Visit the small harbour city of Otaru (小樽), Hokkaido
Otaru is a small harbour city North of Sapporo in the stunning island of Hokkaido. In itself, Hokkaido is a beautiful holiday destination for avid nature explorers, winter sport enthusiasts and anyone that wants to explore a part of Japan away from the throngs of millions of other tourists. Otaru, was an important historical port, but now is a bustling canal city with delicious sushi restaurants, unique museums and boutique shops. It is a fantastic day trip from Sapporo. So, let’s stroll hand-in-hand and see what Otaru has to offer.
Originally built in the 1800s Otaru has many points of historical interest. Our first stop will be the pretty canal which winds its way along the edge of the city. The canal runs for about one kilometer (0.6miles) and there are many of the old warehouses still standing. Some of these have been converted into cafes and shops, ideal for wandering around. Some, are still in their original state so if you’re interested in photography they make a great focus.
For an interesting perspective hop-aboard the Canal Cruise and enjoy a forty minute tour. The tour is officially given in Japanese but english headsets are available for tourists.
If you happen to be visiting in February be sure to bear witness to the beautiful Otaru Snow Light Path Festival which happens every year along the canal. The streets are lined with hundreds of small candles. It’s absolutely beautiful and casts a warming light over the canal.
After wandering along the canal, it’ll be the perfect time for some lunch. Being so close to the sea, there really is only one possible option and that is Sushi Street (小樽寿司屋通り). In total there are over 20 different sushi restaurants so you’re spoiled for choice. Wherever takes you fancy you are guaranteed local fish and a fresh meal, sounds delicious!
After you’ve regained your energy levels take a slight detour and head towards Sakaimachi Street (境町通り). This unique street is unlike others in Japan, in that the building facades are preserved and have a western-feel to them. Again, what once were merchant buildings have now been turned into shops and museums. If you are looking to pick up some souvenirs for your loved ones then this would be the place to do it. You’ll find everything from specialist handmade gifts to traditional Japanese wares.
If you have the time, you could also sign up to do a glass workshop. Surely, your loved ones would be impressed with your homemade souvenirs!
Another point of interest is Otaru Denuki Koji which consists of small alleyways with 20 shops buttressed against one another. We love that you never know what you will find as you turn each corner. Admittedly, most of the shops are technically small izakayas so it would be rude to pass by without stopping for a glass of warm (or cold, depending on your preference) sake, right? The nearby Udatsu Kozo statue promises business success, and so far it seems to be working perfectly.
After a few sakes, you might be ready to tackle the hill that leads up to the former Itaya residence. Not typically on the tourist trail, this was the home of Miyakichi Itaya. Both a businessman and once, the acting Mayor of Otaru. Now a fancy boutique hotel, there is a small plaque with historical information. It’s interesting to see the house which was originally built in 1927.
Finally, before dusk starts to set, make sure to head up towards the Mt Tengu Ropeway (天狗山纜車). This cable car will take you to the top of Mt Tengu, named after the mystical creatures, of which there is a museum dedicated at the summit. This 532 meter high mountain boasts incredible views over Otaru City, Ishikari Bay and the Shakotan Peninsula. Get ready for some Insta-worthy photos. In the evening it is particularly special as the gas lamps along the canal come on. You’ll find some fantastic eateries and restaurants at the top so you can can great fantastic food and a breathtaking view.
Head back down to ground-level and that brings our whistle-stop tour of Otaru to an end. Whatever season you visit, Otaru is bound to impress. Have fun! Now, let’s hop back on the train to Sapporo…
How to get there
From Sapporo: Board the Hakodate Line 各停 towards Shikaribetsu at Sapporo Station and alight at Otaru
Sushi Street: 小樽寿司屋通り, 1 Chome-1-9 Hanazono, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0024, Japan
Sakaimachi Street: 境町通り, 6-11 Sakaimachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0027, Japan
Former Itaya Residence: 1-19 Shinonomecho, Otaru Hokkaido, 047-0026, Japan
Mt Tengu Ropeway: 天狗山纜車, 2 Chome-16-14 Mogami, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0023, Japan