Hokkaido hosted some of the most important ports for Japan’s trade industry at the time the port boat was introduced to Japan. Some remnants of Hokkaido’s impact on port-based trade can still be seen today, including in the small port city of Otaru.
Otaru is a city on Hokkaido island in Japan. Otaru may be small, but the amount you can do there makes it a burgeoning tourist destination worthy of a spot on your itinerary when exploring Japan.
There’s something for everyone, from history lovers to artistic folks to people who enjoy Japanese food and culture.
The History Of Otaru
Otaru was originally the home of the Ainu peoples, who still live in some remote areas of Hokkaido today. The population of this Indigenous group has gone down significantly since their beginnings due to colonization.
Otaru was also a site in the early 1900s for port trade with other countries, but unfortunately in 1924, there was a major explosion of a train holding dynamite that destroyed many facilities and claimed numerous lives.
The city has since been replenished and rebuilt, with an homage to the history of the area.
There are no words to describe how breathtaking the Otaru Canal is. It’s one of those spots that bring people to Otaru, and if it’s the only thing you visit while there, it’ll be well worth the effort.
The canal is especially romantic and beautiful when the sun goes down, as old oil lamps illuminate the pathway.
There is a designated walkway you can stroll down while admiring the charm of the area. You are also able to enjoy a boat ride down the canal for the most romantic experience, regardless of whether or not you’re there with a partner.
Otaru Harbor Cruise
In addition to taking a boat ride along the Otaru Canal, you can also enjoy the Otaru Harbor cruise to take in all of the beauty of Otaru and the surrounding area.
While you’re on this cruise, a speaker will also discuss a lot of the history behind the sights you’ll see; this service is offered in English as well.
Otaru’s Famous Seafood
Seafood lovers are excited about getting the opportunity to eat fresh fish caught right in the water surrounding Otaru. If you enjoy sushi, you’re going to be blown away by the sushi you can eat in Otaru.
You should have at least one meal at Otaru Sushi-ko, where you’ll eat some of the best sushi you’ll ever enjoy in your life.
Before or after you’ve enjoyed your sushi, you can also make your way to the Herring Mansion to learn about how important the fishing industry in Otaru has been for the city.
This mansion allows you to see just how prosperous fishing has been for Otaru. The name is also fitting since herring is one fish that helped Otaru establish itself as a fishing powerhouse.
Otaru’s Ice Cream
When you need a sweet treat to cool down, Otaru is also known for having some creamy, delectable ice cream.
You have the option to enjoy traditional flavors, flavors popular in Japan, as well as some adventurous ice cream, such as squid ink ice cream or sea urchin.
One of the spots to taste some yummy ice cream is at Kita-no Aisukurimu-ya-san, housed in a very old warehouse.
If you love a nice cold pint of beer, you’ll want to stop at Otaru Beer, where they make their own beer right in the same facility.
The bar has a Bavarian theme, so you’ll also be able to enjoy some lively polka music while sipping on your fresh beer.
If you’re looking for souvenirs to commemorate your trip, Kitaichi Glass has an array of skillfully crafted glassware, decorations, and blown glass.
Otaru produces a lot of glass for Japan, so they are experts at using the resource to create some lovely things. If you’re creative yourself, you can also take a class that teaches you how to blow glass.
Antiquing In Otaru
Otaru has some unique places to shop where you can find some one-of-a-kind items, as well as some antique pieces to brighten up your home.
You can also find a lot of important items that represent facets of Japanese culture, such as kimonos, ornaments, and jewelry or hair accessories.
Sakaimachi Street hosts an abundance of shops, restaurants, and sights to see that any tourist could explore happily. You can find some of Otaru’s most famous attractions and tourist spots along this street.
If you want to take in more history regarding Otaru and its importance to Hokkaido and Japan, there is a museum located close to the Otaru Canal.
There are a plethora of visual displays that can take you through some of the notable events of the city’s past.
Otaru is also home to the Otaru Music Box Museum, where you can see a bounty of music boxes on display, as well as find some that you can bring home as mementos.
Otaru produces a lot of music boxes, so it’s only fitting that they have a museum dedicated to them.
The Steam Clock
Otaru is also home to a steam clock, which brings many sightseers to the city. It truly is a work of art in and of itself and was given to Otaru as a gift from Canada.
The steam will shoot out from the top every hour, while the clock also chimes every fifteen minutes.
Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
The scenic atmosphere of Otaru comes alive in a new way in the winter. In February, the city holds the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, where several snow statues are illuminated and the city decorates itself in brilliant lights.
The event usually lasts about ten days, making for some truly awe-inspiring views as you take an evening stroll down the streets.
While many of the city folk will participate in the festival by lighting lanterns in front of their homes or businesses, there are two spots you should visit to see some of the more famous displays.
The Unja Kaijo display runs right around the Otaru Canal, with several snow statues lit up, as well as old warehouses decorated in lights. The Temiyasen Kaijo display runs along the old Temiyasen train tracks.
A pathway is created in the snow, and several statues with lanterns and lights surround the path.
Getting Around Otaru
Even though Otaru has a lot of activities to do and sights to see, it’s actually much smaller of a city than it sounds.
Taking a walk through the city, you’ll stumble across a lot of these mentioned sights, as well as other places to stop at and admire.
That being said, there are trains and buses that service Otaru and can take you to and from Otaru and surrounding cities. There is also the ability to get to Otaru by ferry, depending on where you are departing from.
Staying In Otaru
Otaru has options in terms of places to stay if you want to extend your trip to the city. There are options to stay at hotels or hostels depending on your budget and your length of stay.