It was dark by the time we arrived at Otaru, and too late to visit any attractions.
So we strolled from our hotel, Dormy Inn Premium Otaru, which sits just across the train station, to the entertainment area near the Otaru Canal, just to see if any shops were open.
Actually, we had one thing on our mind – Otaru No. 1 Beer Hall.
Hokkaido produces several beer brands. Sapporo has got to be the most popular label, as its beers are exported to several countries. Otaru lays claim to its own brew too. No prizes for guessing its brand. :)
Anyway, we found Otaru No. 1 Beer Hall, and it was still open. Hurrah!
The beer hall was very German, as was the Hakodate Beer Hall, with staff dressed in traditional Bavarian frocks. Otaru No. 1 Beer Hall exclusively serves Otaru beer, and a variety of the usual German fare such as sausages and schnitzel.
Later, we walked down the Otaru Canal and a stretch of shops that were already closed, and returned to the hotel for our complimentary bowl of soba.
Oh yes. You heard right. Dormy Inn Premium Otaru dishes out free bowls of delicious soupy soba every night to its guests. It also offers guests free access to a public steam bath, which we could not use because of our tattoos. Boo hoo.It was surprisingly substantial and well-made for something that comes free of charge!
All the exhaustion from walking too much in Hakodate must have caught up with us, and we overslept the next morning and missed breakfast. Oh well. It was almost 11am when we left our hotel and made our way to the retired Temiya Line, which once brought the people of Otaru straight into the city’s commercial and banking hub.
The train line has since been replaced by other forms of transport, but its tracks serve as interesting spots for tourists to take some photos.As the Temiya Line wounded down important areas in the past, the husband decided to follow the tracks and see where it would bring us, instead of heading straight to the touristy Otaru Canal. So we did that, and found ourselves in quiet environs with old and modern houses that rose only two or three storeys high.
We took a turn at one junction, and came upon this deserted area with buildings that look like they were workshops or offices from another time.
Walking on, we arrived at the Canal Park, a wide-open space that seemed quite popular with mothers and young children. Mothers would sit together and chat, while the children would splash around in the large fountain. There were a few two-seat swings along one side of the park, and the tiles at our feet had tiny bits of coloured glass. Very lovely!
From there, we walked quite a distance to the Otaru City Museum (formerly the Otaru Transportation Museum), and had a large, inquisitive crow follow us. The awful bird swooped down at us a few times, frightening the living daylights out of me. We were so happy when the museum came into sight. We could not wait to get away from the bird. Alas, the museum was closed on Tuesday, a fact that the husband had overlooked in his eagerness to see a collection of old trains at the museum.
So, we made our way back to Otaru Canal, back into the line of the crow’s fire.
Anyway, we survived it, and went down the cobbled streets that line the river. Frankly, it was a horrible day to explore Otaru on foot, as the sun beat down mercilessly and the air was still. The blasted weatherman had forecasted temperatures of 16-23°C, but it was hot like Singapore!
In that sort of weather, Press Cafe was a welcome sight. We zipped into the quaint, air-conditioned cafe which occupies an ancient warehouse.
Press Cafe’s decor is inspired by vintage cars. One vintage car is displayed at the entrance of the cafe, and another inside. There are also shelves of Japanese magazines and comic books in the cafe for patrons to browse as they enjoyed their coffee and cakes.
We cooled off in Press Cafe for almost an hour, then went back into the sun to continue our trek down the Otaru Canal. Now, the canal is very popular and one particular view of it has appeared in many postcards and destination marketing materials.
Many other tourists found it too, and the area was packed and noisy, with people jostling for the best spot to take a photo. We were a tad disappointed that the view in summer was not quite breath-taking.
After taking a few photos, we crossed the street to visit the other Otaru City Musuem, which focuses on the city’s history. We were done in a jiffy, and proceeded to lunch at a Japanese restaurant that occupies the former Otaru branch of the Yasuda Bank.
The restaurant is called Wa Bi Sai, which in a Chinese dialect means to dig one’s nose for dirt. It had us doubled up in laughter.
Its funny name aside, Wa Bi Sai has a beautiful interior, complete with a fake cherry blossom tree in the centre of the dining hall.
The former bank’s massive safe was turned into restrooms.
Diners could sit at western tables in the centre of the dining hall, or in one of the Japanese pavilions along the side. We took one a pavilion.
Set lunches at Wa Bi Sai are priced quite affordably at no more than 2,000 yen each. Mine, pictured below, is the cheapest of the lot, and costs 1,225 yen. The restaurant also serves Hokkaido crab hotpots, but crabs were all sold out that afternoon. :(
Energised by our sushi lunch and excellent beers, we walked on to Sakaimachi Street, a preserved merchant area that is now home to countless touristy shops and sushi bars. Otaru is known for its sushi, by the way.
According to tourist guide books, popular attractions on Sakaimachi Street include the Music Box Museum, Museum of Venetian Art and a number of glassware workshops. While the Music Box Museum – identifiable by an antique steam clock at its entrance – comes highly recommended, we found it too tacky. It was very much a shop that sold a lot of music boxes that could also be found in other shops, and it was full of tourists.
Instead, we preferred the Antique Museum, pictured below. It is far quieter and houses a collection of hand-crafted wind-up dolls and rare music boxes.
One thing I love a lot about this street is the presence of many beer stops like this one pictured below. If the summer sun has worn you out, make a quick retreat to one of these beer stops, grab a mug of the delightful liquid and take a seat. :)
If you fancy sweets, do look out for Le TAO pâtisserie in Otaru. It is quite a popular chain, and its fluffy cheesecakes and milk puddings are signature items. So when I spotted an outlet along the way on Sakaimachi Street, I pulled the husband in for some coffee and cakes although he was still full from lunch. This outlet has a cafe and takeaway counter on the first floor, and a restaurant on the second floor. We picked a trio of Le Tao’s most popular cheese cakes. They were all lovely and light, unlike most cheese cakes I’ve tried. :)
We hung around Sakaimachi Street till almost 6pm, when shops started to draw their shutters. Realising there wasn’t any buses that ran from Sakaimachi Street to our hotel, we decided to…yes!… walk all the way back. Never mind the aching feet and back. We walked slowly in each other’s arms, and stopped whenever the pain was too much for me or when we saw something or some place we liked.It is lovely not to be hurried!
After a nap in the hotel, we had a late dinner at Wara Wara, a Japanese restaurant within the complex of our hotel. It opens till 4am every day, and diners get their own TV!
The next morning, we left sunny Otaru for Furano, and along the way prayed for much cooler weather there.