The Japan You Don’t Know Yet, but You Definitely Should

Photography by Will Wang

Edited by Nailah Marron

Peng Xue in Japan

I have always wanted to visited Otaru because it’s the place where my favorite movie “Love Letter” was shot, and I finally made it in the winter that just passed. The name Otaru means “River running through the sand beach” in the native language. The city itself represents exactly what its name describes. This beautiful little port is only 30 minutes away from Sapporo – the capital city of Hokkaido. Never being a fan of big and crowded metropolitan city such as Tokyo where high-rise buildings from the skyline are all over the place, so we decided to drive directly to Otaru from Tokyo the next day after we flew in. Here are some highlights of my trip.

Peng Xue in Otaru
Peng Xue in Otaru

Otaru canal is the symbol of Otaru. It was completed in the year 1923, when Japan had Westernized. It was built to support the shipping by sea to Hokkaido, which at the time was still developing. Nostalgic buildings including warehouses from that era are lined up alongside the river.

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Peng Xue in Otaru

In winter, the houses and promenade are almost buried in snow at Otaru.

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Kuramure 藏群旅舍 is the hotel we stayed in Otaru, this chic and sophisticated place offered us a big surprise. Every single dinner was amazingly great no matter the service or the dish itself thanks to the chef’s effort. All drinks at the bar were complimentary. The room was typical Japanese style of modernist elegance and was very spacious. The environment was quiet and the location was not very far from the main city area, which is perfect for travelers. Incredible architecture, gorgeous settings and considerate service – everything was presented in its best way. It is definitely something special to experience.

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The Otaru Aquarium was surrounded by rich nature. We got to see the cute Penguin parade on the snow thanks to our brave spontaneous decision. The temperature was below zero and the blizzard was severe, but it was no doubt a fun filled day. The aquarium is small and aging, however there’re some unique exhibits. They offer attractive dolphin, seal and walrus shows, you can not be disappointed from a lovely experience.

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(Hokkaido style hand-pulled curry udon)
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(Fantastic Amaebi breakfast from Nijo Market, Sapporo)
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Peng Xue at nezu museum2

The Nezu Museum, also known as the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, is the oasis in downtown Tokyo. The garden was actually more outstanding than the museum, even if you have little interests in the art world, the Nezu is still worth a visit just for its garden. It was impressive enough even though we made the trip in the deep winter, so I can only imagine how stunning it will be in the summer. The museum is tidy and professional inside, and features historical Japanese artifacts. Calling ahead or checking the calendar for exhibits is suggested.

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Maybe you’ve been to the Michelin 3 star restaurant Sushi Yasuda located in midtown Manhattan, but you’ve probably never got a chance to meet the superstar chef in person. Naomichi Yasuda was at Sushi Yasuda for 30 years before returning to his native Tokyo to open SUSHI BAR YASUDA, another sushi counter that bears his name. We made the reservation 2 months in advance – we just wanted this dinner to be the perfect end for our trip, and of course, to see the jiro dreams of sushi. Not like typical Japanese chefs, Yasuda’s Omakase does not only serve food, but also features his improvised muscle show. He was very funny, charming, and proud of showing his strong arm. It might not be the best sushi I had in my life, but that night was absolutely a romance that I’ll never forget.

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Peng Xue

Peng Xue is a branding strategist who graduated from Parsons School of Design, and lives in New York. Since 2012, Peng has traveled to a series of destinations including Costa Rica, Dubai, Spain, Monaco, Japan, France, Italy and Korea. Born in mainland China, Peng considers Zen Buddhism as her life philosophy, which is an important part of traditional Chinese culture. As a minimalist practitioner, Peng creates a photographic feed which draws inspiration from the art of simplicity.