A view of Otaru canal with old buildings covered in vines.
Location: Otaru, Japan

After five days in Sapporo I started to run out of things to do, and I’d heard about a popular harbor town that sounded nice, and after a short 40 minutes train ride out of urban Sapporo we arrived in Otaru. From the train station it didn’t look like much, maybe a smaller Sapporo, but as I headed south of the station the concrete give way to large European style buildings with victorian era lamps lining a beautiful wide canal.

Otaru was full of people, predominantly Japanese and Chinese tourists, all jumping off big tour buses and snapping away photos, that it repelled me from the canal area. I left Sapporo seeking time away from people and the busyness of a big city, and found it here anyway. However, since it was also pouring with rain I did the next best thing and found somewhere to hang out and eat.

Red and orange autumn coloured vines.

I managed to find the smallest ramen bar I’ve ever seen, tucked away in a small food arcade and as we waited patiently outside for people to finish up, almost soaked to the bone with the intoxicating smell of ramen broth in the air; it was worth the wait. As soon as two people left, Siu On and I literally tore through the door and sat ourselves down at the bar which seated a maximum of four adult, and two children on the laps of their parents. We pointed at pictures for our food and it came in record time, and was so incredibly tasty, warming and homey, that I just about died and went to ramen heaven.

Once we managed to roll ourselves out of the ramen bar, with the rain still pouring we headed back up to the shopping arcades, only to be disappointed as most of the stores were either closed or of no interest to us. Not to be disheartened we went looking for coffee and desserts and as we wandered away from the main part of town, the skies smiled on us and the rain stopped as we meandered through a quiet neighborhood that lead us up to the Suitengu Shrine. The Shrine itself wasn’t impressive, however, as it’s situated on a hill, the views across Otaru and out to the harbor and mountains is worth heading up there for.

A view of Otaru city, harbor and mountains.

After our visit to the shrine we headed back down to the main part of town and found where the hoards of tourists were hanging out, on Sakaimashi Street. This street is full of shops selling souvenirs and food. So we ate some more and as I sat staring out from the ice cream shop, I decided that Otaru was definitely best done as a day trip. Beside the canal, eating and shopping strip, there wasn’t that much else to do; unless you’re interested in the history of music boxes or the town itself. Would I return? Probably not, but it was still nice to get away from the big city regardless.

Photography by Jelena Stipanicev.