(This post is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.)
So here we are on the last full day of our vacation. And today we are going to OTARU!
Otaru is a small port city with a picturesque canal. It used to be a centre for the fishing and whaling trade, but when that died out (probably due to the whales protesting), they moved towards newer industries like glassworks, sake distilleries and music boxes. Yes, it sounds strange, but music boxes from Otaru are very sought after across the world.
We took a JR train from Chitose (70 minutes by Airport Rapit Transit, 30 minutes if from Sapporo). The train was packed with tourist arriving with their large suitcases, but most of them disembarked at Sapporo.
Otaru JR train station is a small but busy station.
Just outside the station, there is a wide road that leads to the canal and the tourist attractions. Most of the people would go that way.
Our first stop, however, was just to the left of the station. Up a small set of steps is the Sankaku Market. This is a small triangular shaped fresh seafood market.
We didn’t spend much time here except to take some photos since it was quite similar to Curb Market which we visit a few days ago in Sapporo. There are a few restaurants here where you can eat order the fresh seafood and cook it up for you.
A few blocks off the Market, in the quieter sector of Otaru, was this shop that we are having brunch at. It’s a shop that sells, wait for it… fried chicken. The shop is called Naruto Honten, but no relations to the manga, presumably. There aren’t any English signs, so finding it among the houses and shoplots may be quite tricky.
Why fried chicken, you ask? Because it is really good. Some websites called the best in Hokkaido / Japan. I dunno man… but it was one of the best I’ve tried. The chicken is tasty and crispy, without being oily. You can order different cuts and have a meal set with rice, but we went with just the chicken since there are going to be lots to eat in Otaru.
We went back to join the crowds on the main road leading to the canal. Then we saw an ice cream shop! It says ‘the BEST of the BEST Hokkaido Milk Ice-Cream’, so it means we just HAVE to try it, RIGHT?
The shop is really old, one of the first ones in the city, judging from the signs inside the shop. There were pictures of celebrities visiting the shop. They also sell panjyu, which are like small waffle balls stuffed with different ingredients.
After the fried chicken, I felt the urge for caffeine, and we passed with coffee bar cum skiing apparel store. The owner will prepare fresh coffee for you using a hand grinder and paper sieve.
The front of the shop sells skiing equipment.
Judging from the photos, i guess he has many customers from all over the world.
There’s also a covered shopping street, for those who are looking for clothes and bags.
Along the way, stores will decorate the mound of snow in front of their shop.
The canal is very beautiful, with mountains to one side, and old buildings on both sides.
The old warehouses across the canal have been converted into upmarket beer gardens and restaurants.
Just off the main road, we found this small shop I was looking for. They purportedly make the best croquettes in all of Japan, according to this NHK TV programme (as advertised on the sign beside the shop). There aren’t any English signs at the shop, but the menu does.
Honestly, the croquette tasted normal to me, much like any other you can find across Japan. Maybe I’m not a croquette connoisseur. There are two shops in Otaru, they are hard to miss.
Running parallel to the canal is the famed Sakaimachi shopping street, where everything you need to see is located. Here are all the music box shops and shops selling famous local delicacies. The buildings here retain the old world charm and look.
The glassware are all very cute (and expensive).
Every shop has a different theme to their glassware.
The delicacies you can find here are numerous. LeTao has 2 big shops facing each other, one is specially for chocolate products. Another popular one is Kitakaro Honten, a kind of cream puff that is delicious. They also have a kind of ice-cream sandwich.
There are many small music box shops along Sakaimachi, but the biggest and most famous one, is called Otaru Orgel Museum at the end of the street. Here you have three floors of warehouse selling every kind of music boxes on the face of the earth. You can also design and build your own box, buy choosing the song (mostly popular hits in English and Japanese).
The music boxes range from affordable to expensive. It is customary to buy one from Otaru, and you can’t find them anywhere else.
We bought a few, since they were adorable.
If you are here during the winter months, do stay back until sunset. At night Otaru turns into a magical wonderland of candlelit snow sculptures. The old railway line is the centre for the sculptures.
We finally made it back to Chitose at dinner time, dozing off in the train. Not knowing what to eat, we ended up eating in this kaiten-zushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi) inside AEON.
We made it just before last order. And a family shot of our last meal in Japan.
Next – Back home.