Look at that – it’s 2011 already. Eleven years since 2000 and I still don’t have my own flying saucer or even a note of apology from the science fiction writers of the 1950s and 60s. On the plus side, at least I’m not a serf forced to work 18 hours a day dressed in a tin foil jumpsuit in a futuristic medieval lord’s domain.

But back in reality, the end of the Japanese adventure is looming. On January 18th, I’ll be abandoning Kazuko for a few months and flying back to Perth where I hope I’ll be able to pick up enough work to at least keep me in pocket money until April. Then I’ll fly back to Sapporo for our planned cycling tour of Hokkaido (which you are welcome to join us for). Kazuko will be stuck here seeing out the worst of winter, while I will be basking in the Australian summer heat and occasionally getting jealous of the cold weather when it gets over 40 degrees in Perth.

Meanwhile, we’ve rung in the new year and the death by mochi toll has not been finalised yet but apparently at least six of the elderly did not pass this annual trial of strength*. I’m glad to report I had two bowls of ozoni and the mochi went down a treat. Kazuko kindly informed me that I had bought her some perfume for Christmas and she was kind enough to get me a fountain pen. This has resulted in my having to practice my cursive script, something I haven’t used since I was about 15.

*Kaz just told me the toll sits at 10 this year.

Merry Christmas to me

My holidays are apparently never-ending but Kazuko has been given a few days off as well, so we made the most of it today and caught the train out to Otaru, the port town to the north-west of Sapporo. I’ve ridden through it a few times but have never actually stopped to have a look about. We caught the train there from Sapporo and whereas a train trip fills normal people with excitement, Kazuko revealed just how Japanese she is by promptly falling asleep.

If only train sleeping were an Olympic sport, Japan would have the gold stitched up.

The Japanese train sleeping champion wouldn’t come from Sapporo, though. In Tokyo I have seen many people hop on the train, sleep and snore through several stops and then wake up and exit the train the minute the door opens for their stop. Actually, now that I think about it, I have no way of knowing they weren’t leaping out of the door because they had missed their stop. Still, Kazuko managed to wake up in time for us to get out of the train at Otaru. We made our way to Otaru’s famous canal, pausing only to pass the Thriller Karaoke Music House.

I believe you can choose from any of the nine tracks on the album.

We finally made it to the scenic canal. The only trouble was the walkway was on this side and the shops were over there on that side.

Insert canal joke here.

When we walked around to the other side, the icicles were out in force, even if the people were not.

Hope it's warmer inside.

The ice makes the seafood look fresher, don't you think?

After cheap and not particularly tasty lunch at a place further along the street, we wandered down to the port where I took some photos of boats.

This is a fishing boat.

We then walked past a building with restaurants and a lookout tower.

I waved but no one waved back.

It was a bit of a collection of buildings and alleyways.

Yes, let's walk through here.

And its own fat boy with specs.

Is that dango he's holding?

We then found ourselves on what seemed to be Otaru’s main tourist street and you surely won’t find this many glassware shops outside of Venice. I think we visited most of them. The produce ranged from the sort of tatty glass animals that your friend’s little sister used to collect in primary school, all the way through to some quite decent stuff. Naturally, I only pretended to like them and reserved my special interest for the very expensive wine and beer glasses. Incidentally, I have a philosophy on this and that is: it is unwise to mix drinking with expensive glassware. I think my faith in this theory has been borne out by the fact that the cheap wine glasses I bought years ago are still in existence whereas the expensive ones Kaz and I were given as a gift are now shards of memory.

Walking along the street, we found a house dedicated to Kazuko:

Yes, it's Kazu's place.

And a tree decorated with glass baubles.

Is that snowman looking at me?

It was quite a nice little district of old buildings with a mix of stone and wood. The wooden floorboards were very noisy, but I think that’s an old trick to stop ninjas from surprising you.

The paper lamps seem to hold up well in the snow.

We finally saw some glass blowing in action.

And if there was only one cat in town, Kazuko was going to find it.

Kazuko became the object of desire for a bear in his underpants with a box of tissues.

Insert bear joke here.

On the other hand, I finally got some revenge on marimokkori .

I believe this is known as a "reach-around".

We passed up the opportunity to buy some real marimo.

They should be free to roam the lakes, not kept as prisoners.

And finally, after pausing only to look at some crabs and have a cup of coffee at a shop which let you keep the cup as a memento (but only if you pay 1200 yen more), happy but tired, we caught the train back to Sapporo and Kazuko didn’t even fall asleep.


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