As many other Hokkaido cities, Otaru has a charm of an early 20th century northern Europe town mixed with occasional Japanese traditional detail. The spirit of openness and curiosity permeates the town with locals open to foreign influences. I stay at a hostel I would describe as Murakamian and eclectic. The newspaper clippings, odd drawings, CD collections cover the walls and the host’s obsession with the steam locomotive C11 completes the picture extremely well. I arrive on the day of an amateur music festival and accidentally meet an English speaking woman with whom I visit a number of local jazz clubs during the night. She talks about young people moving to Hokkaido to escape the cultural constraints they have in traditional Japan.
One jazz club is located in an old railroad tower with a very steep stair leading to a tiny second floor performance space. It is filled with smoke, crammed with people of all ages from university students to classy retired ladies. Everyone is tastefully dressed for the big night, swaying gently to the music with eyes half closed, soft smile, and a cup of black coffee in front of them. As I walk into the space, I immediately get a gesture inviting me to sit in the middle of the space with a group of locals. This is a very characteristic Hokkaido gesture, the desire to share a moment with a stranger, even an outsider.