Otaru, Japan: A Winter Season Must-Visit

Some people travel to another country depending on the season. If it is the rainy season, most people would tend to shy away from traveling. However, probably one of the top countries to visit no matter the season, is Japan. The country has a lot to offer to tourists whether it is summer or winter. The beaches in Japan are hotspots during the summer season while the gardens offer a spectacular view during the spring and autumn season. As for the winter season, there are various places that one can visit. One of these places is the city of Otaru.

Facts: Map, Weather, Food, Airports, Cruise Ports 

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More commonly known as Otaru-shi in Japanese, the city of Otaru is located in Shiribeshi Subprefecture. Situated in Hokkaido Japan, it also features a port as Otaru faces the Ishikari Bay. The port acts as the main port of this bay. Housing several historical buildings, the city of Otaru is quite popular among foreign visitors. With its proximity to Sapporo, the city has grown into a bedroom community. Otaru is only 25 minutes away from Sapporo via a private car.

With a total area of 243.13 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 93.87 square miles, the city of Otaru has an estimated population of 131,706. As of the 31st of July in the year 2011, this population consists of 67,308 households. Being the biggest city in Shiribeshi Subprefecture, the city of Otaru has a population density of 541.71 persons per square kilometer, which is equivalent to 1,403 persons per square mile.

A port town located on the coast of the Sea of Japan situated in the northern portion of Shiribeshi Subprefecture, Otaru has various characteristics. Its southern portion is depicted by steep slopes of several mountains, one of which is the notable Tenguyama. Development of the land lying between the mountains and the coast is almost completed. A developed portion of Otaru that lies on the mountain slopes is known as Saka-no-machi, which translates to “Hill town.” This includes Jigokuzaka, also known as Hell Hill, and Funamizaka, also known as Boat-view Hill.

Neighboring cities and towns of Otaru include Yoichi, Akaigawa in Yoichi District in Shiribeshi and Teine-ku and Minami-ku in Sapporo, Ishikari. There are also rivers that live in Otaru. These include Hoshioki, Zanibako, Asari, Shioya, Irifune, Kiraichi, Hariusu, Katsunai, and Myoken.

Due to its location in the western part of Hokkaido, the weather in Otaru during the summer season can be very warm and balmy. The maximum temperature during this season is about 25 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather during this season also produces high humidity thought probably not as hot as the places located in the southern portion of Japan. On the other hand, it can get very snowy during the winter season in Otaru.

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Beginning from the month of November to the month of March, the city can get as much as 6.6 meters, which is equivalent to 260 inches, of snow. It is also during this time that sunshine levels are considerably low. The snow cover in the city amounts to an average of 1.22 meters, which is equivalent to 48 inches. One way of getting to Otaru via public transportation is by getting off at JR Hokkaido Station, which serves the Hakodate Main Line which stops at Ranshima, Shioya, Otaru, Minami-Otaru, Otaru-Chikko, Asari, and Zenibako.

One of the many things that Otaru is known for in Hokkaido is sushi. Sushi offered by this area is ranked high by the locals even on the national level, which says a lot. Though the price may be steep just for sushi, it is still worth the try. One of the restaurants also worth checking out while in the area is Kitaichi Hall. The architecture and interior design of the restaurant is on point whilst its offers are

Another must-try in Otaru is the Otaru Beer. This beer is offered by the Otaru Canal. The beer hall incorporates a Bavarian theme, which includes polka music as well as barmaids dressed in costumes corresponding with the theme. The beer hall offers the typical Japanese beer-hall fare.  

Another thing that the city is known for is its port. A natural port, the Otaru port is circled by mountains on three sides. The port used to serve as a base for opening up Hokkaido and has been developed through the years. At present, the port is able to serve huge passenger cruise ships. Furthermore, Otaru port is also able to berth 130,000-ton class vessels. The port is also situated near the downtown district, which houses Otaru Canal among other tourist attractions.

Other famous tourist destinations in Hokkaido can also be accessed by using the national roads, highways, and JR stations near the area. From Otaru port, the New Chitose Airport, which serves as the gateway to Hokkaido, is only 70 minutes away. In recent times, Otaru port has been utilized as a launching point for cruises.

Tourism: Ski Resorts, Hotels, and Tours in Otaru, Japan

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The great economy in Otaru can be attributed to tourism. There are various ski resorts and hotels in the city that are flocked by a huge number of tourists every year. Just 3 kilometers away from central Otaru lies the Otaru Tenguyama ski area located in Tenguyama. Though the area is relatively small with only 6 runs and 2 small chair lifts, the area is still highly popular among foreign visitors. The ski area uses the service of a ropeway. The ski area is considered still ideal for storm riding thanks to its top elevation being only 532 meters.

Another great ski resort to check out is the Asari Ski Resort. Located in Asarigawa Onsen, the resort is 9 kilometers away from the southeast portion of the town of Otaru. Using a private car, Asari can be reached in only 15 to 20 minutes from Otaru. For those who do not have their own cars, they can get on buses from the JR Otaru Station. The bus trip would take about 30 minutes. Ideal for a day trip, Asari offers quiet off-piste as well as sidecountry areas. With a low elevation, Asari is also great to ski in on windy days.

