Otaru 小樽: Transport, Orientation and Sights

By Cubie - November 07, 2012

Otaru Unga - TheOtaru Canal
Otaru (小樽) is a small harbour city situated in the western part of Hokkaido, facing Ishikari Bay. It developed as "the sea entrance of Hokkaido" over the last 100 years. It is now home to many glassworks shops, coffee shops, restaurant and shopping area along the canal and converted from stone-built or brick-built warehouses.

This city was formerly called Otarunai (meaning "River of Sands" in Ainu) and was later renamed to Otaru (meaning "small barrel" in Japanese. Due to its strategic location and only about half an hour (depending type of train) away  northwest of Sapporo by train, it is a popular day trip destination from Sapporo.

Here's the train timetable for both ways. The timetable says as of Dec 4 2010, but I was there on September 14, 2012. So it looks like the time didn't change for at least about 2 years? :)

Train fare for adult: 620 yen one way, 1,240 for return ticket. If you bought the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass, you can use the JR ticket to get to Otaru and don't need to get separate tickets.

For orietation, here is the Otaru Town Map. We get off the train from JR Minami Otaru Station and walked towards JR Otaru Station.

Pardon the marker drawing - that's the information counter people teaching me how to walk to JR Otaru Station :P
The area doesn't look overly huge but it took us a few many hours to walk from the Otaru Orgel Emporium to the Otaru Canal and JR Otaru Station. I like this area of the city, there were heaps of interesting things to see, though expensive :(

Look! Giant cat :P
Jumping rabbit? Or Jumping piggy? LOL
The nearest landmark to JR Minami Otaru Station is Otaru Orgel Emporium, Japan's largest shop specializing in music boxes. Opening hours: 9:00am~6:00pm every day (until 7:00pm in summer).

I kid you not, this place has 3 storeys of music box goodness. 

See at top right, there's another staircase to the next floor
There were ready made music boxes - in many different varieties, heaps of them actually.

This reminded of Detective Conan's movie - Last Wizard of the Century
Or you can customized your own music box, like selecting Arashi songs :P 

Outside of Otaru Orgel Emporium, lies the world's largest and second ever steam clock. This British-style bronze clock was placed thre on 25th June 1994. It measures 5.5 meterse high and weights 1.5 tons. The first steam clock is placed in Gastown, Vancouver, Canada.
Aside from things to see, there were also many free food to sample, and if you are wondering, the food was good.
This must've been the tallest building along the street - head store of LeTAO.
Shop hours : 10:00 am to 18:00 (vary from season to season, cafe close at 30 minutes prior.)
When I was there, they were giving away yummy double fromage cheese cake slice to sample. Soft yummy cheesey cheese cake.
First floor is their sweets shop for take-away purchase, second floor is cafe to dine in, and third floor is a free observatory. To access to this observatory, you will need to climb up some stairs after getting off the elevator. There were heaps of people on both first and second floor but mom and I were the only two at the observatory at that time.
View from the highest building of the street
As LeTAO as very busy, we went to another cafe for our tea time - Silverbell (銀の鐘 Gin no Kane). The shop I went was located at 北海道小樽市入船1-1-2 (1-1-2 Irifune Otaru, Hokkaido)
Shop hours:
 - First floor Sweets Shop: 9 am to 6 pm.
 - Second floor Cafe: 9 am to 5pm
 - Third floor Cafe: 9 am to 5.30 pm
Opening hours varies depending on season
The website link is in Japanese, doesn't seem to have an English version website. Likewise LeTAO, this cafe is a 3 storey building. First floor is the shopping floor, second floor is their cafe and apparently third floor is a Lavendar Garden which is only available from July to September. I wrote apparently as I didn't know about this when I was there... so it remains as apparently.
Silverbell also gave out cheesecake sample when we frequent the shop, but a different version from LeTAO. Silverbell's cheesecake was a camembert cheese cake.
We had coffee and a small piece of cake set. There were different types of coffee cups that you could select from and you get to keep the coffee cup after you finished your drinks. They even provide facility for you to clean your cup. :P
I understand from it's website that you can have seconds if you ordered hot drinks - coffee (THAT is if you trust my poor Japanese)
As we strolled along the street, we found ourselves in 北栗楼 Kitakaro.
Two famous sweets shop in Otaru
Kitakaro is the heaven of free food sampling. Usually if there were free sample, we would end up with a purchase or two. LOL. It's actually a good marketing gimmick. Oh well, after all, if you like what you try, you'll more bound to buy them :) Of course, unless the food you sell is not tasty.
猪油渣 - Pork crackling
This was the first thing we tried in Kitakaro - pork crackling. Nah.. just joking. It is actually おかき, which is supposedly to be baked mochi? It is not sticky at all, in fact this snack is cripsy. There were six different flavours and the first flavour we tried was いか cuttlefish. Mom asked me, "how does it taste?". I answered, "Like 猪油渣 Pork crackling." Mom took a bite and agreed with me. We tried the rest of the flavours as well - エビ shrimp, 帆立 scallop, 昆布 kombu...and I can't remember the other 2. According to the website, there were 2 different type of shrimp flavour and another was salmon. Hmm.. I am not sure though. Anyway, we ended up buying the cuttlefish flavoured ones :P
The other big dessert sold in Kitakaro is Baumkuchen, it was at almost every corner of the shop. I have a sweet tooth, if budget is not an issue, I would've grab so many of those cakes in Otaru back with me. Since it was not possible, I just had to try them in the shop. :P
Next to Kitakaro is 六花亭 Rokkatei. No free samples in Rokkatei unfortunately :( and to my utmost regret, I should've bought some of the sweets to try. There were a couple that are recommended! Sux.
Otaru is like a place where you just shop and eat. LOL. I bought a rice cracker to munch on as well. From a random stall along the street.
Next not to be missed is the 5 flavours ice cream. Yumm.
Special soft cream
One of my friend said it should have some cheesy name as it looked awesome, instead of just called special soft cream. The flavours from bottom - lavendar, milk, melon, strawberry and soda water (ramune). Not only it looked awesome, it tasted awesome too.
Otaru Unga
Seriously, by the time we reached back to Otaru Canal, the sun already set. Otaru Canal (小樽運河, Otaru Unga) was the central in the first half of the 20th century when the city was a busy port. Large vessels were unloaded by smaller ships, which then transported the goods to warehouses along the canal. It is now a beautiful landmark which has become a must-see attraction in Otaru.
After that, we make our way to JR Otaru station to travel back to Sapporo.
No - this is not the train station
Side note: The meatballs don't taste like the ones my colleague cooked :(

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