The oddball: Okhotsk Tower. (Errata: Monbetsu, home of Hospitality)

Posted By: Creator of Zsup

The Okhotsk tower and museum.

The one thing that I really really wanted to visit in Japan.

So when I reached Hokkaido, it became part of the itinerary to visit the place.

Initial research pointed me to Abashiri, where there is a Ryuhyo (Drift Ice) Museum, The Okhotsk Drift Ice Museum. This was a link given by Japan-guide website. Which then became the second point of the journey in Hokkaido.

However, upon further research, I found another sea ice museum. The GIZA Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum of Hokkaido. Which was situated in Monbetsu, some far-ass place up North in Hokkaido. This was the place that the JNTO website pointed out as an attraction. It gave the address, and directions to the place, but no website.

Using the above information, I tried to cross-reference the two museums, to see which one the JNTO website was referring to. I then realised that there were 2 SEPARATE MUSEUMS BOTH SITUATED MILES AWAY FROM EACH OTHER!? In addition to that, I also realised that the JNTO website was EXTREMELY misleading. You see, although the JNTO website listed the Monbetsu museum, it gave the picture of the Abashiri Museum, which resulted in my inability to reconcile the two!!!

I then researched the location of the OKHOTSK TOWER, which was apparently in Monbetsu, which then concluded where I would be headed.

Anyway, with my newfound knowledge that the Monbetsu Sea Ice museum was the one that I wanted to head for, I tried looking up more information on opening hours, directions and admission prices. Turns out there is ZILCH, when it comes to finding out stuff about the Okhotsk tower in Monbetsu. All information is either is Japanese or lacking in figures. All I managed to find out was, the admission to the museum is 750 yen, it closes on Monday, and opens from 9am to 5pm, buses to Monbetsu go from JR Engaru, takes an hour, BUT NOTHING ABOUT THE TOWER!!!!

So after this fiasco, which took up the last few hours of my already belated bedtime, I decided to just head out into the wilds with whatever little information I have. Which is actually very little. ZZZ.

After a mad rush to catch the first train at 0917 from Nishi-Kitami to Engaru, we took the bus to Monbetsu. Which took about 1 hour to the stop that I wanted to get off at. It seemed like the correct stop on paper, but when I arrived, this was what I saw...

 Yes, desolation...

Hence started our long walk to what was to be our first destination, the Okhotsk Tower. We were rather clueless about where it was and how to get there, so when we finally found some building that had the words 'Tourist' in Kanji, we went straight in to check it out. Turns out it was the boarding terminal for the Garinko II Ice Breaker (Not what we wanted to take but at least it was a close idea to the stuff we were looking for). Suddenly, we were approached from behind by a person, who asked us if we wanted an English or Chinese brochure, which signalled the beginning of our EXCELLENT experience at Monbetsu. We were actually still very clueless, and just said Okhotsk Tower? Whereupon he directed us to a very nice van just outside the building, and DROVE US straight up to the lobby of the Okhotsk Tower!

 Really cool van, that drove us to Okhotsk Tower!

We headed up to the Okhotsk Tower and checked out the place. The view from the 3rd floor of the tower was not very astonishing, which I attributed to the lack of drift ice (understandable due to the time that I was visiting the place). The exhibits were of little interest to me, but reading some of the stuff made me think that ice research is rather cool (forgive the pun). The true beauty of the tower lies at the basement. The 10m deep section of the tower, for viewing what is in the Sea of Okhotsk. Within it, there were touch pools, fish specimens, and once again, the view of the sea was rather lacking but it is once again attributed to the lack of drift ice.
 The Tower!!!
 That would be the sea beneath me.
This would be what we had to walk if we didn't meet the nice guy!
Underwater place!!

