Otaru

Otaru - Seven Spots To Visit During A Day Trip To Sapporo's Neighbor

Hokkaido 2018.06.29

Otaru is located near Sapporo and a historical sightseeing destination in Hokkaido. Visit hot springs, the local winery and enjoy winter sports while savoring delicious local seafood and sake.

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by Satoko Nakano

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Otaru - A Picturesque Port Town

小樽について

Picture courtesy of Otaru City Sightseeing Promotion Room

Otaru City in Hokkaido prospered by participating in the trade business. It takes only thirty minutes to get there on the rapid train from Sapporo.

The city is known for preserving old buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century, such as stone-built warehouses, the housing facility of the herring fishermen, temples, churches and banks.

The historic cityscape is the trademark of Otaru, and a large number of its architecture is regarded as a cultural asset.

The port town is known for its seafood restaurants and various confectioneries, where visitors can take a break during or after their stroll through the city. Most of the sightseeing spots are located in the central area of the city, so they are within walking distance of each other. Spots that are further away can be reached by bus.

This article is about the must-visit spots in Otaru.

1. Otaru Canal - Float Through the Historical City

小樽運河

Picture courtesy of Otaru City Sightseeing Promotion Room

The Otaru Canal, the most famous sightseeing spot, runs through the central area of the city. The footpath along the canal is perfect for a stroll along the water.

The warehouses, which used to be storehouses, stand by the canal. Most of the buildings have been converted into museums, clubs with live music, pubs, and cafes.

If you have some time, you should try the canal cruise, where the vivacious boat captains will guide you through a forty-minute tour. The boat departs from the Chuo Bridge, another sightseeing spot, and is easy to access.

For adults, the day cruise fare is 1500 yen, and the night cruise fare is 1800 yen. Children can participate in either cruise for 500 yen. The night cruise offers a completely new experience to guests and you can enjoy a beautiful view of the lit-up warehouses.

Visitors can participate in the cruise without reservation if the tour is not fully booked. We recommend making a reservation just in case, through the canal cruise site.

The Otaru Canal
Access: Eight minute walk from JR Otaru Station.
Google Map
Official Site: Otaru Canal

2. Tanaka Sake Brewing Company - Watch the Brewing Process

田中酒造亀甲蔵

Picture courtesy of Tanaka Sake Brewing Company

The Tanaka Sake Brewing Company was established in 1899 and is the sole sake brewery in Otaru. To brew the sake, the company uses rice produced by Hokkaido farmers and the pure snowmelt water from the local Mt. Tengu.

Sake is usually brewed in winter and this procedure is called "kanzukuri" in Japanese. The Kikkogura brewery belonging to the Tanaka Sake Brewing Company conducts all-season brewing called "shiki jozo", a very rare way of brewing,  by taking advantage of the cold climate in Hokkaido.

Visitors can tour the facilities and watch the brewing process here. If you are interested, please send a reservation request to kikkogura@tanakashuzo.com.

At the sampling booth, visitors can also taste various sake brewed at Kikkogura, including their signature brand "Takaragawa." "Nama genshu" (unprocessed sake), which can be tasted at most places in autumn or winter. At Kikkogura, however, it is even available in summer. It has the fresh and fruity traditional taste of sake.

Tanaka Sake Brewing Company
Address: Hokkaido, Otaru, Nobuka 2-2
Google Map
Access: One minute walk from JR Otaru Station.
Official Site: Otaru Sankaku Ichiba

3. Otaru Sankaku Ichiba - The Taste of Fresh Seafood

小樽三角市場

Picture courtesy of Otaru Sankaku Ichiba

Otaru is well known for its seafood, so how about visiting a market? Otaru Sankaku Ichiba (triangle market), located near Otaru Station, is a historical market established in 1957. It is also the only market open every day, bustling with customers from the morning.

The market handles not only seafood but also vegetables, fruits, and other goods. The fresh fruits are directly delivered from orchards in the neighboring towns, such as Niki and Yoichi.

Seafood like crab, scallop, salmon and mackerel, alongside herring in January and February, sea urchin from late May to August and squid in July and August, are available at this market. Visitors should try the squilla, also known as mantis shrimp. Its fishing season is spring, but the Otaru fishermen go squilla fishing in autumn as well.

There are six restaurants inside the market. The most popular item is the original kaisendon (a bowl of rice topped with seafood), in which the customers can choose their own toppings. The price ranges from 1000 yen and up, so choose your favorite toppings and enjoy.