For an upscale alternative, head on over to Kiroro Ski Resort. With a distance of 28 kilometers from Otaru, people interested in going to Kiroro can ride a bus from Otaru station. Buses with this route are available each day. Driving a private vehicle going to Kiroro would still be easier, of course. Standing just 23 kilometers away from Otaru is Sapporo Kokusai. The amount of snow falling in Kokusai is considerably massive. It is also highly popular among beginners of snow skiing. The sidecountry areas of Kokusai typically have a lot of fresh tracks. Its counterpart is Sapporo Teine.

There are also various hotels in the area of Otaru. Most of them provide good value for the price that they are asking for. There are several upscale Japanese ryokans as well as hotels incorporating western styles. Dormitory backpackers are also available for people who are traveling on a budget. For an affordable option, check out Dormy Inn Premium. Despite its inexpensive offers, the hotel provides good rooms for guests. A plus is that it is only a minute away by foot from the Otaru train station.

For a more upscale option, check out the Grand Park Otaru. A 4-star hotel, the Grand Park Otaru is situated right on the water. It offers views of the coast from one side and views of the snowy hills from the other. Shopping centers, as well as bars and restaurants, can also be found below the hotel. The quality of their service is great without guests having to pay a hefty price. As for tours, some of them that visitors can avail when in Otaru include Hokkaido Explorer Tour, Nisekko Explorer Tour, and Hokkaido Safari.

A Guide on Things to Do in Otaru

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The topmost thing to do when in Otaru is to visit Otaru Canal. It is the main tourist attraction of Otaru. Assigned as an international trading port, Otaru port contains the canal that has been utilized since the latter part of the 19th century. Along the canal stand several old brick warehouses that depict the prosperity of Otaru port. These warehouses also provide that nostalgic feeling to visitors. The look of the canal also varies depending on the season though its peak season would probably be during the winter season.

Covered by heaps of snow, the port is best viewed during the winter season. It is most scenic at night as the street is illuminated. With a length of 500 meters, the street is adorned by beautiful though old-fashioned gas lamps. With the combination of white snow, orange lights, and the dark night, the scenery is definitely a must-see.

The canal is located at  4 Minato ward, Otaru city, Hokkaido prefecture. For people who would be taking the public transportation, they can access the canal by getting off at JR Otaru Station. From there, the canal is only an 8-minute walk away. The number to contact for more information about the canal is 0134-32-4111. Otaru Canal also has its own website that can be accessed online though it is in Japanese.

Next on the list of must-visits is the Otaru Music Box Museum. It is among the biggest music box museums in the world. Built in the beginning of the 1900s, the Otaru Music Box Museum is considered a historical landmark. Several types of music boxes can be found in this museum, each playing a different song or tune. Guests cam also have their own music box customized to suit their liking.

In addition, the second floor also features the creation process of music boxes. Guests can watch how the music boxes are being made. Moreover, the building also features a steam clock that is installed on the front. A steam engine either partially or fully provides power to the steam clock. This clock also releases steam every 30-minute or 1-hour mark.

This museum is located at 4-1 Suimyoshi ward, Otaru city, Hokkaido prefecture. It is also only 5 minutes by feet away from JR Minami-Otaru Station. The Otaru Music Box Museum is open from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening. There are no entrance fees required to enter the museum. Its phone number is 0134-22-1108. The museum also has its own website.

Another sightseeing spot to check out is Kitaichi Glass Otaru. The building was once used to serve the Hokkaido Development Agency in the year 1950. Currently, the warehouse is divided into sections. These sections include glass, outlet glass section, and crystals. A craft shop can be found where visitors are able to learn how to blow glass. Close to Kitaichi Glass Otaru main building is the Venetian Art Museum. Special gondola, as well as Venetian display glass art, can be found here. After looking through the exhibits, visitors are allowed to try on aristocratic costumes in the museum.

Last but certainly not the least, check out Sakaimachi Street. The street is lined with several souvenir shops as well as restaurants and glassware stores. Some of Hokkaido’s finest artistry can be found here. Most of the glassware being sold in this area are also handmade. There is also good foods for visitors who are famished after going around Otaru for a day.

Exploring the Area Outside Otaru

Aside from the tourist attractions in Otaru, the area surrounding the city also offers its own set of places to check out for tourists. Just a short bus ride from the downtown area of Otaru is Shukutsu. There are various places to see in this area such as the Nishin Goten, also known as the Herring Mansion. Another property to check out is the Former Aoyama Villa, which is also known as Nishin Goten Kihinkan Villa. Admission to this villa costs 1,000 yen.  

Otaru is definitely a place that tourists must visit at least once when they are in Japan. With so much to offer in terms of food and overall experience, it comes as no wonder that foreign visitors, as well as Japanese coming from other cities, flock to Otaru especially during the winter season.