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July 3, 2016 - Hokkaido Day 2 - Yoichi and Otaru
A new morning has come and I'm about to begin my first full day in Hokkaido. Despite forecasts of cloudy weather throughout the day, the morning weather in Sapporo was fantastic and the temperature was nice and cool. It's hard to believe that this is how summer is like in Hokkaido and I couldn't imagine going back to hot and humid KL. A Japanese lady from Nagoya who stayed in the same hostel and was walking with me to the station also attested that she loved the weather in Sapporo so much and loathed the hot muggy weather back home.
My first task of the day was to collect two Hokkaido Rail Passes from the JR information desk in Sapporo station. I've bought a 3-day and a 7-day version that would cover my long distance travels to Shiretoko and Wakkanai. On this day I would be using the 3-day pass for a day trip to Yoichi and Otaru.
And off we go to Yoichi! The seaside view along the Hakodate Line was just like on TV and so pretty.
I've finally arrived at Yoichi, famous for the Nikka Whisky Distillery. The reason why I was interested in Yoichi is not because of the whisky, but the locations that inspired the NHK drama 'Massan', a fictional depiction of the real life of the founder of Nikka Whisky, Masataka Taketsuru and his Scottish wife Rita Cowan.
My first stop in Yoichi was a herring mansion located at the Old Yoichi Fukuhara Fishing Grounds (史跡旧余市福原漁場). It was possible to walk there but in order to save time, I rented a bicycle from the souvenir shop next to Yoichi station for 500 yen. When I reached there I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the museum was free to enter in conjunction with the ongoing Soran Festival. No wonder I kept hearing the Soran song when I was cycling across town.
The Fukuhara herring mansion interested me because this was the place that became the model of Kumatora's herring mansion in the NHK drama. Overhearing some explanations about the mansion from the tour guide at the main dining hall, I learned that the herring mansion in the drama was constructed in the Osaka studio and filming was conducted there, not in Hokkaido itself. The self tour around the fishing grounds exceeded my expectations as there were plenty of interesting artifacts from the prewar era left behind in good condition.
After touring the herring mansion, I quickly headed for lunch at a shop specializing in soup curry known as Kaizoku 海ぞく, which I've found in tabelog.com. I ordered a squid ink soup curry with medium level of spiciness. To my surprise, it was quite fiery but the vegetables and seafood were wonderful. The decor was pleasant and vintage. I would definitely recommend this shop for those who plan to visit Yoichi.
After lunch, I headed to the Nikka Whisky Distillery to confirm my place for the 1.30pm tour. I was looking forward to try some whisky but unexpectedly, the receptionist told me that I was prohibited from drinking alcohol for riding a bike and I had to put on a sticker on my shirt labeling me as a driver. Ouch.
The tour around the distillery complex was completely conducted in Japanese and I had quite a hard time understanding since I was not familiar with a lot of the technical terms used. However, having watched 'Massan' really helped to heighten my understanding of whisky production and the history of Nikka Whisky. The explanation of Taketsuru's life by the tour guide was exactly like what was depicted in the drama.
After the tour ended I wandered around the distillery for a while before quickly heading back to the station to catch the next train back to Otaru.
In Otaru, I already had in mind to visit the Bank of Japan museum, try the cheesecake at LeTao and have a sushi dinner. On the train, I happened to meet with a group of old men from Otaru who had just came back from their hiking excursion at Ranshima. I took this chance to ask them where would be the best place to have sushi and they recommended a cheap place called Yamatoya 大和家 in the Ironai District. They were even kind enough to guide me to the street where the restaurant was located as it was along their way home.
I ended my day in Otaru with a sushi dinner at Yamatoya and for 3340 yen I ordered a platter of 11 pieces of sushi with an extra order of mantis prawn and tokishirazu (young salmon). The tuna I had was not from Hokkaido but from Canada. I had an enlightening lecture about tuna from the sushi chef who remarked that there's no difference between Oma and Toi tuna and in fact all Pacific tuna tastes the same as they come from the same ocean. Apparently, the Japanese are fooled to believe that Oma tuna is the best because of some NHK drama (what a coincidence).
All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Yoichi and because I had to wait for the JR office to open to pick up my rail passes, I wished I could arrive in Yoichi early in the morning to properly visit most of the key places of interest.
Otaru, as I've expected, is too touristy for my tastes. My favorite Japanese canal town is still Kurashiki in Okayama.
Note that I've plenty of photos of Yoichi and Otaru to share if you're interested to visit these place. They can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/124829205@N08/albums/72157668293530813.