In keeping with tradition, I arrived in Otaru on Saturday night with no plans whatsoever.
As a result, I was only a little surprised when Sunday found me kneeling in snow with an American, a five year old, and a businessman from Tokyo making a log cabin out of snow.
This was Yuki Akari–Otaru’s snow light festival–and I had somehow found myself a registered volunteer helping to make snow creations to be lit up that evening.
I made it from Takamatsu to Otaru with no problems at all, and from that moment on, I found Otaru to be a city of serendipity–accidental pure happiness.
The hostel, Emina, was the first moment of serendipity. It was the only one I could find on the internet, and I had booked a night there with the intention of doing a brief stopover in Otaru before heading to Kutchan. Within five minutes though, I had already requested a second night and formed a friendship with the proprietor, a wonderful woman named Motoko.
The main room was a warm and cosy living room/ kitchen, just like in a home, with a blazing gas heater and a kotatsu, where Motoko, her husband and son were sitting comfortably with a guest. After showing me to my room, which, as the only girl there, I had all to myself (!), she invited me to sit down, offered me a cup of tea and invited me to join Chad (her husband), Tomo (her son) and some other guests volunteering at the festival the next day.
I couldn’t refuse an offer like that, so Sunday morning found me rugged up with waterproof gloves and a name badge stuffing icy slush into pipes to make ‘logs’. I didn’t describe that well, but it was a lot of fun, honest! We were joined by the volunteer team from China, who wanted to make a family of yukidaruma (snowmen).
I had lunch with Takashi, the businessman from Tokyo, who spoke no English at all but seemed to think that I spoke fluent Japanese. We had long conversations that involved him speaking fast complex sentences and me nodding, mumbling and laughing in the right places.
I’m getting good at that.
As the sun went down we lit candles and put them in and around the snow sculptures. Our log cabin looked positively cosy with firelight coming from the windows! When it was dark, I walked with Takashi the whole length of the festival road and it was beautiful! There were some amazing sculptures and the flickering candle light in the snow made everything magical.
The lights extended along the canal, which Otaru is famous for, and the floating candles on the water were simply amazing.
When we went back to the hostel, Motoko had prepared delicious chicken miso soup so we sat and ate and talked with all the other guests who included Jan from Finland, Dwayne from Australia, Shungo the rickshaw driver and Elvis from Hong Kong. Really.
Emina was such a warm cosy place, and Otaru was such a cute city that I was a little tempted to stay and just read my book by the fire for the rest of my trip, but the ski fields were calling, so first thing Monday morning I set off down the road bound for the train station and Niseko.