Sunday, October 7, 2018

Otaru on Foot

Beautiful snowy Hokkaido canal scenery makes for an enticing photo. But, ugh, snow. And so I went to the city of this famous canal on the most un-winter-y season of all: summer.

This canal is called Otaru Canal and is in—surprise!—Otaru City, just a little over 30 kilometers west of Sapporo. (To get to Otaru from Sapporo Station, take the JR Hakodate Main Line to Otaru. The journey takes 50 minutes and costs 640 yen.)

Otaru's manhole cover features Otaru Canal

Summers in Hokkaido are supposed to be mild, with temperatures from low to mid 20s Celcius. For one who endures summers that border into hellish temperatures, the summer Hokkaido temperatures made for a good, comfortable 600-meter walk from Otaru Station to Otaru Canal.

Otaru Canal sans snow

On one side of the canal are old warehouses, and on the opposite side a cobblestone walking path with old gas lamps where one can admire these warehouses from across the water and where, while strolling, one might come across a local artist selling his wares.

The canal is just a kilometer long, and most people just bother with the southern 250-meter end of it, where the warehouses are. Maybe I was too early or maybe it was the low tourist season—there weren't too many tourists to crowd my camera's viewfinder.

I decided to walk the entire length of the canal for I was curious to see what was beyond the tourist area. I found myself in the deserted northern half of the canal where the only sounds were of birds, of creaking boats docked along the canal, or of water lapping on the boats.

No tourists on the northern end of the canal

A sculpture along Otaru Canal

Near the northern tip of Otaru Canal, I took a break at Unga Park. Right in the middle of the park was a fountain and, on two corners, a building each. The buildings were open as a rest area, but I thought it was much better to be take a break and munch on my snack under the trees.

Unga Park

Across Unga Park was a nice looking old building, which is called the Former Nippon Yusen. Too bad I did not know that it was open to the public (admission fee of 300 yen).

Former Nippon Yusen, a nice looking historical building across Unga Park

I made my way back to the Canal and this time I saw a boatload of tourists on an Otaru Canal Cruise. And when I reached the southern end of the canal, where I had first started my Otaru Canal walk, there were now many rickshaw drivers (or should I say rickshaw puller?) inviting tourists to take a Rickshaw Tour.

Otaru Canal Cruise

No cruise, no rickshaw for me. Just good ole walking shoes, thank you. My shoe tour took me to the street parallel to Otaru Canal, where I found that the warehouses I had seen along the Canal were not merely warehouses but have been turned into restaurants and shops. One of them was the Otaru Beer Warehouse No. 1. If my sister were with me, we'd have taken a step inside, but as it were, I was alone and I did not like beer, so onward I went. 'Til I reached the end of the block where there was nothing of interest to my eye.

Otaru Beer Warehouse No. 1

I thought I'd call it a day and made my way back to Otaru Station. But an old railway line made me stop in my tracks, or rather in its tracks. The Old Temiya Line was transformed into a park and I abandoned my plan of going back to Sapporo right away. My stroll along the 500-meter preserved railway line was a pleasant one with beautiful hydrangea bushes and curious sights along the way. And along the way, I realized there was one more place I should go to.

Old Temiya Line

A curious sight along Old Temiya Line

Sakaimachi-dori 境町通りor Sakaimachi Street. Man, I almost forgot about this place. Good thing that walk along the railway jogged my memory. Sakaimachi Street is a preserved merchant street, just a 3-minute walk from the touristy end of Otaru Canal. Yes, merchant street. Shopping street is what we'd call it in modern times. It was restaurants and souvenir shops and restaurants and souvenir shops all in interesting western-style buildings all the way to the tip of Sakaimachi-dori.


Shops and restaurants along this street

And at the end of Sakaimichi Street is the Otaru Music Box Museum, which is open daily from 9AM to 6PM for free. By this time I was getting tired and decided to skip the music boxes and just go back to Sapporo.

Otaru Music Box Museum

Another free-admission museum I skipped was the Bank of Japan Museum. I saw this museum on Nichigin Street, just as I had left the Old Temiya Line to make my way to Sakaimichi Street. The Bank of Japan Museum is open from 930AM to 5PM (Thursday to Tuesday).

Bank of Japan Museum

When I returned to my hostel in Sapporo, the receptionist was shocked to see my face. "Are you okay?" she asked. I said yes I was okay. And when I looked in the mirror, I laughed in shock: I was as red as a lobster. That mild Hokkaido summer was indeed mild in temperature, but was as fierce as the sun has always been.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

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