December 25, 2010

The Seaport (Otaru)

Glass art workshop / store
After I left Mashu lake area, I took a local train down to Kushiro on the coast, then took a long distance express train to Otaru.  My initial plan was to spend 3 hours in Kushiro, but I did not get off there.  I just could not see the asphalt and concrete ugly city after spending 3 magical days in the most beautiful place.
I am glad that I took the train during the day, instead of after getting dark.  The view from the train was fantastic, though a little monochromatic.  The train passes through the coast, the mountains, and the cities.
Ishikari Plain, after the snow and rain, shining in the sun
One of the historic bank buildings in Otaru
Otaru is a small town near Sapporo, the biggest city in the northern county.  Otaru used to prosper back in... I don't know, perhaps 80 years ago?  Or  perhaps before that.  There used to be many wealthy merchants doing business in this area, that bankers also gathered here to enable the trading.  That is why the town still has so many stone warehouses and historic bank buildings.  The town is a popular tourist destination, as well as a famous case study for urban designers.  We (I mean, those of us who studied city planning) all study a bit of history behind the revival of this town.  Naturally, I wanted to see it in person.

A historic building on sale
This old merchant's shop/house is on rent - nice black wall
It has a "Urban Design Award" plate on the wall... makes it sadder

Otaru is so lonely, looks so deserted.  Of course, part of it is my fault, because I came here at the least crowded time.  But, still.  A lot of beautiful warehouses and bank buildings are empty.  What is sad is that they seemed to have been in use until quite recently, and then just went out of business.  I am staying here for 2 nights but there are not really enough things to do.  I walked to the west-most part, then to the east-most part. I even went up the hill and came down (no tourist spot there).  I found just one very nice cafe during my entire walk.
Beautiful Ryokan (Japanese hotel) building - empty

This one still in use as a factory

Nice back ally

A cafe and a bar housed in an old warehouse

There are many other restaurants and cafes housed within the historic buildings, but they all look so-so, not really fantastic.  Otaru seaport is not strong enough compared to other seaports in the north, so the fishery industry has been on decline.  Tourism is doing great, but not enough to support the small town.  They need one more something to hold up the local economy.  Need more population in the central part.  The only crowded area was the gift shop street, but who needs that many gift shops?
A most unusual road-side tree I'd ever seen
Like this...

A glass factory where I tried glassblowing
On the other hand, I saw many interesting architecture around the town, and it was a delight.  If only the streets were not frozen...
Snowed, melted, and frozen streets...
For example, this is the most unusual looking church I'd ever seen.
A church...
Or, this looks like somebody's house.  But is it?
Or, this, the city's art museum, is equally striking.  This is the least museum-like building I'd ever seen.  But then, I kind of like the way it is.

Probably one of my most favorite buildings in the town is below.  Some sort of warehouse on the bay.  Looks modern, totally practical, yet somehow details are beautiful, for example its colors.  It also has 4 different types of floor-to-floor connections, which I found truly fascinating.

A warehouse with beautiful rust and gray combo

Some best parts of the town.

A row of warehouses along a canal, a famous tourist spot
Lastly, the cafe.

An old entrance to the building

I couldn't resist taking the pictures because:
(1) It has a great atmosphere of Japanese and Western styles mixed. This place is so like a favorite of my professor, who happens to have been heavily involved in this city (so the owner must know him).
(2) The building, according to the owner, used to be a general insurance agent office since almost 100 years ago till 30 years ago.  The small window-like entrance is the old office entrance (the last photo).  You see, Otaru used to be the prosperous seaport.  Hence, the marine insurance.  Well, I work for a general insurance company, so I had to take the record.


kikii said...

I have been reading your traveling stories with great interest. Reading and watching beautiful photos I feel like I'm traveling in real.
Thanks for introducing Japan from different, unknown side of Japan - snowy and white Hokkaido! :)

P.S. In spite of gloomy mood of Otaru I really liked Ryokan building, merchant's shop with black walls, church and house after church picture. I have never imagined that in Japan there would be Western style buildings which looks good with traditional style.

Meri said...

Thanks Kikii! I tend to be interested in non-sightseeing places so I imagine you can see different sides of Japan. :)
I agree that Otaru is pretty nice. I did not enjoy sightseeing, but I would not mind living there if I get a chance (hardly likely, but one can hope).