Otaru (小樽) is a small harbor city, about half an hour from Sapporo by train. In a word, it’s cute. It really is. But we made the unfortunate trip out to Otaru when it was sleeting. Oh, it wasn’t sleeting when we first headed out – the sky started up with it’s watery cold dump about one third of our way through Otaru – thus making it nearly impossible to enjoy the famed canal area. In my mind, 90% of Otaru was simply wet. Wet and cold, to be exact. But yes, it did have undeniable charm, but a large factor to enjoying a place does indefinitely have to do with the weather – and if the weather seems to be actively trying to turn you into an arctic seal (not the cute fluffy baby ones), then you’ve got a slim chance at enjoying yourself.
But other than this, I’m certain that if it wasn’t incredibly drippy, we would have enjoyed ourselves a bit more. We probably should of paid a little more attention to the weather report before we headed out for the day – but shoulda woulda coulda.
We traveled out to Otaru from Sapporo – it lies only half an hour away from Sapporo by train and is a pretty pleasant trip as you can admire the broad view of Ishikari Bay on your way there. Once we de-trained, we made a beeline to the Sankaku Market – a small seafood market specializing in the creatures of the ocean served up in various forms of cooked-uncooked states that lies just to the left of JR Otaru Station. Being reasonable human beings, we headed out to one of the more inviting looking restaurants and then proceeded to eat several species to extinction.
We settled upon the Ajidokoro Takeda Restaurant – Tucked within the deep centre of the Sankaku Market. My friends and I then set upon attempting to eat more seafood than is usually humanly possible.
I took a small snapshot of the menu so you can see most of the simple rice bowls sit at around the 1,000-1,500 yen mark (about AUD $12-$17) which is pretty reasonable – unless you want to go full-high -level seafood monster – which would entail…well, buying an entire arctic crab. Which you can do. If you have around AUD $100 and upwards to drop on breakfast.
Also, what the heck is this fish? I have no bloody idea. If someone could enlighten me, I would delighted.
After hitting up the Sansaku Market, we headed out towards the apparently scenic Otaru Canal. Which is when it started to sleet in ernest. Being a stubborn little tit, I insisted that we pass by the Family Mart and not get brollies – it would let up (ye of little faith). It didn’t let up. We were soon fairly annoyed and soggy, so we trudged back up towards the Family Mart, bought large umbrellas and then headed back to investigate the canal. Which was wet. It was also pretty. Albeit very wet.
Also, much shorter than you think. It literally spanned about…um…about 3-4 warehouses in length. By this stage it was pelting snowy-rain at an unappealing rate, so we didn’t take many pictures and quickly lost interest. Although the single picture I did take wasn’t too shabby.
After slushing our way up from the Canal area, we then found ourselves on Sakaimachi Street – an attractive, preserved merchant street in central Otaru. Since it’s heyday many of the buildings along Sakaimachi Street have been converted into restaurants, cafés, souvenir shops, boutiques and museums.
It’s at about this point, sodden and slightly down-trodden, we came across a nice man selling sweet potato out of a truck with a charcoal oven in the back. By this time, we were freezing cold, slightly damp and keen to get something warm into our faces. So, with much aplomb, we managed to snag ourselves a sweet potato wrapped up in a piece of Japanese newspaper and found ourselves stuffing it liberally into our gobs as we waited near some of the very fancy blown-glass souvenir shops for a friend of ours to find a restroom (yes, seriously).
Otaru is quite famous for a number of things, one of these things is the prevalence of confectionery giant, LeTAO (ルタオ) stores dotted on Sakaimachi main street (境町通り, Sakaimachi Dōri) – there is a total of five stores in Otaru alone. With that in mind, we travailed towards LeTAO PATHOS – the largest store in Otaru. Opened in May 2011, the first floor is a confectionery that offers the most popular products including cakes, crepes, sweets and even…well…some leather goods by Somes Saddle (just in case you’ve ever randomly wanted to go horse riding after indulging in custard pudding).
The second floor is a café which is stocked with cakes that are original to LeTAO PATHOS and also pasta. Because I guess you could indulge in some more carbs on top of your carbs. If you’re wondering what the most popular product here is, it’s the Fromage Double which, if it sounds like a lot of cream, is because it’s basically…a large pile of cream. The Fromage Double is a double layered cheese-cake made with three different cheeses –Italian mascarpone, Camembert and cream cheese. It is also insane – not overly sweet and definitely morish.
Full of a variety of cakes and sweets and a super tall multi-layered soft-serve, we then sought refuge in the nearby Music Box Museum – located at the end of the road. Like many “museums” in Japan, it was basically a glorified store. Keep in mind that the Japanese use the term “museum” broadly – more like a showcase of a lot of items (that you can either buy or buy then eat). Luckily the “museum” was super toasty and actually filled to the top with some interesting music boxes and other random knickknacks. You can even “make-you-own” music box by choosing different elements to put together your own personalised sound-tinkler – not too shabby.
I’ve heard that this place basically closes down early in the evening, so it was good thing that where we were staying was back in the city and as we finished up, we soon found our way back to Minami-Otaru station and settled in for the train. Unfortunately the entire train was packed to the gills with people heading back into the city as well after a day of slush-trudging so we slept-stood in the carriage well for the 30-minute trip back to Sapporo Station.
Otaru is a wonderful place to visit as a small day trip out of the big city – although I truly recommend that you visit when the weather not sopping wet!
There are multiple trains per hour between Sapporo and Otaru along the JR Hakodate Main Line. The one way trip costs 640 yen and takes 30 minutes by rapid train or 45 minutes by local train. About two trains per hour continue on to New Chitose Airport (70 minutes, 2090 yen one way).
The “Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass” for foreign tourists provides unlimited use of JR trains betweenSapporo and Otaru and Sapporo’s three subway lines on one calendar day. The pass costs 1700 yen and is available at Sapporo Station and Shin-Chitose Airport.