On my tourist map of Otaru the Kitaichi glass company was highly suggested as a good place to grab ice cream and enjoy their unique atmosphere. So I kept putting off lunch in the hopes of finding good food and ice cream there and have a moment to rest. However when I arrived I realized a couple things. It was very very very dark. All the lights were petroleum lamps with actual hot flames in them which made sitting at any of the tables extra hot and the meal options were all seafood.
Coming from a landlocked part of the Midwest seafood was expensive and with allergies in the family we didn’t really eat it. I don’t mind seafood in small doses but a full meal of it just isn’t my thing. So I decided on some herring soba. Herring seems to be the local fish. There’s a local Herring mansion you can visit and Otaru is known as a Herring capital. I figured that’d be a fun thing to try. If I didn’t like it I could totally eat around it. However, as I perused their menu (of plastic foods recreated in the display case) I realized the ice cream I wanted wasn’t on there…anywhere. Kinda bummed I ordered my food and grabbed one of the tables, squinting around in the darkness while my eyes adjusted from the outdoor bright sunny day and trying to figure out why it was so hot at my table, until I realized it was hot everywhere because of the gas lamps.
Eventually my buzzer went off and I picked up my tray and sat down, determined to eat and rest after running around Otaru. I was a little bitter because a friend had lent me a super light weight umbrella to use as a dual parasol/rain umbrella and I had used it the night before when it was pouring but at some point after arriving in Otaru I’d lost it. I ran around retracing my steps and asking staff if they’d seen it to no avail and I felt awful. Because rushing and backtracking with a slowly recovering inflamed tendon was painful. Plus I was hot. I hate being hot. So ordering soba didn’t really help with my mood. (I was hoping for cold soba.) And to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it.
I like savory soba. I like savory fish. I like boneless fish. And here’s the problem. 1. The fish was sweet and the texture was just weird. Maybe I’ve never had a herring before and this was my first one but I just didn’t like it. 2, it was super dark in the restaurant which is not the best atmosphere for a whole fish with teenie tiny hair thin sharp bones in it. I get enough of that at lunch in Korea where I can actually see my food, and I’m already not a fan. This was like insult to injury. Plus they have signs everywhere saying no photography when there’s a pianist performing so I figured if I whipped on my flash to see my food to de-bone the fish I’d A. blind everyone in the nearby radius as well as myself and B. Get either scolded or kicked out.
I don’t think it was a total loss though. The atmosphere was still really cool and I could see it being extra magical in winter, coming in from the snowy cold into a room filled with 167 gas lamps with live music from a pianist. I just don’t suggest the herring soba. I totally understand now why no one else had ordered a meal. Everyone else had ordered drinks and a sweet to go with it. I had thought it had to do with it being 2pm and everyone was having their tea time.
They have something called the “Surprise cream puff” which is apparently a giant custard cream puff for 820yen. You can also get a set which includes a drink for 1,120 yen. They also offer parfaits, cakes and ice cream. It’s very pretty and well worth buying a cup of tea or coffee to just sit and enjoy.
The Kitaichi Hall is open from 8:45-6pm with last order at 5:30pm. Live piano performances tend to be at 2pm (the time I arrived) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Please note that photography and filming of the performance isn’t allowed. (I still saw people doing it, but don’t be that person.)
If you want to watch them light all the lamps they start at 8:45am and it takes about 15 minute to complete. (which includes doing the ones in the chandelier that they bring down and then have to raise back up to the ceiling)