Travel

Tales of the Traveling Poof: April in Hokkaido! Yoichi, Otaru, and Shiroi Koibito Park

This is part of a series on Traveling in Lolita. This trip took place in April of 2019, and will cover Days 1, 3, and 4 of the journey, as the other days were spent in transit or shopping.

Our third day was absolutely jam-packed. I believe any one of these places would be good for at least half a day’s exploring, but when you’re on a tour with others, you have to move quickly.

Yoichi -Nikka Whiskey Distillery

Nikka Whiskey Distillery in Yoichi was our first stop. Bit of a disclaimer in that I don’t drink; even so, Nikka is well worth a visit for the beautiful architecture and the fascinating backstory behind the couple that founded it, Masataka and Rita Taketsuru.

Coord Breakdown

  • short-sleeved jacquard OP – offbrand. This is unshirred and yet it fits me perfectly; it is one of my favorite finds!
  • velveteen long-sleeved blouse – offbrand. #6 in my wardrobe post: 2018 W-Post on LJ Oh right, this is why I own velveteen in a tropical country…
  • leg warmers worn on my arms, gloves – H&M
  • thick knit OTKs – Forever21, with heavy nude leggings underneath
  • underskirt – Bodyline l380. Frankly the length of this dress is just fine without, but I wore an underskirt for added warmth and fluffiness.
  • boots – offbrand
  • fur hat – handmade by Franz of Fancy Moi!
  • tapestry bag – offbrand, with an ahcahcum muchacha bunny pochette
  • fur cape is actually a children’s tutu with a fur lining; the thing actually works. It got to maybe 8°C or lower (for comparison, my country’s usual is 28-32°C) and I hardly felt the chill through my thermals and layers and THIS ridiculous thing, I love it

From my experience at USJ (you can read the post here: Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) anywhere near the sea is likely to be colder than the central land mass, especially at night. This was the perfect day for warm knits and (fake) furs.

Getting to Yoichi

Yoichi is about one hour from Sapporo by train (¥1070, with a train departing every hour and a transfer at Otaru station). Chuo Bus makes 3 trips per day from Otaru Sta. to Yoichi, and costs ¥430.

Nikka Whiskey Distillery is just a short walk from Yoichi Station. Admission is free; while there are no guided tours available, there are signs and short video clips at almost every exhibit.

In the 1970s, most pot stills were fired with coal. The first exhibit features rows of stills, with giant piles of coal.

The next few buildings feature how the casks are made, and how they are stored. Nikka uses various types of wood at its three cooperages, but of particular mention is the New American oak. Warehouses have earthen floors to maintain moderate humidity, and stone outer walls to keep the inside cool.

Apparently the sea breeze is a crucial part of why Yoichi was chosen as the distillery’s location: the breeze supposedly gives a hint of salt to the finished product.

The next area is actually the Taketsuru family home, with parts of the space open to the public (you must take off your shoes, however)

It wasn’t what I was expecting- back home, wealthy houses are all about making things bigger and gaudier. In contrast, the Taketsuru family home was modest. The museum further down this post features an exhibit that recreates their living room, and it feels quite cozy and pleasant.

The museum is a low building that features a gigantic pot still at the entrance. The low ceiling misled me into thinking it was quite small, but there are rooms upon rooms in the back.

Nikka’s symbol is a mosaic rendition of a bearded man, said to be ‘a scottish man from the 19th century who could smell and tell all the whiskey aromas, and was thus called ‘the King of blenders’

A short passage leads into a small theater; the walls display Scottish pictures, souvenirs, and even a poem. Since this is after all a distillery, the poem dwells on drink.

A recreation of Masataka Taketsuru’s study.

The next rooms feature my favorite part of the museum: the story behind the founder of Nikka Whiskey, Masataka Taketsuru and his wife Rita.

Masataka Taketsuru came from a family that made its business in sake, the Japanese rice wine. He went to Scotland to study organic and applied chemistry, and to do research for Kotobukiya’s (later Suntory) plans to enter the whiskey business. He met Rita Cowan during his stay in Glasgow, and they fell in love. Despite her family’s objections, they were married two years later, and left for Japan shortly afterward.

While interracial marriages are not uncommon nowadays, this was the 1920’s, just after World War One. The Cowan family’s reluctance would have been perfectly understandable, especially since marriage would mean Rita moving across the world to live with her husband.

However, Rita truly loved him. She studied the culture and language, endeavoring to integrate fully into Japanese society. When Kotobukiya abandoned its plans to produce whiskey, Masataka left the company to start up his own business. Rita taught piano and English lessons to support their family during this tough time.

When Masataka decided to move to Hokkaido because he felt it was the closest to Scotland’s ideal climate for a distillery, once again Rita fully believed in his dream, and they set sail for Yoichi.

This is the recreation of the Taketsuru’s living room. It reinforces my initial impression of their house: modest, but snug and comfortable. It is wonderful to think about how their life must have felt complete, as long as they had each other.

A (heavily fictionalized) account of their story is told in the drama series Massan, starring American actress Charlotte Kate Fox and Tetsuji Tamayama.

While I was absorbing this beautiful backstory, and struggling to take a picture of the clothes on display without the reflections; I suddenly realized that the entire tour group had ditched me to hurry on ahead to the tasting part of the journey.

The cafe and tasting hall are both in Nikka Hall. Just go in and up the spiral staircase.

