Otaru, Japan was our next cruise stop and is a city on the northern island of Hokkaido. Did you know that Japan is made up of 6852 islands? Most are small, but 4 make up the shape we envision when we think of Japan (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku). Being in the norther part, we saw the temperature drop and even had to found a store selling gloves for mom.
On the cruise critic roll call, another passenger had outlined their plans for Otaru and it sounded so lovely that I copied it. I got in touch with EBISUYA Rickshaw and given their wonderful reviews on Trip Advisor, booked a 1hr tour that would pick us up directly from where the cruise ship docked. The Cruise Critic member also mentioned eating at a Michelin star sushi restaurant and that also sounded lovely but I was uncertain how best to go about making reservations from an all Japanese website. Luckily, EBISUYA Rickshaw was extremely helpful and volunteered to make the reservation for us and re-arrange out tour so our final stop was the restaurant. The customer for EBISUYA Rickshaw was outstanding so if the guide was half as good, I knew we were info great day.
Japan, as it turns out has pretty strict immigration rules which resulted in them coming on board the ship itself and setting up a mini immigration center complete with heat scanning (in case you were running a temperature). Everyone on the ship had to then go through this mini center before being able to leave the ship. The whole process was longer than I had encountered on any other cruise so I have no doubt that people who had booked tours where at least a little late. We docked at 9 am but we only managed to get off the ship after 11. I had made the ricksaw reservation for 11 but was able to get a hold of the company and adjust the time, which was great.
We finally did disembark and found our ricksaw driver waiting for us almost at the bottom of the gang plank. He met us with this amazingly deep bow and a wonderful smile and I knew we were in for a wonderful time. His name was Tiger and for the next 1h 30 he pushed and pulled us around Otaru showing us all the key spots.
He also proved to be a wonderful photographer. He knew not only just the right spot but also just the right angles. These are some of my favourite shots of the whole trip. Tiger is a professional ricksaw driver and travels from city to city in Japan as the tourist seasons change. This was actually his last day in Otaru before moving to Kyoto. It turns out we were the last cruise ship of the season in Otaru which actually wasn’t that surprising given the temperature. It was about 5 degrees and we were quite grateful for the warm blankets that Tiger covered us up with.
Restaurants (and addresses in general) in Japan can be challenging as you would expect given the language barrier so I had arranged to have Tiger drop us of directing in front of Izezushi (sushi restaurant) was turned out to be a brilliant idea as we would NEVER have found it otherwise. It was down a side street and the sign was in kanji (as you can see below).
After Tiger dropped us off, we had about 30 minutes before our reservation so we wandered the surrounding streets while trying not to stray too far.
I am not sure I can express how much I was looking forward to eating at Izezushi. I had read all the reviews and even a few blogs from people who had bee there and all were glowing. I remember telling myself as we entered to try and keep realistic expectations.
I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations. I had no idea that sushi could taste like that! The menu changes daily as the chef selected the best choices at the morning market. We had seats at the counter and our own personal chef. He had been there for 7 years which I found surprising as he looks so young. His English was pretty limited but we did manage to have a pretty good conversation. He prepared each piece individually and you ate them has there were passed too you. Unlike at hoe, each piece is perfectly seasoned and you do not add any wasabi or soy sauce. It was fascinating watching him prepare each piece in include brushing them we different soy glazes that complemented the features of that piece. My favourite pieces were the fatty tuna, snow crab and uni. I had the 16 piece menu and enjoyed every piece except for one (which I think was smelt roe). Mom went with the 14 pieces and was equally pleased (except for the salmon roe LOL).
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city (including picking up a pair of gloves for Mom) before heading back to the ship as the sun set. Otaru is a pretty city that was made 10x more interesting though Tiger’s eyes. This whole day is one of my favourite from the whole trip.