★ Isezushi, Otaru

In recent years, the widespread usage of internet brought much convenience to users worldwide. However the adoption of internet reservation in Japan hasn’t really picked up. Many of the restaurants still relied on phone as the mode for accepting reservations. Isezushi was the first restaurant for this trip whereby I had to make a call on my own to make a booking using my broken Japanese. Thankfully the staff who picked up my call was able to decipher my intention and the reservation went smoothly for a dinner seating at the sushi counter.

Hokkaido is known for their fresh seafood and we could have enjoyed sushi at any of the towns we stayed in. However we planned to dine at Isezushi since we needed dinner in Otaru after visiting the Snow Light Path Festival.  Moreover Isezushi was listed as a 1-michelin star restaurant in the one and only Hokkaido guide published in 2012.

When we entered the counter area, there were 2 other guests who were mid-way through their meal. Menu was pretty straight-forward with 3 choices: Jun Set (16 pieces of sushi) ¥6300/Dai Set (12 pieces of sushi) ¥3900 /Gin Set (10 pieces of sushi) ¥3000. Naturally we went with the Jun Set to eat our fill.

Our sushi feast commenced with Turbot, followed by Maguro, Chutoro and Kinmedai.

The final two fish sushi were Saba and Nishin (pacific herring) – an Otaru specialty. Thereafter we moved on to the shellfish sushi starting with Botan ebi, followed by Hotate, Hokki (surf clam).

We had a bit of problem confirming the next clam sushi with Chef due to our limited Japanese and sushi knowledge… Chef said it was “crab shell” so using google translator it’s likely to be Tsubugai (whelk)?

The next crustacean sushi was something new to me. It is an Otaru speciality – Shako (mantis shrimp). The texture falls between that of lobster and crayfish, succulent and chewy. To the Cantonese, they may know this as 瀨尿蝦.

Our final nigiri was Kani sushi and with that we moved onto the gunkan.

The gunkan (battleship) is typically used to serve different types of roes. So we had Ikura, followed by Tarako (cod roe), Kaki (oyster) and lastly Uni!

Although we had been in Hokkaido for 1.5 weeks and pampered with sumptuous fresh seafood at the morning markets, this meal was by far the most satisfying and value-for-money. The cost of enjoying a 1-michelin star quality sushi omakase meal is only a fraction of what we need to pay in Singapore.

While dining at the restaurant, we noticed there were a few guests that came to the restaurant without reservation and were turned away. We were glad that our efforts in making advance reservation for restaurants paid off as it seems that most of the fine-dining places in Hokkaido goes strictly by reservation and do not allocate seats for walk-in customers.

I bid the chef and staff “Good night” in Japanese and the staff replied “晚安” when she knew we were from Singapore. The hospitality and thoughtfulness of Japanese service truly impressed us as we were offered warmed heat packs when we were about to leave the restaurant.

Earlier photos taken:

As night falls the number of group tourists dwindled and the shopping street returned to its peaceful self. While strolling along the relatively empty shopping street, I began to notice that a number of the structures are classified as designated historical buildings. Interestingly due to huge foreign influences, these buildings are mostly built using stone/bricks which are quite different from our impression of traditional Jap structures.

While trying to locate the Former Temiya Railway, we stumbled upon the site of Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. Although we were aware of the snow festival, we thought the only light up area was the Otaru canal – as depicted in the official brochure distributed.

It was a fabulous surprise to be treated to a whole stretch of snow sculpture displays decorated with the warm glow of flickering tealight candles.

My favourite theme amongst the displays at Former Temiya Railway site is the one with Autumn leaves.

Snow sculptures of various sizes are on display.

Another theme that caught my attention was the one using pressed flowers.

After completing the Former Temiya Railway site, we walked over to the Otaru Canal site. As expected the Asakusabashi bridge was superbly packed, I managed to get to the front as most people move off quickly after getting their shot. The tiny lights on the river are from the glass floats (same as the type once used for herring fishing).

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