We headed up and prepared to leave the tower, when the counter staff told us that the same car would come to pick us up. We were delighted by that, and when the same person came to drive us down, he said that he would drive us to the Tokkari Centre (out next destination) and then afterward tell us how to get to the bus stop of mystery. When we mentioned that we also wanted to visit the Sea Ice Museum, he immediately suggested that he drive us there so that we can check out the place! [I was blown away by the hospitality and courtesy shown to us]

At the Tokkari Centre, we had a really cool experience up close and personal with sealions. They did funny tricks like rolling over, slapping their bellies to say goodbye and taking photos with us!
 The sealions!

We returned to the Garinko II terminal to find that it was mostly closed inside, with the lights off and stalls closed. However, the same person mysteriously appeared again, and once again we were off, this time to the Sea Ice Museum of Okhotsk! Let me introduce him now.
 One of the Best Service Staff I have ever encountered!!

His name is Yoshiyuki Kosaki, and he was the first person who approached us lost souls at the Garinko II terminal. I APPLAUD his EXCELLENT SERVICE and INITIATIVE shown to us, for without his timely aid we would probably be lost and wandering around, totally failing to see the attractions that we came so far for. Thank you very much, Kosaki-san, for going the extra mile and driving us around, even all the way to the bus stop, before going to the Museum, so that we would know where it is. I am extremely moved by the extent of service, and personal touch you provided us with.

We hurried into the GIZA Sea Ice Museum and were greeted by several staff, who tried their best to explain how to buy tickets and showtimes even though we had a communication barrier. When we finally bought the tickets, they ushered us in to the highlight of the place. The Low-Temperature Simulation Room, where temperatures were set at -20 degrees Celcius. 
 Yup -20.2 degree C.
Frozen Fishies!
Freaking HUGE SUNFISH!!! The box was about 2m X 2m X 2m.

It seemed we had what we considered a personal guide through the entire museum, whom I will introduce at the end of this post. He showed us and explained to us in English the stuff in the Simulation room, from frozen bubbles to frozen blocks of ice with fish and plants in them! It was really really amazing especially when we saw one of the staff chipping away at a HUGE Sunfish that was frozen! 

After viewing the exhibits, our guided tour came to an end and the staff member who took us around asked us where we were going next, whereupon we mentioned that we were heading back to Engaru from the nearest bus stop. We then looked around the place a bit, and before we knew it, he came and told us that he would be driving us to the bus stop! Quite a shock to us actually, because we actually still had quite a lot of time to spare and could walk up to the stop. It wasn't until I checked my paper, that I realised he was trying to get us on the next bus which was coming in about 10 mins! I also realised when I went out to board the vehicle that it was his own car that he was driving us in and not the van!!  He then drove us up to the bus stop, and told us when the bus was coming.
 The aforementioned Personal Car!
Guide for Sea Ice Museum, and going the extra mile to drive us out!

This is Kuwahara Takashi. Our guide to the Sea Ice Museum. Once again, I am awed by the service provided to us. He rushed out to get his OWN CAR to drive us to the bus stop!! This is not something I would expect of staff at an attraction, and he has really shown me what Initiative and Service Excellence truly is. I am VERY VERY GRATEFUL to you, Takashi-san for going the extra mile to make sure we could catch the bus to return to Engaru.

There was also one more person that I could not feature here, because I couldn't get a name or picture in time. He is a staff from JR Engaru, who assisted us with our bags as we couldn't fit them into the lockers at the station. This was the first thing that amazed me as I couldn't believe that service staff could go so far to ensure the service provided to the customer is tip-top.

Our first view of Monbetsu was bleak, and our journey there was made worse due to me stopping two stops earlier. However, with the effort and service and hospitality showered upon us at the attractions, our day made a 180 degree turnabout. To Takashi-san and Kosaki-san, all the staff at GIZA Sea Ice Museum, the JR staff member from JR Engaru, ありがとうございます!!!! All of you made Okhotsk Monbetsu so much more beautiful. 

I strongly recommend that anyone who goes to Hokkaido, make Okhotsk Monbetsu a trip on your itinerary. It is TRULY an uplifting experience!

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