My summer trip to Japan was simultaneous highly planned out with pockets of no planned days. I booked tours, I made a whole itinerary for the people who’d be meeting me there asking what they wanted to do and figuring out logistics, messaged friends to see if they were in town and made plans with them and snuck in as many breaks as I could. I met with friends before I left and they told me of other things to do. Their must sees for the places I hadn’t been to or heard of. From one of these late nights at a coffee shop lead to me hearing about Otaru.
Otaru is a harbor city about a 47 minute train ride northwest of Sapporo on the Hakodate Line/ Rapid Airport. It costs about ¥1,160 (~$12 one way) but this train ride is well worth it. I felt like I was on the train in Spirited Away that goes along the ocean and eventually into the ocean. I had brought a book with me and after awhile of sitting on the train reading happened to glance up and realized the train was running along the ocean. I could see it out in the distance and it was stunning. I was instantly enchanted and somewhat okay with giving up my free resting day in Sapporo to do a day trip in Otaru. I only had two goals in mind for Otaru. (I was trying to manage my time so it’d only be a half day trip because I hadn’t seen anything in Sapporo yet.) The goal was to see a clock and eat a ridiculous ice cream cone. Don’t do that. Otaru deserves at least a full day. There’s so much to see and do that I didn’t give myself time to do. No one was with me, I just self imposed time limits in this rush to see as much as possible for my short time there.
The first thing I did in Otaru (after grabbing a tourist map in the station) was to visit the International Information Center. I highly suggest it. It has a couple bathrooms in the shop, spaces to sit down, you can buy drinks or even snacks. The building is broken up into two sections. The tourist section where there’s pamphlets and chairs and people working to help you and then the other section which is all local goods and souvenirs for sale. You can also borrow an umbrella here if it’s raining.
And outside is a statue of local good boy Bunko who was a fire dog.
There’s so much I missed out on. Here’s some things I wish I’d done.
The Otaru Canal boat tour: There’s a 40 minute tour along the canal that goes from Chuo bridge to Askausa Bridge. Pictures of the canal at night look extra spectacular due to the gas lamps along the canal. Pretty much all the post cards are of the canal, in every season. You can also walk along the canal, which I did. Prices are 1,500 for day time and 1,800 for night time. Their schedule changes depending on the weather and the day, you can check it out online here or ask at one of the information centers. The one i went to was across the street and has signs saying to ask them for times. If the canal isn’t your speed there’s also a cruise that goes around the bay. Or you can walk along the canal. But night time is when the magic happens.
Tanaka Sake Brewery Kikkougura- There’s a couple reasons I didn’t check out the Sake brewery. One, honestly didn’t realize it was there. Two, I was on my own. I felt very nervous being in a new place on my own and drinking. Though apparently they have snacks and black bean tea I could’ve enjoyed instead. (They offer a tour and about 10 other types of sake you can try at the end of the tour) Best of all? It’s free. Tours are from 9am until 5:30pm. Someone go and tell me if it was as fun as it sounds. There’s also a beer shop with food that they make to go with what’s locally available and compliments the flavors in their beer. (Otaru Beer. Brewery tour is free.) And at least two places to get some wine. (Otaru-Winery , apparently the largest winery in all of Hokkaido that offers free tastings but tours require reservations.)
I also kinda wish I’d eaten somewhere in the Otaru Denuki-koji, which I walked past, turned around, walked back and through it then decided I’d eat somewhere else for lunch. (It wasn’t good, but I’ll get to that in a later post) There’s just so many food stalls in this area and it’s so cool looking. (Note: It is very quick to get crowded if there’s groups due to the narrow alleyways)
The Otaru Mt. Tengu Ropeway- I love a good view of a city, but I’ve kinda declined any sort of…hiking… lately. Not sure if I mentioned it but apparently sometime last year I shattered a bone in my foot and it’s just…going to be like that for awhile. Doctor highly suggested walking so wandering about and exploring isn’t a problem, but the pain sometimes makes me concerned with hiking out into the wilderness on my own. Add to all of that that before I left I ended up inflaming a tendon in my foot. So no mountains or hiking for me. (There is hiking near Otaru) But for the rope way, apparently it’s best if you can take a car to the entrance, aka grab a cab and go up. Which I’m sure would be much better than the hiking I automatically assumed I’d have to do. There’s also a blue cave you can visit via multiple cruise options/ tours as well as a horse ranch, orchards and a spot called Cherry Mountain. All of which I didn’t realize were even options till I got there.
While walking around on my way in search of lunch and ice cream I found a section of Otaru that you hear rather than see first. The street is filled with furin, which are traditional Japanese wind chimes that are made of glass.
Why? Otaru is famous for glass blowing. Once you reach the part of town with all the wind chimes strung up everywhere you’ll find every shop selling home made glass goods and offering glassblowing classes. There’s so many glassblowing classes. As much as I wanted to take one of those classes or to even buy a furin (I’ve wanted one since I was in middle school.) I just couldn’t justify it. My suitcase was stuffed to the brim. Whenever I travel and visit friends I bring them souvenirs (especially if they let me stay with them) and since there was a good chance this was my last trip to Japan for awhile…I may have gone overboard with my friend’s request for Korean instant coffee mix. But it meant that there’d be no way to get anything as delicate as a furin safely back to Korea in one peace. Maybe I could’ve done a bead, they do offer glasswork classes where you make beads. But I was also getting hangry at this point because it was nearly 2 and I hadn’t eaten since my melon pancakes and I was tired. So I do wish I’d spent more time enjoying the glasswork and glass blowing section of Otaru.
Otaru was so much fun and I totally understand why my friend suggested it. I’m glad I went, but also really wish I’d given myself more time to enjoy it. Two days in Hokkaido was not enough at all and a half day in Otaru was really too short. I did a lot of walking though, from JR Otaru station to JR Minami Otaru Station. (JR Otaru station is closer to downtown and the bus station and all the tourist stuff.) I also highly suggest grabbing one of the big free Otaru Tourist Guide Maps that are free at JR Otaru Station. Mine got destroyed from walking around and flipping through it a lot. It helped me come up with ideas of things to do, and even helped me change my plans of WHERE I was going to go get my ice cream. The next couple of posts will be things I successfully managed to do in my half day in Otaru. I feel like I just got back and already want to go back.