Otaru is a beautiful port town situated just a 30 minute drive from Sapporo and easily accessible from surrounding hotspots like Niseko. Otaru is not only famous for its nostalgic canals or its impressive Herring Mansions that date back to the 19th century. The city is also renowned for its glassworks, music boxes, and sweet shops that can be found lining the streets of the bustling Sakaimachi street, just a 10 minute walk from JR Otaru station.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Otaru thrived as a port city. Many trading and shipping companies flocked there and constructed impressive Western style buildings to do business in. Since the Herring industry declined in the 1950s, many of these attractive buildings lining Sakaimachi street have been converted into restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and boutiques, making it a perfect place for a stroll, some shopping and of course to treat your sweet tooth.
Sakaimachi street is lined with fresh seafood vendors proudly displaying dinner plate sized scallops and king crabs that would raise the hairs on even the most seasoned fisherman. All of the seafood on display can be purchased and cooked on an open grill right before your eyes. Otaru is after all heralded as home of some of the freshest and tastiest seafood in all of Japan.
With mouthwatering freshly-cooked seafood checked off the list, your next stop should be one of the dozens of glassware shops that line the street. As the Herring industry declined in the late 1950s, the makers of glass fishing buoys were forced to start producing refined glassware instead. Nowadays, Otaru is famous for its quality glass works coming in all shapes and sizes, some so small you need a magnifying glass to properly appreciate. Instead of watching a glass maker put the finishing touches on another piece, why don’t you give it a go yourself? Many shops allow customers to try the craft themselves by making their own cups, bowls and glasses for a small fee.
After some hard work creating your glass masterpiece, its time to have a little bite to eat in one of Sakaimachi’s delicious sweet shops, the most famous being LeTAO. LeTAO boasts an impressive range of over 50 kinds of cakes and sweets, specializing in the addictive Fromage. Enthusiastic staff will happily let you try before you buy, and LeTAO also conveniently packs and delivers sweets right to your door. If you would prefer to sit down and relax, the 2nd floor hosts a cafe. Also, be sure to check out the free observatory on the 3rd floor which gives an impressive view of the Sakaimachi landscape.
As you near the end of Sakaimachi street, look and listen when you come to the vintage steam clock at the front of the charming Music Box Museum. The nostalgic atmosphere inside the main building of the museum takes you back in time. The museum houses almost 15,000 music boxes, ranging from matchbox sized souvenirs to precisely tuned masterpieces. The Music Box Museum has something for everybody, from The Beatles to the latest J-pop hits. If blowing glass wasn’t your thing, for an additional fee, you can also have a go at making your own music box.
If Sakaimachi street’s seafood, glassware, sweets and music boxes tired you out, the Otaru Stroller’s Bus will conveniently connect you back to the JR Station. If not, then why not walk back? There’s a whole other side of the street to explore!
JapanTravel Member, Hokkaido