Nice Otaru more than paradise
21 March 2013
Otaru is a quaint seashore town a short 30-minute train ride from Sapporo. 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 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, Upon arrival at the JR Otaru Station it is only a leisurely 10 minute downhill walk to the famous Otaru Canal and its iconic stone warehouses.
Walking along the Canal we encountered scores of sidewalk vendors offering a wide variety of exceptionally well-crafted mementos. Adding to the festive atmosphere were several accomplished local musicians, the most memorable being a yangqin player. 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. Continuing our stroll from the eastern end of the Canal we entered what is sometimes referred to as the Hanazono Amusement Area, a back street section of town that is loaded with dozens of shops and eateries. Anyone would be hard pressed to see all that Hanazono has to offer in a single day. Unlike other urban Japanese centers where business continues well into the night, most of the shops close their doors at sun down. Strangely enough this practice only added to Otaruʻs attraction for us. Today Otaru trademark are its outstanding glassware products. Applying skills honed in bygone days when manufacturing floating glass fishing balls and kerosene lamps, Otaru artisans these days create exquisite glass creations the envy throughout Japan. With patience and a discerning eye, anyone can be assured of finding a treasured souvenir or gift in one of the many local shops. Visitors so inclined can even try their hands at glass blowing at the Otaru Taisho Glass Museum, Which has on display for either viewing or purchasing many excellent Japanese style glass items.
If on a vacation and if time permits, consider an overnight stay in Otaru to enjoy the nocturnal ambience of the Canal. This will also enable you to leisurely visit two other notable attractions the next day. There are several well-appointed hotels scattered throughout the town, with Furukawa overlooking the Canal. Since you’ve already made the effort to visit Otaru Town, it would be a shame miss seeing the nearby Nishin Goten and the Otaru Aquarium.