By Chris Barnes
Otaru is small port city that is less than 1 hour northwest of Sapporo and has lots of interesting and beautiful sights to offer visitors. The main reason I came to Otaru was to see the sights whilst volunteering at the Otarunai Backpackers Hostel Morinoki which offers a work for stay program and offers you the chance to see a bit more of a city that you might only spend a day in otherwise.
Morinoki Hostel is a small hostel that has been converted from a house so it really feels like you are living in someone's home. The hostel has just 4 rooms, which includes 2 dorm rooms-1 mixed and 1 female only, as well as a twin private and a private dorm room. All rooms are simple but well thought out as all dorm beds come with a small privacy curtain, individual power points, reading light and their is an area at the top of your bed where you can store your smaller belongings. There are also hangers for your coats and hanging nets on some beds. Showers and toilets run along one wall of the house and with such a small amount of guests you usually don't need to wait too long to use them. One of the showers also has a Japanese bathtub that you can use in the evening, which is traditionally used to soak in once you have showered off.
The hostel has lots of common areas including a kitchen supplied with everything you could need to cook with, a dining area and a lounge area. The lounge area is lined with traditional tatami mat flooring and has a kotatsu (heated blanket table) which is a small table with blankets and a heater under it which is perfect for keeping toasty warm in the winter. The walls are lined with bookcases filled with manga and trinkets from the owners travels and there is a huge selection of DVDs to keep you entertained. I could easily spend all day relaxing under the kotatsu and watching movies it is that comfortable here. You can easily stay connected with home as free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hostel. If you are lucky you will be staying when Masa throws a Soba Party where everyone gets together in the hostel and eats soba that Masa prepares for everyone. This was one of the funnest experiences I've had in Japan.
The location of the hostel is also in a nice quiet neighbourhood in between the JR Otaru and JR Minami-Otaru stations and you can easily walk to most of Otaru's attractions including the Otaru Canal and Sakaimachi street and anything further away is accessible by bus that you can catch from the JR Otaru station. The hostel is up a bit of a hill so be prepared for that and it can be a little hard to find but if you find the big Suitengu shrine gates it is just down the hill to the east of here. I would recommend climbing up the hill to the Suitengu shrine to get a beautiful view over Otaru just behind the hostel at some point during your stay.
Masa is the friendly owner of the hostel and he is around everyday with his dog Hug and cat Momo. He is also a Japanese language teacher so you can come and learn Japanese whilst staying at the hostel. If you are interested in volunteering for the WHOOPing program (Working Holiday On Otaru Project) you should apply through the website and it is a great opportunity to meet new people and spend some time in a great hostel and amazing city. The work is also not too hard as it is only around 4 hours per day cleaning the hostel in the morning then you have the rest of the day off to explore Otaru.
Otarunai Morinoki Hostel is the perfect place to come and stay to experience Otaru and have a great night's sleep on a budget.
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