Sunday 25 February 2018

Hokkaido Pt 7: Otaru Canal And Sakaimachi Street

Otaru is another unique city well worth visiting in Hokkaido. In contrast to Toyako-Cho which is laid back and tranquil, Otaru is bustling and full of energy. This city is located less than 40 km from Hokkaido's capital, Sapporo and offers a list of interesting attractions. Surrounded by mountains and sea this port city which served as Hokkaido's major trading and fishing port from as early as the 19th century is a major tourist destination attracting crowds of visitors who have come to see its well preserved canal, historic streets and buildings. 

The most prominent landmark of Otaru is probably Otaru Canal which was completed in 1923, The canal was constructed by reclaiming coastal land from the sea to increase the efficiency of goods transportation from the harbour. Though no longer used for this purpose this canal which takes the shape of a curvature together with the warehouses that line its edge is now a very popular landscape for photography. 
The canal stretches 1140 meters with bridges crossing it at intermittent length. The most popular photography spot is around the Tourist Information Office at Asakusabashi Street Garden which was really overcrowded during my visit.

On one side of the canal are old warehouses which have been transformed into shops, cafes and restaurants. On the opposite side is a pedestrianized walking path. Some visitors were seen taking boat cruises along the canal.

At the bridge nearest to the mentioned spot you get a good view of Otaru's modern as well as age-old cityscape. The panorama is undoubtedly enchanting.

Sakaimachi Street is an old merchant street in Otaru that existed since the 19th century. It is Otaru's main shopping hub and you can find very interesting shops, museums and confectioneries here. Walking along this street is a nice experience.
The heritage buildings lining this 900 meter street are really beautiful. Some are very grand looking and are styled after western architecture.

There are a few famous museums/shops in Otaru and one of them is the the Music Box Museum which is housed in a heritage building (picture above).

Spanning over three floors, this museum/shop boasts of 25,000 music boxes that come in many forms and shapes. It is a shop where you can even custom make your music box and choose your favorite tune. Popularity however comes with overcrowding and noises so much so it is impossible to make out the tunes when you try listening to each musical box.

Some music boxes are made from glassware, others porcelain, metal, wood and even soft toys. Creativity knows no bound here.

We escaped to the 2nd floor and 3rd floor and heaved a sigh of relief as there wasn't any crowd and we could enjoy the tunes on the music boxes displayed. I tried out a few including this one in the form of a cat. 

Just outside this music box museum is the iconic steam clock of Otaru which was given as a gift from Vancouver. Powered by steam, this clock will will play a chime every 15 minutes and whistle out steam every hour. 

 There are more than one music box shops along the street. This beautiful building houses another display of music boxes which are also for sale.

Marchen Square is a little square that marks the end of Sakaimachi Street.  Six roads intersect at this square. There is a lighthouse monument in the middle of the square and it looks like a favourite hangout among visitors.

From the square, one beautiful building with a tower seems to stand out. This is the main headquarters of a famous confectionery company. Known as LeTAO (La Tour Amitie Otaru) which means The Amiable Tower Of Otaru, this western confectionery was founded by a Japanese man. There are many branches of LeTAO within Sakaimachi Street itself.

Other interesting shops include seafood shops that sell a good range of authentic Hokkaido snacks and preserved seafood. 

Another famous museum in Sakaimachi Street is Kitaichi Venetian Art Museum. This museum bosts of more than 3000 pieces of glass art including Murano glass. Visitors are free to enter the shop on the ground floor but have to pay an entrance fee to view the display at the galleries.

These are some of the beautiful items for sale at the shop. They are all very expensive!

Besides the glass museum is Venetian Cafetaria which is famous for its ice creams.

We got this rainbow ice-cream from this cafeteria for ¥550 and had a good experience eating ice-cream while walking the street with snow falling on our head.

This is another ice-cream stall along Sakaimachi Street.

Most things in Hokkaido are expensive but we came across a promotion at Rokkatei Confectionery which offers free coffee for purchase of any cakes or pastry on the 2nd floor. The cream puff cost ¥90 and that deal was too good to resist.
 It was also the best value for money food we ever purchased in Hokkaido. The cream puffs tasted good too!

Just adjacent to Rokkatei is a rival confectionery, 'Kitakaro' which is housed in a very dated building.

There are so many interesting things to see and do in Otaru you can spend easily spend more than a day there.

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