Otaru, Japan

12 Instagrammable places in Otaru

Aytaj Hasanova Aytaj Hasanova 23 April 2021
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Japan is a land of many wonders. It attracts tourists from all over the world. Someone wants to get a Japan visa and see the cherry blossoms. Someone wants to admire the red maples of Momiji, who the futuristic Tokyo and Osaka, but someone wants to learn more about Japanese culture and enjoy the local flavor.

Many tourists are not limited to the most Instagrammable places like the temples of Kyoto and Mount Fuji but go to more remote places, such as the northern island of Hokkaido. The most famous city on the island is Sapporo, but Otaru is also very popular with tourists, especially after the romantic drama "Love Letter" (1995), directed by Shunji Iwai.

Where is Otaru?

otaru

Otaru is located in southwestern Hokkaido, about a 30-minute train ride from Sapporo.

The city has a very long and rich Japanese history. Once, it was a city of the Ainu and Otarunai, which means "river on a sandy beach." The current name "Otaru" literally means "city of small barrels."

Otaru received its new name in 1871 when the Meiji government decided to build a convenient port city that would become the economic capital of Hokkaido. The Meiji era (1868-1912) was characterized by a transition from isolation to trade with China and Western countries. During these years, new cities were built, communication between countries was established, and new traditions were born.

As planned, in the XIX-XX centuries. Otaru was an important port city — its economy was mainly built on herring fishing and trade with other countries. But after the 1950s, it was replaced by Sapporo, which became the capital of Hokkaido. And although Otaru has ceased to be a significant Japanese port, it is still a very popular tourist center.

In Otaru, almost all the buildings of the Meiji era have been preserved. Most of the buildings in the city center are converted warehouses where fish, grain, or rice were once stored. These buildings have now been converted into Otaru museums, restaurants, and workshops.

Despite the fact that Otaru is not the most famous city in Japan, there is still something to see, especially for those people who are interested in Japanese history and culture. There are also many Instagrammable places that will look great on your Instagram profile.

So, here is a list of places to take most liked Instagram photos in Otaru:

1. The City Canal (Otaru Unga) and Temiyasen Kaijo

city canal

Japan is just a storehouse of Instagrammable places that look different depending on the season. Otaru Channel is no exception. It looks great in winter, when the ground and roofs around are covered with fluffy snow, and in summer when the houses are covered with green ivy.

During the day, artists work by the canal to draw tourists and display their work for sale, and in the evenings, Victorian gas lanterns are lit along the canal.

Every year in February, the festival "Road of Snow Lights" is held, which attracts tourists from Japan and from all over the world. During the festival, snow sculptures with lanterns inside are installed along the canal. Since in winter in Japan it gets dark around five in the evening, you can look at the lanterns from the very early evening.

Between the Otaru Canal and the train station is the Temiyasen Kaijo platform. It is there that most of the lanterns are installed during the winter festival "Road of Snow Lights." Lanterns are hung from trees, placed in painted glass bowls, and placed inside snow and ice figures. The Temiyasen Kaijo road takes about half a kilometer and is considered one of the most beautiful winter places in Otaru.

2. Historical Museum and the Rail Museum

historical museum

The Otaru City Museum consists of two parts: the historical Museum and the Railway Museum.

The historical museum of the city is located near the Otaru Canal and the tourist center. It tells the story of Otaru from the very beginning of the city. The first settlement of Otarunai, founded by the Ainu, is very ancient, and in the city museum, you can get to know its history better.

The museum building was built in the 1890s and was initially used as a storage room. This is a brick house, the roof of which is crowned with images of whales. Like many other Japanese museums, Ungakan is closed on Tuesdays, but you can always take pictures outside — the building looks very beautiful at any time of the year or day.

The Train Museum is located on a former railway station near the tourist center.

This is a very small museum dedicated to the history of the railway in Hokkaido. Here you can see the old and newer trains that were used in Hokkaido at different times. Part of the museum is located in the open air, and in the other part, under the roof, you can see models of different sizes and learn more about the history of the railways of Hokkaido. Because of the abundance of models of trains, the museum is very popular with children.

3. Music Box Museum

music box museum

One of the most interesting and Instagrammable places of Otaru. There are many museums in the city, and each of them deserves attention. For example, this museum has the largest collection of music boxes in all of Japan, and maybe in the whole world! Now the museum has several buildings, which contain more than 25,000 music boxes. The main building was built in 1912 and initially housed a company selling rice and other grains. There are about 3,000 caskets in this building. The museum opened in 1989, and now there is an incredible collection of music boxes that were brought to Otaru not only from Japan but also from all over the world.

The museum has its own workshop, where everyone can create their own music box.

