I took a trip to Otaru during my trip to Sapporo almost half year ago, and the charm of this romantic city of Otaru is still vivid in my memory. Otaru, a quaint seashore town a short 30-minute train ride using the JR Hokkaido line from Sapporo Station. In earlier times it served as a bustling commercial seaport and one of Hokkaido’s main gateway to the rest of Japan. Since then Otaru has evolved to a slower pace and it has become a welcome retreat from the urban madness of Sapporo. It is such a popular stop that JR Hokkaido currently schedules at least 30 daily round trips from Sapporo, with the first train leaving as early as 7:00 am in the morning and returning as late as around 8:30 pm.
Just spent a day in the romantic city of Otaru and I enjoyed it very much, it has lots of little shops and small lanes to explore. We explore the city on foot, by getting ourselves an English map of the city at the visitor’s center at the JR Otaru station. It is a pleasant way to spend the whole day, taking a walk along the canal and the little street lined with shops. And it was lovely in the winter snow too.
The canal is nice enough, lined on one side by old warehouses has historic and romantic feelings, but it’s only about 200m long, . A pleasant place for a stroll although not much activities at the canal. We missed the Otaru Winter Festival as we came already at the end of winter season. During this festival, there is the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival at night where the entire city becomes decorated in lights for ten days. However, the views at the canal during our visit there still make us speechless. It is very beautiful during the day when you can see the reflection of the factory houses in the water. Lights up at night gives you a totally different and very romantic sight, those of you who loves to take pictures should go there before and after its dark. On the opposite bank of the Canal stood stately warehouses constructed during the prosperous Meiji Era. While maintaining their historic appearances, many of these historic buildings now double up as restaurants, museums, and souvenir shops. Strangely enough this practice only added to Otaruʻs attraction for us.
Although the Otaru Canal is the main attraction of this city, but I would say that the Sakaimachi Street was my favorite for this city, and we spend most of our day me at this street. It is an attractive, preserved merchant street, lined with cute buildings and some of it historical buildings that have been converted into restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and boutiques, making it a perfect place for a stroll, some shopping and of course to treat your sweet tooth.
Your next stop should be one of the dozens of glassware shops that line the street. Nowadays, Otaru is famous for its quality glass works coming in all shapes and sizes, some so small you need a magnifying glass to properly appreciate. With patience and a discerning eye, anyone can be assured of finding a treasured souvenir or gift in one of the many local shops.
Another important commercial activity of the town is the manufacturing of beautiful music boxes. There are several shops along Sakaimachi Street selling glassware decorations, Tiffany lamps, and an incredible assortment of music boxes. They come in every size and shape one can imagine. At the end of Sakaimachi street, look and listen when you come to the vintage steam clock at the front of the charming Music Box Museum. The nostalgic atmosphere inside the main building of the museum takes you back in time. The museum houses almost 15,000 music boxes, ranging from matchbox sized souvenirs to precisely tuned masterpieces. The Music Box Museum has something for everybody, from The Beatles to the latest J-pop hits. If blowing glass wasn’t your thing, for an additional fee, you can also have a go at making your own music box.
One should not leave Otaru without sampling some of the freshest seafood offered in all of Japan. Live clams, scallops, and crabs are displayed in tanks for your choosing, then cooked to perfection to be eaten in situ. We had our first hokaido crab here. It was awesome !!!. We had it cooked on an open grill right before our eyes. Otaru is after all heralded as home of some of the freshest and tastiest seafood in all of Japan.
Overall Otaru as a town, especially with its hundred year old architectures, is very interesting and deserves four stars. Otaru is very much a stroll and enjoy small city. I would definitely came here again in future.
Oh ya, for foreigner those who planned to visit this Otaru city, good news that you can get yourself a Sapporo-Otaru Welcome pass from the Sapporo JR station. For only 1,500yen, this pass allows unlimited rides on JR Hokkaido trains between Sapporo and Otaru and on all subway lines in Sapporo for 1 day without additional charges.