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Otaru, Japan

Otaru is a port town along the coast of the Sea of Japan, on the northern island of Hokkaido. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, hilly Otaru faces Ishikari Bay. The town dates from about 1865. It boomed along with the herring fishing industry. Otaru also served as a coal-trading hub.


Evidence of Otaru's past trade and fishing significance exists in Otaru Canal and the western-style stone warehouses that have since been converted to popular shops and restaurants. Otaru is reminiscent of a bygone era with its quaintness. Souvenirs include music boxes and hand-blown glass. Popular dishes include fresh seafood and sushi and both beer and whiskey made locally. Shop along Sakaimachi, Otaru's famous shopping street.


Ship Location

The ship docks at one of two main wharves in the Otaru Sapporo Japan Cruise Passenger Terminal Port area--Katsunai Wharf or No. 3 Wharf.


Getting Around

Because the port is close to the sites in Otaru, there is no shuttle service.  Many of the local sites are within walking distance of the port, which is about a five-minute taxi ride away from the Otaru train station. 



The must-see site is the Venice-like Otaru Canal. Although the canal became redundant after the modern port area's creation, the canal area has since been restored. The western-style warehouses along its edges are now shops, restaurants, and museums. Canal tours run for about 40 minutes. Visitors to Otaru also enjoy visiting Sapporo, which also has much to offer. If staying in Otaru, options include walking tours, a visit to a distillery, or learning about the history of the herring fisheries here by visiting the mansion, Nishin Goten (Herring House), once owned by herring fishing magnate Fukumatsu Tanaka. Here visitors not only learn about this part of Otaru's history but will also enjoy the lavish art and architectural style of the mansion. Victorian-inspired lampposts exude a romantic feel.


Otaru has several museums of interest as well, including the Music Box Museum, dating from 1912, which houses a collection of music boxes, as well as a shop with music boxes for sale. Time permitting, visitors can make reservations to create music boxes to take home. Otaru even has a Museum of Venetian Art dedicated to Italian glassware. The glass industry began in Otaru when herring fishermen needed glass floats for their nets. As the herring industry declined, glassblowers branched into other items, including figurines and glassware.


Time and weather permitting, obtain panoramic views of Ishikari Bay and Otaru from the top of Mt. Tenguyama (Mt. Tengu for short), about 15 minutes away from the train station by taxi.


The area has a few culinary specialties. LeTAO is a franchise of desserts, most famously its "double Fromage" cheesecake. Otaru also is noted for its beer, and Otaru Beer is located near the canal. Sushiyadori Street is famous for its many sushi restaurants. In Yoichi, about an hour from Otaru, Nikka Whiskey offers tours of a top Japanese distillery. In addition to a museum that explains how the "father of Japanese whiskey" Taketsuru Masakata brought over techniques from Scotland to Japan in the 1930s, the distillery offers a tasting room and restaurant.


Optional ship excursions include Nishin Goten, Otaru Canal, tours to Sapporo, and hiking at Cape Kamui Misaki on Shakotan Peninsula, known for its scenic shoreline and abundant wildlife. From museums to shopping to romantic canal rides, Otaru is small but charming.


Staying in Touch

Some public Wi-Fi hotspots and some private hotspots at hotels and restaurants are provided for free.