As you exit JR Otaru Station, you can see the ocean ahead. Your first destination should be Otaru’s best-known attraction: Otaru Canal. Gentle slopes will take you down to the Former Temiya Railway, once one of Hokkaido’s most important lines. Stone buildings that were formerly banks will soon come into view. Cross at the signal to reach Otaru Canal. For first time visitors, we recommend taking the right-hand path. Walking along the canal, you may find yourselves holding hands before you know it! When traveling by bus, this is right in front of the final stop at Otaru Station.
Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the canal, and stop to take a keepsake photo at Asakusa Bridge. Then, head back towards the mountain side until you see the Otaru City designated historical building, Otaru Canal Terminal. This is the starting point of Sakaimachi Shopping Street. Rows of antique buildings will whisk you back in time. Time seems to slow down as you meander through glassmakers, seafood shops, bakeries, sushi restaurants, and all manner of unique Otaru experiences. The street comes to an end at the Music Box Hall on Marchen Intersection.
Observing Otaru’s old-fashioned houses, you will see stone firebreak pillars known as udatsu between buildings. On houses, the udatsu are a sign of prestige and success.
The Otaru Stroller’s Bus is a convenient sightseeing loop bus network, connecting major attractions throughout the city. This bus is also perfect for visitors who would like to enjoy Otaru’s charms on foot. Most buses pass through Otaru Station. Otaru’s city buses also offer a convenient day pass. Passes include discounts and special services at a wide variety of participating businesses.
Regular taxis and chartered taxis are very convenient, and readily available in front of Otaru Station.
The canal area is bustling with traditional rickshaws – the quintessential Otaru sightseeing experience, guided by a knowledgeable driver. For those prepared for Otaru’s formidable slopes and hills, rental cycles also offer another way to explore the city.
Otaru is world famous for its excellent sushi featuring fresh produce from the nearby seas. Botan shrimp, mantis shrimp, sweet shrimp, tuna, sea urchin and abalone are particularly recommended.
Sumptuous Okhotsk Atka mackerel, flatfish, salmon, and cod are closest to the heart of “Otarukko” (Otaru locals). Take a stroll through the local markets and see just how fresh they are! Otaru also boasts a plethora of superb manufactured seafood products – a true seafood lover’s paradise.
Japanese Style: Otaru is home to a number of long-running mochi (traditional rice sweets) confectioners. A local favorite is kushi-dango, soft dumplings served on a skewer. Otaru is perhaps best known for beko-mochi, or “cow rice cakes” so called for their two-tone pattern reminiscent of a cow’s spots.
Otaru is filled with cake shops, and home to some of Hokkaido’s most prominent, ranging from boutique pâtissiers specializing in hand-made cakes to nationally-famous brands.
A few dozen years ago, ankake yakisoba, a dish of fried noodles with a thick, savory sauce, took local menus by storm. This comfort food is now so commonplace that the locals abbreviate it as “AKY”. Look for the brown flags advertising this local treat. This dish has competed in Japan’s “B1 Grand Prix” national local dish cook-off.
No visit to Otaru is complete without trying kamaboko fish cakes made from abundant local fish.
Otaru’s soul food. Any Otaru native who is away from home will have an unstoppable craving for fried chicken at restaurants such as Naruto or New Naruto when they return!
Otaru also has a rich sake (rice wine) culture. Local breweries are built around sources of excellent natural spring water. The Tanaka Shuzo Brewery Kikko Gura or Kita no Homare Shusenkan Brewery are excellent places to sample sake and learn more.
The Hokkaido Winery is located at Mt Kenashi, just outside of Otaru. Please enjoy sampling the local vintages. Don’t miss trying the original local cocktail “Otaru Nama Wine Ball”. Locally-brewed Otaru beer is also a must-try.
Check out the morning markets! Experiencing seasonal fish up close for the first time is sure to bring a smile to your face. We recommend fresh market aficionados stay at hotels in the canal district or near Otaru Chikko station.
Relax and take your time! The heart of downtown offers classic hotels and traditional Japanese inns.
Pamper yourself at an onsen hot spring spa! Asarigawa Onsen is a must for hot spring lovers. Thirty minutes by bus from Otaru Station, the area offers a ski hill, scenic loop bridge, and easy access to Lake Otarunai. This is a completely different side of Otaru. The road leads on to Jozankei, a wonderful scenic route back to Sapporo if you are driving.
With so many delicacies, it can be hard to choose. Kirikomi-style preserved herring, soft simmered herring, salmon or sweet shrimp preserved in entrails shiokara-style, salmon, herring, sandfish, or Okhotsk atka mackerel izushi-style fermented sushi, dried shredded squid with squid ink, sashimi kelp, scallop skirts, and so much more.
Kanecho Kaji http://www9.plala.or.jp/kajisyouten/
Kurihara Kojiro Shoten http://www.otaruunga.com/
Horiuchi Suisan Shokuhin http://www.hatimaru.co.jp/
Otaru is known as the “Town of Glass” for its many glassmakers and craft shops along Sakaimachi Street. An incredible selection of crafts are available, from simple souvenirs to gorgeous works of art.
Kita Ichi Glass http://www.kitaichiglass.co.jp/
Taisho Glass http://www.otaru-glass.jp/
The Glasss Studio in Otaru http://glassstudio-otaru.com/
Glass Murano http://www1.odn.ne.jp/glass-murano/
Otaru Glass Saiku Yukie Glass http://www.yukieglass.net/
Gentle, nostalgic tunes waft from a variety of music box specialists, such as Otaru Orgel Doh and Orgeldoh® Kaimeiro.
Orgel Doh http://www.otaru-orgel.co.jp/
Orgeldoh® Kaimeiro http://www.kaimeiro.com/
Otaru is famous for kamaboko fish cakes. We recommend to try Kamaei’s “Pan Roll” or Daihachi Kurihara’s “Parselino Genovese”, winner of the Japan Fisheries Agency Director-General’s Prize.
Daihachi Kurihara http://www.dai8kurihara.net/
Delectable sweets such as Niikuraya’s “Hanazono Dango” (sweet dumplings) or “Ishikura Kurumi Mochi” (walnut rice cake), Rokumi’s “Beko Mochi” (two-tone rice cake) or “Suama” (sweet rice cake), Sawano Tsuyu Honpo’s “Suisho Amedama” (sugar candies), LeTAO’s “Double Fromage”, and Amato’s “Marron Coron” make perfect souvenirs of your visit to Otaru.
The businesses we have introduced are just a small portion of the Otaru experience. Please explore the many wonderful businesses throughout Otaru to find your own favorites!