Otaru Sankaku Ichiba
Address: Hokkaido, Otaru, Inaho 3-10-16
Google Map
Access: One minute walk from JR Otaru Station.
Official Site: Otaru Sankaku Ichiba

4. Kitaichi Glass - A Product of Otaru

北一硝子

Picture courtesy of Kitaichi Glass

Glasswork is another main industry of Otaru. Kitaichi Glass, established in 1901, started as a company manufacturing oil lamps. The company also used to manufacture ball floats for the fishermen's nets, playing a large role in the city's history as well.

Their products are sold only in Otaru. Visitors can also try a sandblasting workshop here. For reservations please visit their page. (Japanese link)

Kitaichi Glass Sango-kan
Address: Hokkaido, Otaru, Sakaimachi 7-26
Google Map
Access: Ten minute walk from JR Minami-Otaru Station.
Official Site: Kitaichi Glass (Japanese)

5. Otaru Music Box Museum - Get a Unique Souvenir

小樽オルゴール堂

Picture courtesy of Otaru Music Box Museum

There are six Otaru Music Box Museums in this city. The brick-clad main building exudes a nostalgic atmosphere.

Thousands of music boxes with many different sounds and designs are displayed inside. Some of the boxes are for viewing, while others can be purchased. At the Youkobo shop, visitors can create a one of a kind music box. The reservation for the workshop can be made through their page.

 If a workshop is not fully booked, participation without reservation is possible, but it is better to reserve beforehand. A music box would be great memorabilia for your trip.

Otaru Music Box Museum Main Building
Address: Hokkaido, Otaru, Sumiyoshi 4-1
Google Map
Access: Seven minutes walk from JR Minami-Otaru Station.
Official Site: Otaru Music Box Museum

6. OcciGabi - An Authentic Hokkaido Winery

OcciGabi

Picture courtesy of OcciGabi Winery

It takes about thirty minutes by train from Otaru Station to reach OcciGabi, a winery located at neighboring Yoichi. OcciGabi has a vineyard and a tasting room. The cellar, designed in a way that creates a wine that ages well, is surrounded by a vast vineyard.

There is also a restaurant allowing guests to enjoy the wine alongside fine cuisine using local products. Visitors can enjoy a great view of the mountains ranges in the area from the tasting room.

This winery strives to create an authentic Hokkaido-style wine. How about finding your favorite wine?

OcciGabi
Address: Hokkaido, Yoichi-gun, Yoichi-cho, Yamada-cho 635
Google Map
Access: Fifteen-minute taxi ride from JR Yoichi Station.
Official Site: OcciGabi (Japanese)

7. Asarigawa Onsen - A Refreshing Experience

朝里川温泉

Picture courtesy of Otaru City Sightseeing Promotion Room

Asarigawa Onsen is one of the many onsen (hot springs) located in Hokkaido. It takes about thirty minutes by bus from Otaru Station to reach this area. It is surrounded on three sides by the mountain ranges.

Asarigawa Onsen can also be reached from Sapporo, which makes it popular among the local residents. The Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort opens its doors every winter, drawing a large number of tourists who like to enjoy both winter sports and onsen.

Visitors can enjoy different scenery throughout the year, but it is highly recommended to enjoy the autumn leaves of this area.

Whether you are planning a day trip or or staying overnight at an elegant ryokan (Japanese-style inn), Asarigawa Onsen is said to work well for muscular pain, neuralgia, and exhaustion. Be sure to give the hot springs a try!

Asarigawa Onsen
Access: A fifteen-minute ride on the local bus from JR Otaru-Chikkou Station. A thirty-minute ride on the local bus from JR Otaru Station. The fare for both options is 330 yen.
Official Site: Asarigawa Onsen

Enjoy Otaru Confections

Besides the seafood, Otaru is also famous for its desserts and sweets. Soft-serve ice cream is especially popular.

The size and taste differ depending on the store. Those who prefer something with volume should try the New York Jumbo at Otaru Milk Plant.

The soft-serve ice cream of the Yamanaka Dairy Farm Otaru Store is made with milk from a farm in Akaigawa Village, near Otaru. It is definitely worth a try for its rich flavor alone.

ルタオ

Picture courtesy of LeTAO

LeTAO is a confectionary established in Otaru. Its trademark product is the double fromage, which consists of a smooth raw cheesecake on top of a rich, baked cheesecake. All the ingredients are high-quality Hokkaido products, and this superb cake will melt in your mouth.

