Otaru (小樽) is a small harbor city, about half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train. Its beautifully preserved canal area and interesting herring mansions make Otaru a pleasant day trip from Sapporo or a nice stop en route to or from Niseko or the Shakotan Peninsula.
From the early days of Hokkaido’s colonization in the late 1800s, Otaru served as a major trade and fishing port. It was hence chosen as the terminal station of Hokkaido’s first railway line that connected the port with nearby Sapporo. Many old warehouses and former office buildings by shipping and trade companies give Otaru’s city center a special character reminiscent of past decades.
Otaru and its canals are really beautiful. They add a European feel to the city. The old warehouses along the canal have been converted to other uses, but they still retain their charm. We spent the whole afternoon strolling around Otaru and taking pictures. There was also a musical box museum with two storeys of musical boxes playing to different tunes, filling the shop with a musical atmosphere. Many souvenir shops selling the same kind of products such as Royce chocolates, melon sweets, white chocolate biscuits, Hokkaido ice cream start to bore me out and I preferred admiring the quaint alleys of Otaru. Sometimes it was good to escape into these shops to escape the cold outside, but then we would be bombarded with a hoard of tourists all stocking up on souvenirs. I guess we’ll leave our shopping to the last day in Sapporo.
Otaru is a beautiful town that is easily accessible from Sapporo. It may be very touristy, but it is recommended because of the beautiful scenery and you can always find a quiet street in the town.