I visited Otaru on Christmas Eve, 2015
Thirty minutes by train from Sapporo lies Otaru, a small port town and bedroom community. It has a population of about 130.000, making it very small by Japanese standards.
It was Christmas Eve when I visited Otaru, I took the train early in the morning. A short ride, I was glad. I had to stand.
The train car was almost full when I entered, and I was joined by a large Chinese group. The Chinese found all the empty seats quickly, for the rest of the ride they made sure one of them got whatever seat was vacated. It wasn’t until the last few minutes the car got so empty I could find an empty seat.
When we arrived in Otaru I had no idea where to go. I hadn’t really researched the town at all, people said I should go, there was a beautiful canal, there was good sushi. I went. Now I was here, I needed to find the canal and the sushi.
It turned out to be no problem at all, I simply followed the Chinese group. They must know where they are going, and I hoped they were on the way to the canal. I followed a safe distance behind, even made time too drop by Family Mart for a quick snack.
Not long after, we reached the canal. It was a canal. Nothing special. A walkway on one side, brick warehouses on the others. Buildings from another time, when Otaru was a major trading town.
I walked along the canal, it was nice, but nothing special really. Maybe at night, all lit up by lights. Many tourists followed the same path as me, I must be in so many people’s pictures, as they are in mine. I liked the warehouses on the other side of the canal, it looked like they were turned into restaurants. I found a bridge, crossed the canal.
Otaru was was for a long time the business and financial centre in Hokkaido. It was a port city and did a lot of trade. It also benefitted from the coal industry around the city. When the coal industry went into decline in the fiftees, so did Otaru. Today, all economic and financial power has shifted to Sapporo.
I found a restaurant in one of the old warehouses that served sushi. Went inside. I got a seat alone at a table for four, it felt quite lonely. It was Christmas Eve and all, usually I would spend all day with my family. Well, this was my choice. Deal with it.
I ordered a plate of various sushi, catch of the day, a beer and a sake. Otaru is known across Japan for its fresh fish and good sushi. Whenever people heard I was going to Otaru they told me to get sushi. So I did.
The sushi was delicious. Various type of fish and seafood, perfectly cooked rice. Everything beautifully presented on the plate. I truly enjoyed my lunch, it went down very well along with the tasty beer and delicious sake.
Otaru was a nice little town, a quiet getaway from Sapporo. I wasn’t very impressed by the canal, but the sushi was excellent and it was interesting to see a small town. Most of my time in Japan has been spent in the big cities.
As I returned to Sapporo I felt my Christmas had a very good start, I was anxious to see what Christmas in Sapporo would be like.