Otaru’s Winter Lantern Festival

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What I would do for a bit of a cold snap…It’s currently about 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a heavy blanket of clouds to ratchet up the humidity, and basically the only thing I have enough energy to do is splay myself out in beached whale mode on my bed with my fan pointed directly at me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for a healthy dose of vitamin D, but I’m finding myself wishing for cooler weather.

IMG_0484 Cooler, mind you. Not colder. Not cold, like Otaru in winter.

Otaru’s a little seaside town about a thirty-minute train ride from Sapporo, and I went there for a daytrip during the weekend I trekked up north for Sapporo’s annual Snow Festival. I hadn’t blogged about it before because, frankly, I didn’t really want to think about snow until December…Today, though, I wouldn’t be too opposed to seeing just a few flakes.

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Conveniently enough, Otaru was holding its winter あかり祭り(Lantern/Light Festival) during that weekend, so there was plenty to keep us distracted from the bitter cold. Aomori, as I’ve mentioned a few times, isn’t the easiest place to live in during the winter. Hokkaido, though, has an entirely different sort of frigidity. Its cold is tight and dry; it physically hurts to expose your skin for very long.

Are you sure I'm not in Germany?
Are you sure I’m not in Germany?

Thankfully, we had a few reasons to duck inside and seek refuge from the low temperatures. With its close proximity to the ocean, Otaru has its fair share of fresh sushi (Though, honestly, what part of Japan doesn’t?), but it’s especially famous for its crab. It’s no surprise to find good sushi in Japan, but Otaru is also home to a (mostly) authentic German brewery. I’m no fan of beer, but the huge copper vats and rustic wooden rafters (not to mention the excellent wienerschnitzel) almost made me feel like I was back in Germany.

Pretty enough by day...
Pretty enough by day…
...but much, much better by night.
…but much, much better by night.

As fun as those sights were, Otaru in winter really comes to live when the sun goes down. The town’s central architectural feature is a huge canal, and during the lantern festival, hundreds of candles are set afloat in the water. Along the sides of the canal, small niches are carved out in the snow banks for even more lanterns. Their soft golden light reflects off of the pristine snow, and the entire expanse is set alight by the tiny globes of warm light.

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It may have been winter, but spring made a brief appearance.

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Otaru’s Lantern Festival is a romantic scene, and its beauty is almost enough to take your mind off of your frozen nose and numb fingers.

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