the workshops this time.
There was a main stage on the festival grounds that had schedules performances throughout the day. There wer also countless food stalls and shops selling the usual “hippie” fare. If you’ve been to a flea market or outdoor crafts festival in Japan you will be familiar with the bags, hats, drums, and other trinkets that are for sale.
The Kodo performance, which is the main event each day, starts at around 6:30 PM and ends at about 9:00 PM. Most participants purchase their dinner on the festival grounds and bring them to the concert area to eat while waiting for the show to start. No photography is allowed during the Kodo performance, so I don’t have any to show. The other photographs and videos here are from the other not Kodo performances during the festival. There are plenty of Kodo photos and videos around the web if you want to see the performers in action!
And now, the moment you have all been waiting for… I shall share tips for concert survival!
Bring a towel, it’s hot during the summer and you’re going to sweat.
Bring a large towel or something to claim your space and sit on during the main event — everyone does.
If you’re trying to save money, bring your own water. Water is for sale at about 100 yen a bottle at the festival site, but you know, every yen counts.
Bring a hat. It’s hot.
Sandals are nice to have, but if it rains the grounds get very soggy so prepare to have muddy feet.
Plan EARLY! Lodging options and event reservations fill up months before the festival, so plan ahead.
If you’re already convinced, in 2014, Earth Celebration will be held August 22 (Fri) through 24 (Sun). Start making plans! Many people who attend this festival go year after year, so go as soon as possible so that you can go again if you want!
Here are some photos that I took during Earth Celebration 2013. Enjoy! Hope you get a chance to attend the festival!
One of the stops on my trip to Tokyo with @GuideYu a few months ago was to a Tenugui shop in Harajuku called Kamawanu.
Tenugui are a traditional Japanese multipurpose cloth. To name just a few of the many uses for tenugui, back in the Edo period people would use tenugui as small towels, or wrap them around their heads to keep the sweat or hair out of their eyes. Tenugui are usually are decorated with traditional Japanese patterns and designs.
Tenugui that I bought at Kamawanu - Click for larger image
One of the tenugui I bought at Kamawanu depicts cats… I don’t like cats, but my wife does, and this was pretty cool artistically, so I grabbed it. It may seem a little weird to put a tenugui in a frame and hang it on the wall, but I swear I got this idea from the shop in Harajuku itself, and the art on this particular tenugui is a recreation of some traditional Japanese art from the 1800s, so I’m going to say that it’s wall worthy. To further justify my wall-hanging case I learned that one of my Japanese friends, @ukti2009, also has a tenugui framed and hanging on her wall. She has the 蚊取り線香 katori senkou pattern tenugui.
Kamawanu is a cool shop. If you are interested in Tenugui you should stop by. The shop name, Kamawanu, is a play on words. The first image is of a sickle, followed by a circle, and then the hiragana character nu. The following image explains everything, but basically in Japanese a sickle is “kama” 鎌, and a way to say a circle is “wa” 輪, and then you have the sound “nu.” In Japanese the phrase “KAMAWANU” means, “I don’t mind” and sort of expresses a feeling of indifference.
It seems that the original artwork for my “cat tenugui” was done around 1848 and is called 猫飼好五十三疋（みょうかいこうごじゅうさんびき）(Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido). I didn’t realize this until I started writing this blog post, but it seems that the images of the cats are also a play on words.
The image on my Tenugui is a small slice of the original much larger image featuring more cats. You can see the entire image here in high resolution thanks to wikimedia commons.
(Click for larger image) 猫飼好五十三疋 Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido
So, each cat and its pose are a play on words that describe one of the stations on the Tokaido train line.
The cat in the lower left of my tenugui is running away with a blue fish.
The blue fish he is running away with is called サバ SABA in Japanese.
The cat is a tabby cat. A tabby cat is called a ぶち猫 (BUCHI NEKO) in Japanese.
So, the train station the image is referring to is FUJISAWA train station! Because FUJI sounds like BUCHI and SAWA sounds like SABA.
So, in my tenugui there is a picture of a cat dragging away a huge red octopus.
A huge octopus in Japanese is 大ダコ (OODAKO).
Huge octopi are heavy. Really freakin heavy. “Really freakin’ heavy” in Japanese is おもいぞ OMOIZO.
So the station being referred to is 大磯（おおいそ）OOISO, because OMOIZO sounds like OOISO! And if you roll up OODAKO and stuff, I guess it’s even tighter?