4. Otaru Steam Clock

steam clock

This is probably the most famous attraction after the Otaru Canal. As you can guess from the name, this is a watch that works for a couple. They were made in the Canadian city of Vancouver by the Japanese-Canadian community and donated to the city of Otaru.

Every fifteen minutes, the clock makes different beeps, and when the hands make a full circle, steam comes out of the clock.

Since the clock never translated, it shows the wrong time.

5. Sakaimachi Street

sakaimachi street

On this small street near the canal, you can buy souvenirs, eat street food and take many most liked Instagram photos. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many warehouses and offices of Western trading companies were built on Sakaimachi Street, but when Otaru began to lose its economic importance, the Japanese began to buy places to open restaurants, cafes, shops, and museums. Also, on Sakaimachi Street, you can find several workshops where tourists can try to make their figures out of glass. The most famous of them is the Glass Palace or "palace of glass."

On Sakaimachi Street, you can also find local ice cream made from squid ink. This is one of the most popular regional dishes in Japan, and many tourists come to Otara and try what squid ink tastes like.

6. Blue Grotto

blue grotto

This is a grotto located near the city. You can get there by boat, which departs from the port of Otaru. The sea cruise lasts about 80 minutes, and along the way, you can see almost all the historical sights of the city.

The water inside the grotto changes color depending on the weather and the season: from sky blue to azure or turquoise. In summer, swallows nest inside the cave, and in winter, you can see rookeries of sea lions on the nearby shores.

The blue grotto is not a place for swimming. Even in the summer, when there is thirty-degree heat all over Japan, in Hokkaido, the air temperature usually does not rise above 19-20 degrees, and the water warms up to about 20-22 degrees. The Japanese believe that it is too cold for swimming and therefore go to the south for a beach holiday — to the islands of Honshu or Kyushu.

7. Nishin Goten/Herring Mansions

nishin goten

Nishin Goten combines several mansions built by wealthy families in the western part of the city. These buildings were used as fish factories. Usually, the first floor was occupied by hired workers, and the second floor was occupied by their employers from rich families. In the 1950s, when the city began to lose its importance, people began to leave, and the fishing industry also declined. Excursions to herring mansions should be booked in advance, even before arriving in Japan.

8. Aoyama Villa

aoyama villa

The villa is located near Nisin Goten and once belonged to the Aoyama family — one of the richest families involved in the fishing industry. Now the building has become a museum and is in great demand among tourists from all over the world.

Outside, you can take pictures of the Instagrammable scenery and the house with a tiled roof, while inside, there are traditional Japanese rooms with tatami mats, shoji doors, and calligraphy on the walls. This is a very beautiful historical place, which has preserved the spirit of the Meiji era.

9. Wakoso Residence

wakoso residence

Another mansion was built by a wealthy fish magnate as a home for his family and employees. In the 19th century, the Wakoso residence processed herring for further needs. Interestingly, in the Flock, the main part of the fish caught was used not as food but for fertilizing the soil. Next to the mansion is a small picturesque pond, which is very well suited for taking most liked Instagram photos there.

10. Tenguyama Ski Resort

ski resort

Since part of Otaru is located on hilly terrain, and in winter, there is enough snow in Hokkaido, one of the main tourist attractions was a ski resort. There are no trails for professional snowboarders and skiers, but rather a place for beginners who want to hone their skills on the more gentle slopes. In addition, the Tenguyama offers an Instagrammable view of the city and the sea.

You can climb on the funicular, which works both in summer and in winter.

11. Bank of Japan

flag of japan

This is another of the Otaru museums. The building looks very European — beige stone, light green roof spires.

This is a free museum where you can see a rare 100,000,000 yen bill; however, almost all explanations for the exhibition are presented only in Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

12. Tanaka Sake Brewery

brewery production

The Otaru brews its own local sake, which is a must-try. Or at least go to see how the most famous Japanese alcoholic drink is produced. A tour of the factory and tasting of drinks (sake and traditional green tea) is free; however, the number of seats is limited — no more than 70 people can stay in the museum at a time.

Since Otaru is a small city, almost all of these places are located near the center and do not need to be reached by public transport.

The Instagrammable places of Otaru are distinguished by their historicity and a touch of Victorian antiquity. In the city, almost everything is influenced by Western culture, and together with the Japanese identity, they create an amazing combination. That is why Otaru is so interesting for visitors.

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Aytaj Hasanova

Up to Aytaj, nothing can introduce ourselves as much as our speaking style and writings. That’s why, Aytaj has written short stories, participated in different debate forums and aims to write blogs that would be appreciated by readers. Aytaj, winner and the best speaker of Youth Debate Forum of the Republic of Azerbaijan, loves to explore different cultures over the world. One of her biggest dreams is to explore Africa that has been convicted to bear all the sins of the world. In her leisure time, she also loves to draw. According to her, drawing is the kind of speaking without using sentences.

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