Otaru is a small port city situated northwest of Sapporo. The town faces Ishikari Bay and has long served as the main port of the Sapporo region. Otaru is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting Hokkaido. It has gained the nickname ‘Northern Wall Street’ because it once thrived economically for its former Bank of Japan branch and the many traders that set up shop here. One of the highlights to visit is the ‘Herring Mansion’ where you can see antiques and learn more about the herring fishing industry that made this town rich.
The glassworks shops, coffee shops, restaurants, and shopping malls along the canal have been converted from stone-built or brick-built warehouses, which were used for storage in the days when commerce flourished and the canal was crowded with jostling barges. When night falls, oil lamps on the cobbled streets are lit, and the town evokes a gentle, nostalgic mood.
Otaru’s other nickname is ‘the town of hills’ after its hilly landscape. Mt. Tenguyama that towers behind Otaru is a popular ski resort in winter. There is an observation point on Mt. Tenguyama, and the panoramic view including the whole of Otaru and its port area is absolutely wonderful. There are also cable cars to take you to the mountaintop.
Its picturesque exterior aside, Hotaru’s main attraction is the superb seafood that can be had here. There are several food markets where you can indulge in the freshest seafood you probably ever had, but if you are looking for generous portions for a very decent price the Sankaku market should definitely be on your list. Getting a donburi bowl is the way to go, which is a bowl of rice with toppings of seafood. If you are one to try new flavors, raw uni (sea urchin) is something you can’t skip. It is sold all around the world, but the sea urchin from Hokkaido is something else. If you have never tried it before, this is one of the best places in the world to do so.
Quintessential Japanese food sushi is also not to be missed in Otaru. There is even a 200-meter long special street dedicated to sushi shops, Sushiya Dori. Eating delicious sushi behind the counter like a pro is a great experience, and will be one of the highlights of your trip.