The cafe inside the LeTAO store also serves freshly made, raw cheesecakes, so make sure to visit it when you are in Otaru.

To Fully Enjoy the Winery and Hot Spring - Stay for the Night

To make a day trip to Otaru you will have to leave Sapporo in the morning. The last train leaves Otaru around 11 pm, so visitors will be able to enjoy the evening before heading back.

From Sapporo, it takes about thirty minutes with the JR Rapid Airport Train to Otaru. The train runs twice an hour, from 10 am to 7 pm. The local train ride will take about fifty minutes.

If you plan to visit OcciGabi in Yoichi, it might be better to spend the night in Otaru. Asarigawa Onsen is also located away from the urban areas. We recommend a stay at a ryokan.

Access to Otaru

From the New Chitose Airport to Sapporo

It takes about forty minutes with the JR rapid train. The fare is 1070 yen, and an additional charge of 520 yen to reserve a seat. The local train takes about fifty minutes. The fare is the same but there are no reserved seats.

The highway bus takes about seventy minutes, and the one-way fare is 1030 yen.

If you use a rental car, take the highway from New Chitose Airport Interchange to Sapporo Minami Interchange. The ride takes about thirty minutes. The ETC toll is 700 yen, and the normal toll is 1000 yen. The route using the local roads will take about eighty minutes.

From Sapporo to Otaru

It takes about thirty minutes on the JR Rapid Train. The fare is 640 yen with an additional charge of 520 yen for a reserved seat. The local train takes about fifty minutes. The fare is the same but there are no reserved seats.

The highway bus takes about an hour. The round-trip fare is 1140 yen and the one-way fare is 610 yen.

With a rental car, use the highway from Sapporo Nishi Interchange to Otaru Interchange. The ride takes about 45 minutes. The ETC toll is 570 yen, and the normal toll is 810 yen. The route using the local roads will take about seventy minutes.

Bus Service in Otaru

小樽バス

Picture courtesy of Otaru City Sightseeing Promotion Room

Visitors are advised to use the bus service in Otaru. The Otaru Sansaku Bus, which departs from Otaru Station, runs from 9.40 am until 5.40 pm in thirty-minute intervals. The bus is visiting spots such as the Otaru Canal and Kitaichi Glass. The fare is 220 yen for adults and 110 yen for children. Using the local bus is another option to visit Otaru's sightseeing spots.

If you plan to use mostly buses, consider purchasing a one-day ticket. The fare is 750 yen for adults and 380 yen for children. This ticket allows the user to ride various buses, including the Otaru Sansaku Bus, for the whole day. Please note that this ticket is valid only within the city areas.

Seasonal Events - Cherry Blossoms, Autumn Leaves, and Snow

季節ごとの気候

Picture courtesy of Otaru City Sightseeing Promotion Room

Compared to other cities in Hokkaido, Otaru is relatively warm. It will only be really cold in winter. In the other seasons, it is mostly the same temperature as Tokyo, only one month delayed.

To enjoy the cherry blossoms, visit Otaru in late April or early May. The average maximum temperature in April is 10.5 degrees Celsius, the minimum temperature is 2.5 degrees Celsius. While it may be only slightly cold in the daytime, the temperature drops in the morning hours as well as at nighttime.

In June, the maximum temperature rises to 19.8 degrees Celsius, while the low is about 11.9 degrees Celsius. Until July, visitors should bring a jacket with them.

In summer, although the temperature rises above thirty degrees Celsius at daytime, it becomes colder at night. This is the perfect season for golf or marine sports. The average high in August is 25.5 degrees Celsius, the low is 18.2 degrees Celsius. It would be wise to pack a long-sleeved shirt if you visit in July and August.

It will become colder again during autumn in mid-August, and the winter season arrives in late November. The average minimum temperature from December to March will be subzero, which calls for down jackets and hats or earmuffs.

In this season, visitors should wear nonslip shoes in case of snow. Removable cleats are also sold at convenience stores and the kiosks in train stations.

The romantic Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held in February. Visitors can also enjoy winter sports through March at Mt. Tengu and Asarigawa Onsen.

A City to Revisit

Otaru offers fine food and a picturesque cityscape. It is a city that is definitely worth a visit and a completely different experience from Sapporo. Most of visitors are so charmed by its atmosphere that they want to make another trip right away.

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