Each person lines up and is given three pre-measured glasses: Apple Wine (22%), Single Malt Yoichi (45%), and Super Nikka (43%), which I think is their best-seller.

There is also self-serve apple juice available. In the early days of the company, they only had a single pot still, and so they produced a large variety of apple-based products such as juice, jellies, and preserves.

I have no tastebuds for alcohol, so I passed the glasses to the rest of the group. But I did sip the apple wine out of curiosity- it is sweet and fruity, like a honeyed apple; it is also very light.

As with any tourist stop, you exit through the gift shop.

If you’re shopping for souvenirs, the little bears hold a tiny bottle of Super Nikka. For non-drinking folks, they have fruit jam and various condiments. There’s even a stand with Royce chocolate, although I think this may be a general item in Hokkaido and not exclusive to this store.

There are postcards on display, but this is the sort of place where almost everything is postcard-perfect as it is. Snap away!

Lunch – Otaru Canal and Sakaimachi-dori

Slightly blurry phone picture because of the wind, and my fingertips went numb before I could find my gloves

Otaru Canal was an important part of the city’s busy port, during the first half of the 20th century. The canal became obsolete after the development of modern docks, which allowed direct unloading for large vessels. However the citizens stepped in and restored part of the canal instead of allowing it to be turned into a landfill.

I am still amazed that I got through 10°C (home temp being 35°) without a coat.
In fact, I was perfectly comfortable in I was wearing. This fashion is actually practical in colder climates.

The old warehouses have been transformed into museums, shops, and restaurants. For those who enjoy old architecture and the shabby-chic aesthetic, this area is a pleasure to explore.

During the winter, this is the site of the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival.

We ate at Hikari, one of the repurposed warehouses. And I should state right here that this was one of the best meals I had during the trip: I strongly prefer set meals to cooking my own food yakiniku-style, and everything was so fresh and delicious

There’s also free wi-fi here, if you need it.

Kitaichi Glass Museum

… Wait, this isn’t on the itinerary. Just kidding!

We didn’t have time to explore the museum itself (but take note of it, as it is the only place with public-access restrooms) instead we made our way through the ice cream shop next door as a shortcut to Sakaimachi-dori in back.

Sakaimachi-dori

Kitaichi is a major attraction in this street, so many other establishments also sell fine glassware and novelties. It is a bit of a touristy area, but nothing near the seething masses in Harajuku or Asakusa.

Here’s something I didn’t expect! Snoopy has his own cha-ya (‘teahouse’ nowadays a more general term offering real food as opposed to just tea)

Why yes, this is a great street for taking photos.

At one end of Sakaimachi is the Marchen Crossroads (five-forked intersection) and the Otaru Music Box Museum. Sadly we didn’t have the time to go in, but the whistle of the steam-powered clock is loud enough to hear from across the road.

In case you’re shaking your head, wondering why we didn’t go into any of the museums and restaurants- I have a reason, and a very good one.

Two words: Le Tao.

Le Tao is famous for ‘Rue Ironai Fromage’ – a cheese cookie of incredible lightness and delicacy. Each piece consists of a layer of fromage cheese between two crisp pieces of langue de chat cookies. The shop is so popular that there were two locations on the street in Otaru!

If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit! The shop staff are generous with the samples. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to haul several boxes home with you!

Shiroi Koibito Park – Ishiya Chocolate Factory

The last stop of the day was Shiroi Koibito Park – the Ishiya Chocolate Factory.

Now, I went into this trip blind. I am not that fond of chocolate because I get migraines, so I wasn’t all that keen on a visit to a chocolate company.

But this was no ordinary candy factory.

Shiroi Koibito Park is a theme park!

According to Japan Guide, Shiroi Koibito Park (白い恋人パーク) is a theme park by Ishiya, a local chocolate company. The company’s flagship product is the Shiroi Koibito cookie, which consists of two thin butter cookies and a layer of white chocolate in between. It is one of the most famous souvenirs from Hokkaido.

The park was under renovation when we visited in April; it was fully opened to the public on July 19, 2019. Even with the construction ongoing, it was lovely! There is a free area and a paid area: the outdoor cafe, shop, and restaurant are free to access. The chocolate-related exhibits, mini ‘Gulliver’ town, viewing of the chocolate-making process, and hands-on workshops are not free.

More information is available on the official Shiroi Koibito website.

Summer is supposedly the best time to visit; this area would be full of bright flowers. Be warned that there will be queues during peak season: after all, this is a theme park!

This leads into the main building, with the park shop and some indoor arcade games.

On the first floor is a small robot guide along with some TV screens showing a brief video of the chocolate making process.

The main stairway is fabulous. The cherry blossoms are artificial, but they do add to the fantasy feel!

The second floor holds the shop and some small displays, such as this gentleman sitting on an iron bench. I would have spent more time poking around, but when you’re on a group tour, time is short. The rest of the group had already moved on, so we just snapped a couple of pictures.

There is a clock tower in the Gulliver town that comes alive every hour! Mechanical chefs come out and do a little dance to the music- it is quite fun to watch, even for adults.


That’s all for Day Three! This post was in limbo since April, for which I am very sorry. Some things happened over the year which led to taking a break from lolita fashion and social media. But I’ve been feeling better lately, and some gentle nudging from friends has convinced me to start being more active again.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for being here.

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